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Opinion: Caring Bridge Provides Support During Health Crises

Monday February 23, 2009
<b>Heather Cygan</b>
Heather Cygan
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When sudden illness befalls a family without warning, it's often hard to keep loved ones up to date.

As a patient's status changes daily, family members have difficulty keeping up with phone calls and struggle with rehashing the story, especially when things aren't going well. Any time away from the patient's bedside is spent eating or sleeping.

Healthcare crises leave family members overwhelmed and emotionally drained, which can leave the patient's loved ones disconnected.

This is a situation my family and I know all too well. On Dec. 2, 2008, my father Rick Cygan was admitted to the ICU at Centegra Hospital in McHenry, Ill., after suffering a large brainstem stroke.

Phone calls began to pour in after the first day. The neighbors had seen the ambulance and wanted to make sure everything was OK. Immediate friends and family quickly spread the word to one another after we phoned. Because time was a factor, we sent out a mass e-mail that detailed my father's situation.

To ease the stress of being unable to call everyone back, I decided blogging about his status would be the best way to handle the situation. After looking at a few blogs, I settled on the nonprofit site www.CaringBridge.org. The site is tailored to patient progress, allows users to comment, features photos, and also has links to information on hundreds of different conditions.

Free and easy to use, using the site became a daily ritual for me and my family. As I began to post daily updates and read guestbook entries, the site took on a life of its own. Not only did we feel like we were catching up with everyone, but the comments readers posted also provided much-needed support.

My father was not able to speak or move so we read every guestbook posting to him at his bedside during his stay. Some made us cry, some made us laugh, some took us down memory lane, and some even shared special private moments.

The blog provided us with a sense of being connected to people at a time when we needed it most. Friends and family who used the site said it made them feel as if they were at his bedside with us.

After my father passed away Dec. 11, the site also served as a vehicle to inform people of his services; we even posted his obituary online for those who weren't able to pick up a local newspaper.

By posting daily updates for a little more than a week, more than 2,000 page views occurred, and more than 160 people left loving comments. What an amazing tribute to my father's life.

From personal experience, Caring Bridge lives up to its name. Everyone's support has kept my family afloat and has left an everlasting impression about my father that we will keep close to our hearts.


Heather Cygan is managing editor of the Greater Chicago and Heartland editions of Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek. To comment, e-mail hcygan@gannetthg.com.