Illness is a part of life. People are born, grow up, strive to be healthy, but there is always a chance that illness will strike at any given moment. Regardless of what condition it is–cancer, mental illness, hepatitis, and so forth–illnesses do not discriminate and do not care about interrupting your obligations. But living and coping with a chronically ill family member can definitely make you a stronger person, and that’s why we’ve compiled this list.

1. When your family member falls ill, you learn who your real friends are.

We all have friends that are there for very specific purposes: there’s the guy you play video games with, the girl you shop with, the friend who you work out with and know from softball, and so forth. But when your family member’s illness acts up, those people tend of fall by the wayside. While it’s not intentional, the people who you’ve trusted and depended on in past hard times will stand up and make themselves known. Pay attention to who is around when your family member is down and out.

2. There’s a reason why doctors are said to “practice” medicine.

I’m not saying in any way that doctors are not valuable. I just want to be clear that not all doctors are equal and not all of them should be listened to as if they are gods. Doctors are people just like you and me–albeit highly-educated people–and that should be taken into account. When your family member’s illness acts up, you should keep in mind that their treatment team are merely “practicing” medicine. They aren’t “winning” at medicine or anything else. Just practicing.

3. Nurses are the life blood of every hospital.

On television shows, doctors get all the fame. House, Doogie Houser, Grey’s Anatomy–all these shows glorify doctors above all else. But, by becoming familiar with how various hospitals work, I’ve noticed that the nursing staff is the most vital part of making sure your loved one’s illness goes away. From delivering medication to making sure they’re comfortable to communicating patient needs, the nurses are the hands doing the work in the hospital. They are willing to stand for twelve hour shifts for days on end just to ensure your family member gets better. Pay them the respect they deserve.

4. You learn who your loved one really is.

When faced with a chronic or life-threatening illness, your family member can react in one of a million different ways. Sadness, anger, paranoia, joy, frustration–these emotions are all to be expected. In fact, your family member has every right to act up in the fact of their illness. But pay attention to what becomes their baseline emotional state, because you hardly get to see someone’s personality when they are backed up against the wall. The person your loved one is when they are in the hospital is the person they really are. In a way, it’s a treat that you get to see that person. Many people never have the opportunity.

5. You learn patience.

There’s no other way to say this: hospitals take forever to do anything. Doctors have to be consulted, labs have to be examined, specialists have to be called, residents have to be instructed, pharmacists have to be stocked, and so forth. Before my family member became chronically ill, I’d bet I was the most impatient person around. But in asking for and waiting for care to be delivered on “hospital time,” I’ve learned a fair amount of patience. Now, don’t get me wrong, when it takes five hours to give my father a Tums just because it’s New Year’s Eve, I will come very close to a shouting fit. But I won’t go there. Because everything will be solved eventually, even if it is on hospital time.

Featured photo credit: OF-Nascimento-Isabelle-380/Felipe Manfroi via flickr.com

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