Cambrian: Opinion

Experiencing a health crises can teach us a lot. Here’s what I learned

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner

When a family member has a serious illness or health crisis, many of the rest of us become hospital sitters.

We huddle in waiting rooms. We hold the hand of the patient and/or other hospital sitters, and do what little we can to make everybody more comfortable. We gather around that torture device known as a hospital bed, and try to find someplace in the hospital room where we can sit while we wait.

And wait.

And wait.

We were on hospital-sit duty recently, after Husband Richard had a minor heart attack. He’s doing better now, thank you, so I have a bit of time to reflect on a few things I’ve learned.

For instance:

• A nighttime call bell for the nurse is like a nearby foghorn to a sleeping patient.

• A compatible roommate is an absolute blessing, and can compensate for having too many people in too small a space.

• Hospital food is ... hospital food, no matter how they try to gild the lily.

• Cat-napping on a hospital chair or couch is a pain in the neck and other body parts, but it’s better than no sleep at all.

• I’ll bet that a 4 a.m. blood draw is timed so the doctors will have those test results and can add, subtract or modify orders before the 9 a.m. medication pass. But after a patient finally gets to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, being awakened so soon thereafter by an incoming needle can be brutal.

• Not every patient is an inpatient. Some are there for pre-op or diagnostic tests. Some are there for emergency treatment. And some aren’t patients at all (yet) but are there to visit one. Many of those people will be over a certain age, most are under some kind of medical stress, some will have minor or major physical impairments and lots of them will need to use the public conveniences otherwise known as restrooms.

Wouldn’t it be kind, wise and forward-thinking for all hospitals and medical facilities to provide high-rise toilets in those restrooms? And how about having restroom doors that can be opened by someone other than a bench-press champ, so a slightly impaired person can actually get into and out of the room safely, pain-free?

Yeah, those are fire-protection doors, but still …. I know government regulations can make things difficult for medical facilities to be more user friendly. So maybe it’s time to change the regulations?

• And finally, I was again reminded that nurses and CNAs (California nursing assistants) are the glue that keep the medical system from disintegrating in front of our very eyes. Nurses are the always-there link between the docs on rapid rounds and patients who desperately want to get comfortable, get well and get home.

Some nurses are perky and young.

Some have a wealth of experience guiding their caring hands.

Most still are women — according to Becker’s May 2015 Hospital Review, the ratio of women nurses to men then was 9.5 to 1. Some nurses went into the field early, knowing it was their destiny. Others were led to the career by their own later-in-life experiences.

For instance, we met CNA Doug Foge, a San Luis Obispo native, during his night shifts at the fine San Luis Transitional Care rehabilitation/therapy clinic. Downsizing had forced Foge out of his former tech career, and a subsequent series of serious family illnesses convinced him that his heart lay in the medical field. He enrolled in and completed his nurse’s training, but, due to a paperwork glitch, was just one credit shy of being able to graduate with his class.

That’s when his life experiences convinced him that, from a patient’s point of view, a dedicated CNA is as vitally important to patient care and comfort as the registered nurse who dispenses the meds and is the official link between doctor and patient. Foge is one of thousands of CNAs who are the unsung heroes, answering the endless barrage of bell calls (nearly always on the run) and taking care of patients’ frequent basic needs …especially the need to know that what they want really matters.

That round-the-clock attention and concern can be the balm that reduces pure misery to the more manageable, normal discomfort of recovery. And, for this hospital sitter, their willingness to care is the real magic of medicine.

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