On being a patient

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 4.49.50 PMWell, really, we’re talking about reflections on being a patient’s mom. As nurses we see the hospital as home base. We know the protocols and procedures. We know what to expect, when to expect it, and we know how things work. It’s easy to forget that our patients don’t share in all of that.

I’m waking up now from a night in the children’s hospital. Not my home base, though mine is just across the street. My little guy is sleeping soundly while I sip my coffee. He’s tired after yesterday’s ride in the ambulance, hours in the ER, and finally a transfer to the third floor. Med-surg. He came in with the flu, pneumonia, and an asthma attack to top it off. After a couple hours in the ER his sats were good, but the doc decided to admit him anyway. The mom in me was thankful, but the nurse in me was questioning. The doc said his blood work was a bit “off”.

Had I not been a nurse I wouldn’t have known the significance of a 2.8 potassium and 263 glucose. I wouldn’t have known to ask about the specifics of the x-ray or the white counts. As nurses we tell our patients very little, because our scope of practice limits what we can disclose to the patient. Even asking about my sons hemoglobin, the nurse only answered me “unofficially and off the record.” But the physician certainly doesn’t have time to list each lab value for me.

But I know the system. I know who to ask. I know my rights as a patient. I know that there are resources I can call on if things just don’t seem right. But sometimes as a mom, when your child is lying on the stretcher, all these thoughts get stuck in the thick sludge of emotions.

So as a patient here at the children’s hospital, I am one of the lucky ones. I know what questions to ask, and to whom to direct those questions. I know this because I’m a nure. Because I’m a mom and I’ve spent many nights at this hospital, I know where to find the linen cart for extra blankets, where to find the coffee maker for me and juice for my little guy.

But our patients don’t always have those things working In their favor. The doctors give bits and pieces of medical information stuffed with jargon-babble. And they leave and close the door behind them. And the nurse comes in, does her tasks, and asks if they need anything, then leaves and closes the door behind herself. And the patient is left alone, and vulnerable, and unsure of anything and of everything. The hardest part is not knowing what to ask, not knowing the plan, not knowing what resources are available.

As nurses, our role as patient advocate should not be confined to speaking for them; we need to be speaking with them. We can clear away the cobwebs to help them understand what’s going on and why.

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