It has been a long couple of weeks for me! Sometime in the middle of feeling overwhelmed, it occurred to me that I am living the life of many of our patient’s families.
My Aunt fell and broke her hip last week. My uncle, her husband is suffering from some sort of dementia and is unable to care for her. Because they live in a rural area, her surgery took place an hour north of their home and my uncle was unable to stay with her. Fortunately, my cousins drove him back and forth to visit.
Meanwhile, another cousin was admitted to the hospital in Baton Rouge. He is in ICU with a diagnosis of ARDS although no one can figure out the underlying cause. Needless to say, our family is spread thin, we are trying to make decisions and give advice long distance and we all feel inadequate because we are not able to be in two places at once.
What occurred to me over the weekend is how common this experience really is. How many times have you been into a patient’s home and learned of another relative either nearby or away that was also gravely ill. There is nothing special or unique about being pulled in multiple directions when more than one relative is ill.
And we have it made compared to many of our patients. This branch of our family tree includes many nurses and two physicians. All of us have cars and the ability to take time off work without worrying about being able to eat or pay bills at the end of the month. We are so much more fortunate than many of our patients and their families.
I know that I would forgive myself if I forgot to make a trip to the drug store or misunderstood some directions that a home health nurse gave me. I see my cousins who are not in the health care field try to make sense of all the information and how easily they become confused. Nurses and other health care providers spend years learning the vocabulary of our industry. What about the teachers and electricians?
And so when we are dealing with family members who are hopelessly non-compliant, I wonder if we are always fair with them? The fatigue of being vigilant all night long for a patient with a broken hip is exhausting. Waiting rooms are not a place to get rest.
Maybe in those first few visits when a patient returns from the hospital we should focus on teaching ONLY what is necessary and eliminating opportunities for confusion. Maybe we should focus on doing more than teaching. Implementing fall precautions with the permission of family members (lifting throw rugs, providing for adequate lighting, etc.) may be more effective than instructing someone who hasn’t slept well in several weeks. A simple phone call to follow up on medication compliance in those first few days may prevent serious complications due to the forgetfulness of fatigued family members.
It has only been a week since all this happened. I have a great family that’s actually pretty big. All of my family members have stepped up to the plate in this stressful time. And we are tired! My attitude towards seemingly non-compliant family members has changed tremendously. I hope you learn a little from my experience and that you keep it in mind both when taking care of patients and in your personal lives.
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