Avoid These 10 Mistakes: Supporting Co-Survivors In Medical Emergencies

Kristin Flanary wearing a black sweater with an anatomical heart.

The day my husband’s heart stopped, I found myself in a whirlwind of panic and despair. 

In those darkest moments, healthcare professionals became beacons of light. They understood the depths of my pain and offered a helping hand, providing the support I so desperately needed. They saw me as not just a bystander but also a patient of this traumatic event. 

They recognized my suffering and tended to my needs with compassion and care.

But amidst that chaos, there were also interactions that only deepened the wounds, adding unnecessary suffering and trauma. 

It was a reminder that not everyone understood what it means to be a co-survivor—a person caught in the maelstrom of their loved one’s medical emergency. A person trying to hold on while their loved one hangs in the balance. Healthcare professionals face immense challenges balancing their focus on the patient and supporting us, the co-survivors. 

A few key actions can mitigate potential trauma for the co-survivor in the room.

By avoiding these 10 mistakes, you can create better outcomes for everyone involved.

Mistakes That Can Compound Co-Survivors’ Distress

It’s important to acknowledge that certain actions, although well-intentioned, can unintentionally worsen our distress.

1. Neglecting Emotional Support

When healthcare professionals focus solely on the medical aspect and neglect our emotional well-being, our distress and isolation intensify. Simply recognizing and validating the range of emotions we experience can go a long way in easing our burdens.

2. Lack Of Clear Communication

Using complex medical jargon or failing to provide understandable information only adds to our confusion and anxiety. Clear and simple verbal and written explanations help ease our minds amidst the chaos.

3. Disregarding Co-Survivors’ Needs

Ignoring our emotional and practical needs, such as providing access to information and support resources, leaves us feeling abandoned and helpless. Remember that we, too, need guidance and assistance on this difficult journey.  

4. Blaming Or Guilt-Tripping Co-Survivors

Assigning blame or making co-survivors feel guilty for not knowing or doing something throughout the medical emergency can intensify feelings of guilt and self-blame, worsening their emotional state.

5. Ignoring Co-Survivors’ Questions And Concerns

Brushing off our questions or concerns without adequate explanations leaves us feeling dismissed and powerless. Take the time to address our worries and provide the information we seek.

6. Isolating Co-Survivors

When circumstances require separating us from our loved ones, acknowledge the potential for fear and anxiety that arise from this separation. Provide access to information about the patient’s condition and support networks, offering a lifeline in our moments of desperation.

7. Lack Of Empathy And Compassion

Failing to recognize and validate our emotions and experiences can lead to feelings of invalidation and isolation. Show us empathy and compassion, for it is through understanding that true healing begins.

8. Rushing Interactions With Co-Survivors

Impatience and rushed interactions convey a sense of being unheard and uncared for, exacerbating our emotional state. If our needs extend beyond what you can provide, connect us with resources that can offer the support we require.

9. Failure To Follow Up

Neglecting to follow up with us after the immediate crisis has passed, for example during follow-up appointments, leaves us feeling abandoned and unsupported. Remember that our healing journey is ongoing, and continued support is crucial in our recovery.

10. Dismissal Of Co-Survivors’ Experiences

Dismissing or minimizing our experiences and emotions only invalidates our feelings and hampers our ability to cope with the trauma of the medical emergency. Find brief moments to listen, understand, and acknowledge the depth of our pain.

Providing Supportive Care For Co-Survivors

By understanding these common mistakes, healthcare professionals can create an environment of healing and support for co-survivors.