Thursday, December 07, 2006

Whose cares more--nursing or housekeeping?

Within three hours of becoming a patient at a nonprofit, community hospital (a nasty bit spider-bite induced infection in my foot), a nursing supervisor had me furious. And my wife, Sarah, too.

No one may stay over night with a patient unless the patient is in serious condition, said a stone-faced nursing supervisor. A new policy, she said, because of boyfriends staying over night, homeless cousins, and people who had been drinking.

When I checked in I asked for a private room, glad to pay the extra $31 a night to make it possible for Sarah to stay in the room with me, something we had done last November when I spent five days in the same hospital with pneumonia.

Didn't matter to Nurse Stone-Faced. I'm disabled, I said. My wife can help me and it'll make easier for your staff. Use your call light, said Nurse Stone-Faced.

I want to appeal, I said. Talk to the administartor tomorrow. Implication to Sarah, get out of here tonight.

Organizations thrive on smart and friendly systems. The "no one stays overnight in the hospital except parents of young children and family of seriously ill patients" is smart and friendly for the night shift nurses who don't have to deal with unpredictable family members present.

But not for patients. According to my daughter who's an RN and studying to be a Nurse Practioner, the research clearly shows that patients recover better when family is present.

After the surgeon had cut a hole in my foot, drained the infection, packed it with gauze, wrapped it, and left, Sarah looked at me and said, "You look distressed."

"I thought I was done fighting hospitals," I said.

Almost 32 years ago in our first year of marriage I had to spend fives weeks in the hospital, most of it in a rehab hospital that allowed visitors from 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Didn’t matter that we were newly weds. Visiting hours were visiting hours. Desperate to be a good husband, I talked my doctor into extending visiting hours to 10:00 and then we had hell to pay from the hospital staff who were angry that I got special privileges.

Getting a feisty look on her face Sarah said, “I’m going to find the administrator's home number,” thumbing through the phone book.

“You find the number, I’ll call him.”

“Mr. H, are you the hospital administrator?”


I launched into a succinct description of the situation and concluded by saying, “If this policy is applied to my wife tonight this will be the last time I will use your hospital.”

He handled it very well, asking clarifying questions, and then telling me that he would call the nursing supervisor and someone would get back to me. We knew Sarah could stay the night when a CNA brought in a reclining chair for Sarah to sleep in.

The next morning, Barb the housekeeper, a cheerful soul if there ever was one, blew into my room. She saw Sarah waking up on a recliner next to my bed and said, “You don’t look very comfortable.”

Sarah acknowledged she did not have a goodnight’s sleep on the chair. “Would you like a roll away bed tonight?” she asked Sarah. “The hospital has three of them,” said Barb. “I’ll look for one for you.” “Yes.”

In the afternoon Barb stopped in again. “I’m sorry,” she said. “All the cots are being used by parents who are staying with their kids.”

The next day when Barb breezed in and began mopping the floor, she said, “I told my husband last night that I felt terrible because I couldn’t find a bed for that poor woman who had to sleep on that uncomfortable recliner.”

Later in the day Barb popped in and said, “One of the children was just discharged and there’s a bed available. Would you like me to put it in your restroom and you can use it tonight?” “Yes.”

Sarah worked the evening shift at another hospital but when she arrived at IVCH at 1:00 a.m. she had a much more comfortable sleep thanks to Barb, the housekeeper. I about cry just writing this. Barb was deeply caring. She went out of her way to be kind to Sarah as Sarah stood by her man in the hospital.

The hospital has a slogan--"We care for you."

I have a hard time convincing myself that whoever dreamed up the no family overnight policy was caring for Sarah and me but I have no doubt about Barb, the smart and friendly housekeeper.

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