Raising Adult Children

Privacy and Your Hospitalized Adult Child

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Privacy and your hospitalized adult child.

The Last Thing On Your Mind During an Emergency Hospitalization is Your Adult Child’s Privacy

Our family has come through a very dark season. One that was/is scary to the foundation of our souls. The kind of scary that causes a physical hurt in each cell of our bodies, and brought us each to our respective outer limits of strength.

Throughout this journey, we struggled with something seemingly black and white in ‘normal’ times. Privacy. Each family members’ individual privacy, and our collective. And most important at that point, the privacy of our hospitalized adult child.

Our Hospitalization Story

But first, some background. I am the mother of two children. One is an adult who attends a university across the country from where I live. The other child is a young adult finishing his final year of high school. Every parent fears what we faced. Our child was in a horrendous car accident and we weren’t sure if he was going to make it.

The minutes after hearing the officer’s voice, our family’s life tore open and exposed us to the world. From frantically calling the neighbour for a ride to the hospital, to hysterically crying and running into the emergency room, to seeing him laying naked and writhing on the trauma bed as he was assessed, to calling my daughter’s friend to track her down in classes, and even to answering personal questions about my son’s physical condition for doctors. Our lives lay open for strangers.

In those first hours, we were all raw with pain, fear and helplessness. Doctors, nurses, surgeons, police officers, ambulance driver, and a school police liaison officer all witnessed our nightmare up close and personal. No filters, no minute to compose ourselves, no masks, no control. Nothing but our hearts breaking and our brains melting and confused. Vulnerable to the core.

Information Sharing

The information came in slowly, then rapid fire, and then painstakingly slow again and we grasped for ways to process it. We had tremendous support from gathering family. We spewed out whatever information we had as each new person arrived in the waiting area. Still it didn’t sound real. And still our hearts and minds were public territory.

In a few days, we started to share with a wider group of concerned and loving friends and family. They spread updates out to their friends and extended family. We were still oblivious to how much we were sharing and how far reaching the details were travelling. People shared our shock and horror. They wanted to pray and offer encouraging words in any way they could.

There was so much support from our different communities. The prayers and positive energy extended on my son’s behalf bolstered us. Writing daily updates to share was cathartic for us. We were able to wrap our heads around some of the things happening. The updates were helping to process the situation.

We were comforted by people as they replied to our words with warmth and support. There was a need to let people know what we were going through. We weren’t holding anything back. 

Concerns Regarding Privacy

And then a morning came that we felt the first pangs of pressure from outside our little ICU room. We were late putting out an update. Because they followed the previous ones and were concerned they wanted to know what was happening.

That’s the point where we woke up and realized this wasn’t just about us. The three of us standing watch in the hospital 24/7 were not the only ones we needed to consider. This was also about our son The privacy concerns of our hospitalized adult child came to the forefront. We’d been sharing this world with everyone and not paying attention to what that might mean for our son down the road.

What would it be like for him to know his buddies knew they’d shaved part of his head for drains to be inserted? Or having others define him by medical information and not by who he is as a whole. My son’s privacy needed to be a priority while he was hospitalized.

I began to wonder, what would our son think once he was on the road to recovery? Would he experience embarrassment or anger? Would he be depressed, feeling we had crossed into too much information territory?

Changes to How We Handled Privacy

We needed to slow things down. We needed to assess what was really important to us for others to know, what was important to keep close for our son’s sake. For our family’s long-term privacy.

In order to avoid labels, we held back some information. People didn’t need to know some of the things he may struggle with down the road. His privacy became more important than the comfort we got from people understanding his current medical state. His privacy was actually more important all along, but we were just coming to that realization. 

All of these questions and concerns were not top of mind in the early days, but as the days turned into weeks, they became a huge concern.

I Wish I had Known this About Privacy and an Adult Child

When he was hospitalized, I wish I had known a few things. Below are some tips I would like to share with you in case you are ever in a similar situation.

  1. Don’t shut your community out, but share only what is necessary. People do not need to know the intimate details in order to pray and offer emotional support.
  2. Keep the end goal in sight. Right now it may feel like this trauma and shock will be around forever but trust me, it won’t. Imagine at the end of this road, your adult child finds out what you told people. Hospitalization is not the end of privacy concerns. Will they be upset? Let the answer to that question guide you.
  3. Keep your circle close and tight. The sad fact is that some people are less concerned about your family than they are about being “in the know.” A good rule of thumb is that if they weren’t around before the accident, don’t share too much information with them when they show up looking for the “inside scoop” now.
  4. Some of the people who show up unannounced to visit at the hospital are more interested in gawking than helping. Ask yourself; If they wouldn’t come over for a visit with your child before the accident, why do they need to see them now?
  5. Make your boundaries around the privacy of your hospitalized adult child clear to your close friends and family. If you confide information with them that you don’t want to share with everyone, let them know. Ask them to not post detailed updates on Facebook or via emails and phone calls.
  6. Make decisions based on the input of your immediate family. Have a discussion and come to an agreement before giving updates.
  7. You don’t owe anything to anyone. If someone shows up at the hospital unannounced, you don’t owe them a visit; not with you and not with your child. If you’re not happy to see them, tell them it isn’t a good time or they’re not allowing visitors. Or, be honest and tell them “we are guarding our privacy right now, and while we truly appreciate all of your support and concern, we can’t visit right now.”

You can do this

With emotions kicked into overdrive, it is a scary time. But you will come out the other end. Your adult child’s privacy while they were hospitalized may not have been anything you considered before. Keep your eye on that and make any privacy decisions based on that end goal.

For information on your legal rights as the parent of a hospitalized adult, visit this US site or this one for Canada. And don’t forget to sign up for updates from Once a Parent!

Rhonda is a working mom of two, wife, runner, professional and control freak worrier.

Don’t forget to check out our Resources page for some great information!

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