How to Take Care Of Someone At Home During the Pandemic

The Centers for Disease Control has a great article about what to do if you’re sick with COVID-19.

It has another one, too, about caring for someone at home who has COVID-19.

These instructions are pertinent for a wide group of people.

For others with preexisting conditions, they don’t cover the whole existing dilemma.

Think carefully about whether you can take care of someone who’s sick, especially if you’re vulnerable to COVID-19 yourself. If you do, despite your best efforts, you may become a victim.

Pandemics are serious.

No matter how much you love them, it’s an endeavor to be carefully considered. It calls for well-thought-out plans. You don’t want to have everything riding on a single point, what could become a single point of failure.

The wedding vows from the Book of Common Prayer have become a challenge in these days of the COVID-19 (the coronavirus) pandemic.

To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.

If the person in question is your spouse, that’s what you might have said. Unless you wrote your own vows, you probably did. At the time you did so, you might not have imagined the world ever turning this way.

Are you in a vulnerable group? Do you have diabetes, heart disease, asthma? You have to think about taking care of someone at home during the pandemic very carefully. Making the decision to care for someone with COVID-19 at home could cost you your life.

The hospitals might be overcrowded, simply unable to accommodate another patient.

You may or may not have symptoms yet.

There’s a pandemic going on and the news is mostly bad every day.

What do you do?

Is your friend or loved one as sick as some people in the hospital? Have they seen a doctor? What did he or she say?

If they’re sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, you don’t need to worry about taking care of them at home.

If they’re not, you do.

In normal times, they might actually be admitted if they’re sick enough.

In times that aren’t so normal, maybe not. There might not be any room for them.

Where else are they supposed to go?

You wonder.

Repeated evidence shows most people will recover at home.

Do you have what you need to keep the sick person at home?

Only you can determine the answer to this question.

Is there a way they can have their own bathroom?

If not, you’re going to have to clean every surface every time they use the bathroom.

That can be done but it might not be practical.

Plenty of evidence shows this virus is highly contagious. The median half-life of the virus was 5.6 hours on stainless steel and 6.8 hours on plastic. Half-life means the amount of time that it takes to become half as potent. While COVID-19 doesn’t last as long on a surface as some microbes, the time it does last is plenty long enough to infect others in many situations.

Every surface your sick person has touched needs to be wiped down every time they use the bathroom. They might sneeze when they’re in there, too, so you’ve got to be very compulsive and comprehensive about where you clean.

You might find a urinal more practical to use because that would eliminate many trips to the bathroom.

One slip up. One missed virus on a counter. That’s all it takes before you’re exposed and you have a lot of trouble on your hands.

Military analogies to this virus are apt.

Unfortunately, when it comes to situations like this, viruses are enemies you can’t see. They’re not even living so you can’t focus on them the way you can when you focus on another group during a normal war.

On the other hand, viruses are predictable. We understand how they spread. They evolve but the basics don’t change the way tactics can change during a conventional war.

So yes, there are a few mild positives about this kind of war as compared to a conventional one.

During this kind of fight, one of the enemies you have to fight is your willpower. You can’t see the enemy. Victory is defined as having nothing happen, or maybe getting sick later on when the community hospital isn’t so overtaxed.

Keep a sense of humor

People who work in healthcare often develop a sense of humor to help them cope with the work they do. They find irony in things that happen, a mixture of honesty and self-depreciation. Being able to lighten up helps you think clearly and not get overwhelmed.

Do your best to stay non-stressed and to find the humor in everyday situations. Breaking down doesn’t help you or anyone else.

Clean more than usual every day

Make that “way more than usual.”

Big hospitals have staffs with dozens of workers dedicated to cleaning. Maybe it would be helpful, in this case, to think of your home as a little, miniature hospital. Your little miniature hospital (your home or apartment) just has you and your other family members, if any. Keeping the room where you’re keeping the sick person or sick people clean helps to keep you healthy. It can also help them feel better by improving their living environment. If the stores are picked clear of cleaning supplies, try making your own. You can make them out of bleach, vinegar or other cleaners that you have on hand like Pine-Sol.

Getting rid of clutter makes cleaning easier. Admittedly, it can be hard to walk a balance between keeping what you might someday need and organization, consider that everything has to have its place. The trick is creating that place or finding one.

Don’t sleep in the same room as the sick person

You may give them the bed, or you may not. One of the keys to keeping yourself healthy is to make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep is important for bolstering your immune system. They may wake up coughing in the middle of the night. You shouldn’t have to, too. Being away from the spray that comes out when someone coughs can help to keep you healthy.

Give the sick person a room that has a door

In hospitals, they are reverse isolation rooms. What that means is they have rooms fed with their own air supply. Your home isn’t going to have that. What you might have, however, is a room with a door. Keep the door closed. When the patient coughs, the virus becomes an aerosol and gets sprayed around the room. It stays on clothing.

Sanitize with sunshine in addition to cleaners

This is important for pillows, comforters, blankets, and anything that doesn’t fit easily into a conventional washer. Sure, you can take it to a laundromat that has one of those large sized washers. However, it’s a lot easier to put the item out in the direct sun after spraying them down with a disinfectant cleaner on a sunny day. Let the natural UV radiation zap the hell out of any pathogens. Let the virucide work to kill the microbes as it dries.

Jury-rig your own PPE

At home, you’re not likely to have your own disposable personal protective equipment (PPE). Even so, you’re going to want to keep the virus off of your regular clothes. Find an extra bathrobe. Put it on backward. Put on a face mask. If you have rubber gloves or even gardening gloves, wear them. Go into the bedroom with the closed door and grab or change the linens. Open the windows. Let it air out. Open the blinds. Let the sun in during the warmest part of the day. Clean, clean, clean.

When you’re done for the day, throw your homemade PPE suit into the washer. If you’re not able to do that, hang your suit in the sunshine where it can get some rays on it for at least an hour. Ideally, though, you’ll want to wash your homemade PPE equipment. It’s hard to get the sun to shine everywhere and for enough time at enough intensity. Furthermore, it’s hard to tell if it, in fact, it did.

Make sure your sick person drinks plenty of fluid

Water counts and so does an electrolyte replacement fluid like Gatorade or Powerade. Eating is important but not as important, generally, as drinking enough fluid. Think of things like soup to feed them. Encourage them to eat but don’t make it a battle. If they’re nauseated, try giving them small quantities of food, like a couple of tablespoons of soup ever twenty minutes. If you don’t have any anti-nausea medication on hand and don’t have prospects of getting any, try feeding them the BRAT diet for a day. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and tea. More foods than that are on the BRAT diet and would be acceptable but it’s meant as a mnemonic to give you ideas for what kinds of foods are generally well tolerated.

Try to find someone to do the pharmacy runs for you

You’re going to need medicine from the pharmacy. If you can find someone to do them for you, you can avoid spreading COVID-19 and also make life easier on yourself. Though you might enjoy the company, have them leave the package on the doorstep, back away, and talk to you at a safe distance.

Encourage the sick person to be presentable each day

That means they need to wash up, get dressed and comb their hair. This helps them keep a positive mental outlook. It doesn’t do to wallow in pity or despair. Nobody should wear the very same clothes day after day when they’re sick.

Help them find something to do that gives them a sense of purpose

While both of those things are fine activities and have their place, neither of them really provide the sick person with a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose is key when you’re trying to recover. Recovering isn’t always easy. It’s a challenge. Mental attitude is a huge difference-maker. When you contract an illness that makes you feel terrible, there’s nothing like a sense of purpose, a reason to fight to keep you in the game. Admittedly, this is ideal and not always practical.

Encourage good behavior

Yes, they contracted an awful infection. They feel terrible. Nevertheless, that’s no reason for them to treat you worse than they’d treat another random human being that they might meet on the street. Do not accept this. When they don’t scream and rage at you, they’re easier to be around. Don’t let them make you hate them. They need you. Lovingly, correct their behavior. It’s a tough time. It’s natural to be frightened. Good manners are very important at all times. Being abusive doesn’t help anyone.

Take care of yourself

It’s incredibly important for you to take care of yourself. Stay mentally and emotionally healthy! Make sure to get plenty of rest. Boost your immune system. Do whatever it takes to stay with the fight for the long haul.

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James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life. 


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