From Dr. Jane's Notebook
When Illness Strikes
Not long ago, while preparing to attend a professional
conference in Washington, D.C., I learned that my Father had been admitted to a
hospital in Florida for emergency cardiac pacemaker surgery. After recovering
from the initial shock of this news, I scrapped my Washington plans and grabbed
a seat on the next plane to Florida to be with my parents. Fortunately, I
arrived at the hospital in time to speak with the surgeon just as the surgery
was being completed. I am very grateful that my Father is now home and doing
well. Looking back, it was a week filled with many learning experiences. Here
are a few thoughts on the matter.
- Every patient needs a patient advocate.
During the early stages of a medical crisis, patients who are sick enough to
be admitted to hospitals are not well enough to be left alone. As I have done
in the past, I elected to stay overnight in the hospital with my Father just
following his surgery. Usually, surgery is terrifying and patients need
someone who will stay with them and advocate for their needs. Post surgery,
patients are disoriented, uncomfortable, and afraid. While still in a
semi-conscious state, they often have urgent needs but are unable to express
themselves assertively. Knowing they have an advocate beside them allows
patients to relax and feel as comfortable as possible.
- Keep a written log of medical information.
Hospital adventures are filled with new information and instructions to
follow. One of the most difficult tasks is remembering the information we are
told. It is easy to become overwhelmed; feelings of fear can get in the way of
committing new information to memory, especially in conversations which are
often punctuated by scary words and unfamiliar language. For this reason, it
is most helpful for someone to take notes during these medical conversations
to prevent confusion later on. Further, it is a good idea to record
instructions and information in a single notebook, and keep hand-outs in a
single bag or folder. On any given day in a hospital, patients are likely be
cared for by three different shifts of nurses and be examined by one or more
doctors. Conflicting instructions from health care professionals should raise
“red flags” and cause patients and advocates to ask questions. By keeping
track of the information we’ve been told, we can help patients become active
members of their own health care team. As active consumers of health care
services, patients and advocates can help to prevent medical errors and gain a
greater sense of control over their treatment.
- Friends and family members should form a team.
When a member of a family is hospitalized, there are often other family
members at home who need to be cared for. There may be a need for food,
childcare, eldercare, transportation, pet care, or any number of other things.
This is a time when friends and family members need to get organized and work
together to help each other survive this health crisis. It is most helpful
when one person takes central responsibility for communicating with the
others, to avoid duplication or omission of efforts. With coordination, the
efforts of each person can be maximized, and together, concerned individuals
can form a successful health network and caring community.
- Each member of the team has something to offer.
Members of a caring community can be very diverse in the kind of help they
have to offer. Some are good at hospital visits, some are good at telephoning,
some like to help with transportation, and others like to prepare food that
can be frozen and used as needed. Young people can be extremely helpful with
pet care or babysitting. And even the youngest child can bring cheer to
patients with their cards and drawings.
When illness or injury strikes,
it is easy to feel helpless and become paralyzed with worry. But this is not the
time to be shy and submissive. Rather it is a time to ask questions and organize
around your loved one. When someone is hospitalized, their absence leaves many
unattended needs. Accept help from others and offer to help in whatever ways
Thinking ahead, it’s
a good idea to make “just in case” plans with someone who is close to you. A few
years ago, I met the members of two families who had agreed to be “on call” for
each other in case of emergency. They exchanged lists of emergency telephone
numbers, agreed to reimburse each other for expenses, and swapped house keys,
just in case. Several months later, when just such an occasion arose,
everyone knew what to do and who to call. As a result, nobody panicked and they
were able to focus their attention where it needed to go. Times of illness and
injury will probably always be stressful, but a little forethought and planning
can help a lot.
©Copyright, 2005, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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