A columnist’s personal encounter with caregiving
People who take on the caregiving role for elderly family or friends either know ahead of time or find out quickly how very difficult it can be to manage and advocate for a loved one.
Our Visiting Angels office advocates for many clients every day. We collaborate with medical providers and family members about the status of our clients after medical office/hospital visits, we maintain copious notes on our client’s medications, eating, exercise and all-round well-being. Therefore, when I recently had to go out of town to take care of my mom, who was rushed to the hospital, I would be quite prepared. Surprisingly, it was not so easy.
I arrived to the hospital at about noon to find my mom was still in the ER. I had anticipated that by the time I arrived, she would have already been admitted to a room. After spending the first four to five hours in the ER, it became clear that this place was crazy busy. It had no moments of calmness. My brother and I laughed with each other that this place reminded us of the movie “Jacob’s Ladder.” This was a Trauma Level 1 hospital in San Diego, a long way from the cozy comfort of own Valley View Hospital.
Somewhere near 9:30 p.m., a nurse informed us that a hospitalist would be coming soon to help get my mom to a room. Not too long thereafter, a hospitalist arrived.
In order to facilitate my mother’s transfer to either a medical floor or a specialty unit, the hospitalist asked my brother (Josh) and me a litany of questions about my mother’s medical history, medicines she takes, her physical condition, her cognitive condition and overall general health. We were prepared. Proudly, I pulled out of my backpack a folder containing answers to every question she had.
Yep, this is what I do, of course I would be prepared. The hospitalist was visibly surprised at my preparedness and thoroughness. This made me feel good. Unfortunately, this self-assured feeling was short-lived.
Near midnight, we were finally escorted to a specialty unit within the hospital. After getting my mom into one of the rooms, a floor nurse entered the room with a mobile computer station and once again started asking my brother and me many questions about my mom and her health. Incredulously, my brother and I looked at each other. I stopped her mid-questions and asked if she was aware that we had already provided answers to all these questions just a few hours ago. She had no idea what I was talking about and could find none of this information in her computer system. So, once again, we went over all of my mother’s information. Somewhere near 2 a.m., my brother and I went home exhausted.
We arrived back at the hospital at about 9 a.m. to find my mom sleeping. After introducing ourselves to the nurses, we sat on some chairs just outside my mom’s room. Somewhere near 10 a.m., a nurse came by with a medicine cart. This was strange, because Mom’s meds were not due until noon.
My brother questioned the nurse over what meds she had intended to give our mom and found out that the nurse had thought that my mom’s Parkinson’s medication was due at that time. Josh almost lost control. I could see that his patience was thin and his lack of sleep was leaving him just a bit grouchy. Josh and I were astounded how this error could have occurred. After all, we had given detailed information to one of the unit’s nurses just hours ago.
As the day proceeded and shift changes occurred, we were diligent about making sure each new shift nurses were informed of Mom’s overall medical history, recent changes to medicine quantities, doses and times. It didn’t take too long for the nurses and staff to talk among themselves about Josh and me such that when a new shift came on, our names were already known. Great, huh? Yes and no.
An additional challenge we had to overcome was when new staff came on shift, they too often were unaware of a recent break of my mom’s arm. When adjusting my mom in bed and/or helping her walk, they would grab her injured arm. While my mom’s sudden scream of pain would quickly inform them of their error, Josh and I found this difficult to observe. So, we posted a large note next to the whiteboard in my mom’s room. Problem solved.
Over the course of the past seven days, other inconsistencies occurred. Had we not been present at the hospital, who knows what could have happened?
Our medical system is complicated. Many medical providers are forced to see 20-30 patients a day. State, government and private insurance too often force people out of the hospital prematurely. Often communication between providers is complicated by electronic medical records not being easily accessed or shared.
Managing the interests of family members, collaboration among medical providers and crash courses in legal guidelines/requirements have become increasingly harder tasks. Like never before, we need a college course to be created called “Managing Our Health Care and Our Parents 101.”
It has become clearer to me that there is a direct correlation between my family and friends’ engagement in advocating for my mother’s care and her outcome. Managing people’s care and advocating for them is what I do for a living, and I love my job. However, my recent experience affirms how much more I have to learn and educate others.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being prepared when the need arises to advocate for a loved one. The time spent preparing will make dramatic differences in your loved one’s well-being.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Garfield County. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.
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