Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lend a Hand In The Hospital Your Loved One Is In...

If you have a loved one in the hospital near you, be sure there is someone at the facility to advocate for him or her at least a couple hours a day. Hospitals are frantic places, and the least-critical folks are the ones who too-often get the short end of the stick. If you or someone else is there, you can provide the helping hand your loved one needs to have their non-emergency needs taken care of – either the visitor can provide the service or they can stand in front of the nursing station and be a "presence" for as long as it takes for a nurse or another aide to provide what’s needed.

This is not said to disparage the work that hospital staffers provide; it’s simply to state that the worker bees can’t be everywhere all the time. And most of them appreciate it when you or another one can lend a hand, and an ear, to your loved one’s situation.

Hospitals will become even more crowded as the baby boomer generation ages and needs extraordinary care. I shudder to think what it will be like when I am in need of hospitalization because already the level of response to emerging needs is too slow to suit me when the comfort of someone I love is at stake… I am not a good patient when pain is involved. I can only last so long under the thumb of pain before I become suicidal: "Fix this pain or shoot me – either way!" becomes my mantra.

Two nights ago Aunt Tod was in a lot of pain, and scared, and Bobbie and I tried until we succeeded in getting her the medication she needed. She was unable to leave her bed and advocate for herself, so we did it. It still took a long time. We heard various "reasons" for it, but when the final gal came by and said, "Oh, haven’t you had your pain medications yet? That’s not right. You should be kept comfortable…" we wanted to punch out the earlier nurses who had stated she couldn’t be given anything until some tests came back, or until the medication cart was ready, or until this, that and the other thing…

Sometimes you just have to be a squeaky wheel and a pain in the arse to get the help you need for someone. I haven’t mastered the ability to be a bitch yet but I’m sure there will come a time when I will, if the needs of loved ones of mine in the hospital are ignored or delayed, or if mine are. Because I know how I react to pain, I assume others feel similarly and need relief as much as I would under the same circumstances. Poor Aunt Tod was hurting so much that her blood pressure was sky high. As soon as the anti-nausea and pain drugs were given, she felt relief… and I felt angry that she had to go through several hours of waiting. Had we not been there to force the issue, it’s possible she would have been denied it even longer. And that gets my goat!

I know nurses need to develop a degree of mental and emotional "callus" to work where people are in distress every day, or they’d lose their minds and probably their jobs, but the need to do so impacts on patients and their loved ones. I wish there were some way to translate what a patient is feeling to the caregiver, beyond words – in sensation form – so that they would know when someone was in dire need of relief. It’s a sad thing that we don’t have that degree of empathy (the way The Empath, Gem, did in the original Trek episode of the same name). That would solve a lot of problems in the world, not just the pain management ones. But God didn’t give us the capacity of that degree of empathy – possibly because it would have crippled or destroyed us – only HE can know what each of us feels and not be destroyed or paralyzed by it…

Anyway, this is just a word to the wise. Visit your loved one in the hospital and "take their pulse" – ask if they are being treated well, responded to in a timely fashion. etc. If not --- or if you see they’re not – step up to the plate and do for them what they can’t do for themselves: make yourself a sweet nuisance so their needs are met as quickly as humanly possible… and if you can, provide the help they need yourself because the nurses are running their tails off or filling out vital charts every working moment (and probably having nightmares about it at night).

Lend a hand.

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