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August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
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When Your Mind Goes Blank

(Names and details changed)

Most people over 40 have experienced a time or two when their mind just goes blank. It may be when introducing a friend of over 20 years and suddenly you can’t remember his name or when you walk into a room and forget why you entered it and what you were looking for. These events are often humorous and happen to us all. However, when your mind goes blank in an emergency that is when it is really frightening and a danger does exist. Stress can often rob you of your faculties when you need them most. But there are compensating things you can do now to help you in an emergency later.

The Goldbergs’ mother lived in a different state than her children and grandchildren. Their phone numbers were on her speed dial and the addresses in her phone book readily available for the times she sent packages to her grandchildren. She visited frequently so that her young grandchildren would know her and develop a relationship with her. When she visited, she loved to give her children a chance to go out and spend time together, just the two of them, without their children. She enjoyed taking care of her grandchildren and just having them alone with her for a while. But, accidents happen especially with young children. And so too, it happened in the Goldberg house while grandma was alone with the children. When she called for an ambulance she could not remember the house number or the cross streets, she blanked out on her children’s cell phone number as well. Valuable minutes were lost. Since then, the Goldbergs have a paper taped to their phone with the phone number of hatzala, their address and home phone number as well as their cell phone number. The paper also lists the name and number of the doctor and a number to call in case of emergency. Making that list was something they had intended to get around to doing but hadn’t as yet at the time of the accident.

The Weisses were an older couple. Mr. Weiss had been chronically ill for several years. His list of medications, allergies, doctors involved and special needs was over two pages long. Mrs. Weiss always updated the list and kept it hanging on her refrigerator. She knew from experience that when she needs to call 911, as she has had to do several times, it is safer, more efficient and reliable to simply hand the paramedics the list than expect herself or them to remember it. She told me that the first time she had to call an ambulance for her husband, the stress left her body limp and her mind in a haze. She had difficulty answering questions about his medications, allergies etc. That is when she decided to make up this list and leave it in a known central place. The next time she needed to call for assistance, she had everything in writing. It not only helped her husband but helped her deal with the emergency with more confidence and less stress.

Mrs. Green lived alone. Her husband was chronically ill and had lived in a nursing home for several years. Her children and grandchildren all lived in other places, far from her home. She was always very organized when it came to taking care of her husband when he was home. She had med lists available and emergency numbers listed by the phone. Whenever something happen to him, the information needed was always at the ready. Since Mrs. Green was always seen as “the healthy one” by virtue of being the well spouse, it never dawned on her to do the same preparations for herself, now that she lived alone. She had no emergency numbers listed in plain sight or her own medication lists available where paramedics could find them. Should she suffer a heart attack or need to call for help she would then be able to pass on her information, if that was possible. After our interview, Mrs. Green decided that she must treat herself as well as she had treated her husband. She taped the phone numbers of her daughter and son on to her telephone, as emergency numbers. She also left an envelope under the phone that said, “Medication List”. In it were the name of her medications, dosages and who her doctors were. She put a copy of this in her purse. Now, Mrs. Green felt that was prepared as best she could be for an emergency should it strike while she was alone.

Whether your home includes young children, the chronically ill or you’re just a young couple starting out or a person living alone, stress has a way of making you blank out on the most obvious and important things you need to know in an emergency – information that baby sitters, neighbors and relatives may have no clue about. Taking a few minutes, right now, to jot down a list of phone numbers, allergies, medications and even your own address and phone number may literally save your life in an emergency, later.

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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