Advice for Relatives of an Ill Family Member
In the last two weeks, while I’ve been taking care of my mom, first in the hospital, and now at a rehabilitation center, I’ve learned several important points about healthcare. Below are the most important:
- Don’t get sick.
- If you do get sick, and have to go to a hospital, have family or friends spend as much time with you as they possibly can.
- The family needs to check and double check everything that the hospital staff does.
- Family has to actively advocate for the patient, in a kind, respectful, patient, and persistent manner.
I am always impressed with how kind, caring, and competent the nurses and their aides are. They make everything happen in the hospital. They communicate with the doctors, they make sure the patient is comfortable, they share information with the family, and they provide emotional support to the patient and to the family. They rock! Be respectful to all of the staff, and they will be glad that you are there. But, they frequently have too many patients to care for. They may have three or four patients that press the call button at the same time! So who gets taken care of first? The patient with a caring, loving family that gently goes out in the hall and connects with the nurse or nurse’s aide. Now, here are some more important items:
- Bring pictures of family to your relative’s room.
- Learn the names of everyone who is taking care of your loved one.
- Make sure to introduce yourself to everyone, let them know your relationship with the patient, and find small ways of connecting with each staff member.
- Don’t ring the call button more than once.
- Anticipate a reasonable wait time for help.
- Do as much as you can to help the staff.
Today is Saturday at the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF), where my mom will be working on her rehab for the next two weeks, before she is ready to go home. In the course of her 7 days in the hospital and due to her cardiac insufficiency, she is very weak. When I arrived at 9 a.m. with my niece, I introduced myself to the new staff at the nursing station. Joe, one of the nursing directors, commented on how rare it was for visitors to introduce themselves and ask their names! I asked him if my Mom could have physical therapy (PT) early in the day, and he said “I will expedite that for you!” Thirty minutes later she was wheeling into the PT room for an hour of physical therapy! Take my word for it; if I hadn’t connected with the weekend staff, it would be up for grabs. Maybe she would get PT today, but it might be later in the day when she was tired out. Don’t ask if you can participate in various activities, just join in. My niece functioned as my mother’s personal trainer during PT, counting for her and giving her encouragement when she felt tired. When my mother was having her breathing tube removed at the ICU, we didn’t ask if we could be by the bedside. We were there. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness then permission! If I had asked the respiratory therapist if we could hold her hand, I am sure he would have had us leave the room. The biggest problem that I observed…there is a lack of standardized systems to make sure that everything is done. There are few checklists that insure that everything is completed. There are many opportunities for important details to fall through the cracks. Finally—
- Make a checklist of all the things that need to be done.
- When you meet with your family member’s doctor, come with a list of questions.
This time with my mom is precious. I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing than to be by her bedside. Making her more comfortable and helping her feel safe and cared for is very important to me. She brought me into the world. I want to help her leave this life with love and grace.