Friday, September 14, 2007

Five Must Do's For a Sick Loved One

When a loved one is sick, we often feel totally helpless and caught up in the medical world. If people only knew how important their role as caregiver really is. Credit goes to Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, for these wonderful tips on how to fight for and protect a sick loved one.
  • Don't be afraid to intervene: If you see something going on that strikes you as wrong, say so. A medication that you've never seen before, a dressing that remains after a doctor said it would be removed, IVs that should be given on a regular schedule. It's OK to push and not accept the first answer.

  • Ask Questions until you understand the answer: If the doctor says surgery is needed and you don't understand why or when or how...ask. If explanations are given in terms that make no sense..push until you understand.

  • You know things that the doctors don't: You know if your loved one is in pain, has been bleeding longer than the doctor thinks, is shy and won't talk or hundreds of other facts that the medical folks just can't know. Share might be important to healing.

  • Temper your loved one's enthusiasm for quick fixes: Pain and anxiety can affect the way a patient hears the doctor. It is OK to ask for a 2nd opinion, look at alternative treatments or just stop and discuss. Be the advocate with the clear mind.
  • Scope out the nurses: The nurses are the ones that see it all. They know the details of tests, timing and the ins and outs of the complicated hospital environment. The nurse can often interpret things for you if you didn't follow rule #2. Nurses are the patient's second best advocate after you, so partner with them.
The patient without a significant loved one at their side is at a clear disadvantage. I am always happy to see family gathered around when I round on a hospital patient because I know we are all working together for a common goal.


MedFriendly said...

You are so right and these recommendations are right on point. Reminds me of a blog posting I wrote a few years aago emphasizing the need for family to advocate for the patient in the hospital setting. Thanks for helping to get the word out!

Dominic A. Carone, Ph.D.
Founder and Webmaster of and The MedFriendly blog.

Shilough said...

This is exactly the experience I gained while my son went though leukemia treatment and then a bone marrow transplant. I can recount many times that had I not been there and/or asked questions things could gone very badly and possible been fatal. One time was when his IV was leaking blood, which was already thinned because of a low platelet count. My son was not aware of the ever growing pool of blood on the floor and I am sure that the nurse would not have returned to check on him till he had bleed out completely. Another was when he was supposes to be given a medication at midnight each night while he was in ICU on life support. We had already been told that if he didn't receive this medication it could be fatal. I was not to spend the night in the ICU but did anyway. Well it was a good thing I did because after the first night of receiving the medication it was not administered to him the next night. It was only because I was there to know that he did not receive it that I was able to tell the doctors about the mistake. The chart had not been updated and the error was likely to overlook for several days (or who knows how long).
I can recount many other less severe incidents but these two alone have convince me that no one should ever be in the hospital alone. He was treated in one of most well renowned hospitals in this country. I'm not really complaining about the hospital or the staff but people will always make mistakes and someone who is sick is certainly not in a position to look after themselves.

Toni Brayer MD said...

Shilough, you certainly made the points with your personal experience. I am glad you were there and it is a great lesson to others. It is so hard to be a "loved one" in a strange environment, but so critical.

Jonathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

I can echo these comments with my own experience with my father, twice hospitalized for an occlusion type stroke. I can recount three times that either my sister or I intervened when we noticed medication errors. On another occasion, when admitted to the emergency room without either of us present, my father identified his previous stroke as a heart attack to the attending physician, an irony of the speech aphasia of his first stroke. His ER team then proceeded down a coronary event path, then switched tacks when my sister showed up and informed them that he had no history of myocardial infarcts, rather a history of TIA’s. (We now have my father wearing a medical information bracelet).

Acting as a patient advocate for a sick loved one is one of the best ways that I know of to show that love.

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