Judson Haims: My personal account with caregiving was good and bad
Special to The Aspen Times
Editor’s Note: The Aspen Times is starting regular Tuesday advice columns on relationships and family. Every week in Lifestyles, we will rotate between a column to help couples in a relationship (She Said, He Said) and a column on taking care of aging parents (Visiting Angels). Both are written by local professionals in their field.
People who take on the caregiving role for elderly family or friends either know ahead of time, or quickly find out, how very difficult it can be to manage and advocate for a loved one.
On a daily basis, I advocate for many clients. My office collaborates with medical providers and family members about the status of our clients both before and 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 expected that I would be quite prepared. Surprisingly, it was not so easy.
When I arrived to the hospital at about noon, I found 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 or five hours in the ER, it became clear that this place was crazy busy. At no time were there moments of calmness. My brother and I laughed that this place reminded us of the movie “Jacob’s Ladder.” This was a trauma level 1 hospital in San Diego. This was a long way from the cozy comfort of our local Aspen Valley Hospital where the doctor/nurse to patient ratio is great and the attentiveness is excellent.
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 on one of the medical floors. Not too long thereafter, about an hour, the hospitalist arrived.
In order to facilitate my mother’s transfer from the emergency room to either a medical floor or a specialty unit, the hospitalists asked my brother Josh and me a litany of questions about my mother’s medical history, medicines she presently 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.
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.
After getting my mom into a room near midnight, 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 left the hospital and went home exhausted.
We arrived back about 9 a.m. to find my mom sleeping. After introducing ourselves to the nurses (and bringing muffins/bagels), we sat just outside my mom’s room. Somewhere near 10 a.m., a nurse came by with a medicine cart. This was strange because her meds were due at 9. My brother questioned the nurse and found out that the nurse had thought that my mom’s Parkinson’s medication was due at 10. Josh almost lost control. I could see that his patience was thin and his lack of sleep was leaving him just a bit temperamental. We were astounded how this error could have occurred after we had given detailed verbal and printed information to one of the unit’s nurses just hours earlier.
As the day proceeded and shift changes occurred, we were diligent about making sure each new shift nurse was informed of Mom’s overall medical history, recent changes to medicine quantities, doses and times. It didn’t take too long for the staff to talk among themselves about Josh and me such that when a new shift came on, our names were already known when they worked with our mother.
Great, huh? Yes and no.
An additional challenge we had to overcome was when new staff came on shift, they were often 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 and painful to observe. So, Josh posted a large note next to the whiteboard in my mom’s room where the staff write the names of the incoming doctors and nursing staff. Problem solved.
Over the course of the last 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 to 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 and nursing providers, and crash courses in legal guidelines/requirements has become an increasingly harder task. 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 experiences affirm how much more I must learn and how important it is that I educate others so they don’t have to recreate the wheel.
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 Pitkin County. Contact him at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.
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