How to Be a Great Rheumatoid Arthritis Infusion Buddy

Here’s how to provide the perfect support for a loved one getting infusion treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.

Maria Lissandrello
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If your loved one is gearing up for their first infusion therapy session for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), they might be a little nervous, which is understandable; the prospect of sitting in a high-tech infusion room alongside other patients can be unsettling. Luckily, you can do a lot to ease the anxiety and make the experience better for both of you. (Just ask if there is room for you in the infusion room—some places have space only for the person getting the infusion.) 

Before the big day
Remind your loved one to drink lots of water. It helps plump up the veins, and that makes it easier for the infusion nurse to begin the IV. But your loved one shouldn’t wait until the night before infusion to begin hydrating. It’s best to start boosting fluid intake 48 hours before treatment.

Visit the infusion center, if you can. Things to look for: Will you have any privacy? Will you have your own TV and DVD player? Does the center offer wireless Internet access? Are snacks and beverages on hand? What’s the room temperature like?

Help pack your loved one’s bag (and pack your own). It should include essentials, such as tissues, hand sanitizer and hard candies, as well as creature comforts, such as a cozy blanket (infusion rooms can be chilly, so make sure you’ll both be comfortable), slippers, reading material, puzzles, DVDs, e-readers, laptops and other electronic devices. Take snacks and water if you can’t get them at the infusion center.

Prepare a list of questions. Infusion nurses are eager to answer patients’ questions, so help your loved one come up with a list, such as, “Can you give me a topical pain reliever to make the needle stick hurt less?” “How long will the infusion last?” “What symptoms warrant a call to the doctor?” “Do I need to follow any special instructions at home once the infusion is over?”

Tune into your loved one’s anxieties, if they have any. Maybe your partner, parent, child or friend is perfectly calm about the infusion. If so, that’s great. But if you sense a case of nerves—clues include comments such as, “I can’t wait till it’s over.” “Why me?” “I hate needles.” Counter with some positive remarks: “I’ll be right next to you.” “Focus on how much better you will feel.” “How great that these therapies are now available to protect your joints and help you get around with less pain.”

Ask your loved one how they want to use the time. Do they have some thank-you cards to write? Bills to pay? Insurance paperwork that’s been put off? Your loved one might want to tackle those tasks during the infusion, and you can help.

Offer to drive . . . their car. Your loved one might feel nauseated after their infusion, so they might appreciate a ride but feel more comfortable as a passenger in their own vehicle.

In the infusion suite
Help your loved one get settled. Meet the infusion nurse, and if your loved one is too shy or anxious to speak up, ask those questions you prepared.

Break out the laughs. If you have Internet access, try surfing some funny sites. One to try:

Break the ice. An RA infusion suite is the perfect place for your loved one to meet other people in similar circumstances. To get the ball rolling, catch someone’s eye, trade a smile and ask, “Have you been getting infusions for a while? This is my friend’s first time, so we’re not sure what to expect.”

Take in your surroundings. Is the infusion room quiet, or are people chatting up a storm? Take a cue from what’s happening, and act accordingly.

Note your loved one’s mood. Are they restless or resting comfortably? Chatty or contemplative? Remember, it’s perfectly fine to just sit nearby, doing your own thing; you don’t have to be in cheerleader mode the whole time.

Be alert to signs of allergy. If your loved one experiences shortness of breath; skin rash; chest pain; swelling of the lips, tongue or face; or dizziness during the infusion, alert the nurse promptly.

Play secretary. Write down any postinfusion instructions so your loved one doesn’t have to.

July 2013