I know this truth as a physician and a caregiver. A family member was recently hospitalized and I got a quick refresher's course in the reality of hospital care from a patient's view point, and it wasn't pretty. My husband was hospitalized 4th of July weekend, due to severe dehydration. From the time I called 911 and throughout his hospital stay I told everyone I could that I was a doctor and that he was dehydrated.
No one really listened to me, not the emergency room physician, not the internist, and not his cardiologist. The cardiologist agreed he showed signs of dehydration, but due to his age, and"risk factors," proceeded with expensive diagnostic tests, that eventually later proved me right.
I witnessed how he and many patients get lost in the diagnostic maze. Despite his obvious signs of dehydration, his doctors proceed with attempting to rule out a heart attack, even though his lab tests showed no signs of a heart attack! Knowing my husband as I do, I was pretty certain he didn't have one, and his initial tests did as well.
My supported medical opinion didn't make a difference. After 3 days of hospitalization, and a $30,000 plus hospital bill, everything was normal and his final diagnosis was dehydration!
I realized, it's best to focus on getting out of the hospital as soon as possible. A lot of avoidable medical errors occur, and they are a leading cause of death. I was concerned about the possibility that my husband could experience complications of the diagnostic tests he had.
Your loved one, the patient, can get lost in the medical treatment shuffle. By that I mean your diagnostic tests, treatment and diseased organ system seemingly hold greater importance than you do as a patient, with emotions, needs, uniqueness, individuality and gets lost in the treatment protocols.
This has nothing to do with dedication, it's the way doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are trained. Don't take it personally. Your hospital staff, I imagine are very hard working and dedicated to helping you. The challenge is their training focuses primarily on the treatment rather than the specific needs of any given patient.
One of the best things you can do is to help your loved one get discharged from the hospital as quickly as possible. So how can you help your loved one get well?
1. Stay informed. With the patient's permission, ask the doctors questions about the patient's conditions. Write the questions, so you won't forget. Become the designate patient advocate.
3. Encourage your sick loved one to watch television selectively with getting well in mind. Don't watch the news or violent, depressing programs. Periods. Watching violence and fear inducing programs can be stressful and raise your stress hormone levels, which in turn slows down the healing process.
In contrast, watching uplifting and inspiring programs, especially comedies and educational programs can lower your stress and help you to get well faster.
4. Encourage the patient to to share her or his thoughts with a kind-hearted person, a good listening ear. It doesn't matter if it is you or someone else. And if there's no one available, encourage them to write about their deep, unexpressed emotions. Medical studies have found that honest expression is a great way to help the body to get well. Writing helps to strengthen the immune system and other bodily functions.
5. Encourage optimism. Medical research demonstrates that optimists are healthier and recover faster than pessimists. Every crisis and illness can be viewed as an opportunity.
6. Find ways to relax. Most illnesses are supported by high levels of stress hormones, so when they are lowered through various means of relaxation, the body has the opportunity to recuperate and heal.
Isn't it great to learn there's a lot you can do to help your sick loved one?
Yours in Good Health,
Elaine R. Ferguson, MD