You Should Panic Now, But Don’t

How your response in a medical crisis can impact loved ones

I can remember over the years being in some tight spots with my health, like emergent, "do something now" situations. These events have included anaphylactic shock, ventricular tachycardia and, well, being unconscious—it’s really not too bad until you wake up and realize what just happened (or don’t realize what just happened). However, the one thing that always scares me more than the actual emergency itself is people’s response to what’s going on. It can have a huge impact.

The other week when my heart rate hit 250 beats per minute in the emergency room and the doctor shouted, "We have to do something now!" it freaked me out a little, err, a lottle—but it made sense for a doctor to put some fire under the medical team to let them know that “the stuff” was currently hitting the fan. I get it. For me though, when my family goes into total panic mode as well, that’s when I also need a little Jack Daniels to go with my Ativan.

I know it’s not easy to just sit tight and read a magazine while a loved one is having paddles put on their chest, or a tube pushed down their throat, but when my family makes it a point to stay calm, it makes it easier for me to stay calm. This seems like just total common sense probably to most, but when a situation hits, everything you think you would do, or hope you would do, can sometimes go right out the hospital window.

I’ve had some of the toughest people close to me run around in circles for twenty minutes before finally calling 911—no offense to them (I won’t name you and I’ll still send you Christmas cards). And another time, during my bone marrow transplant, when I was given platelets that didn’t work out too well, I went into anaphylactic shock. It was pretty horrible of course, but this time another family member just stood at the foot of my bed, only panicking in her head I’m sure, but it made all the difference for me. "If she’s OK, then I must be OK," I thought. I can also remember a friend of mine calling me not too long ago—his girlfriend had just been diagnosed with cancer. It goes without saying that this type of news is devastating to all involved, but while he was holding the line on being positive, others close to his girlfriend were crying in front of her and falling apart (you can’t blame them). This reaction he said was bringing her down more and more every day—and I’m sure it was. I told him they had to find a way to stay positive and hopeful in front of her.

Everyone responds differently to a loved one who has cancer, an illness, or is going through an emergency, but someone’s response doesn’t just affect them; it affects others around them. And it can be a total game changer to the one actually suffering the most—your loved one who is experiencing the medical issue(s). Think of it like the radio, where you can change the station—right when you hear “Aaah freak out” start playing, turn the dial to “Be Calm, Be Cool, and Keep Yourself Together!”