On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, my wife had a dramatic and horrible reaction to a new medication she had been given. Her muscles stiffened and her joints felt like they were on fire. The symptoms actually began on December 30th, but intensified to the point where she was unable to turn her head or move any part of her body without being in extreme pain. She was unable to lift herself into a sitting position and could not stand without assistance.
What made this more challenging is that she is an above the knee amputee that is wheelchair bound. Therefore, climbing in and out of a wheelchair and wheeling herself from place to place was impossible. In fact, once she was in a sitting position, she was unable to lift herself to stand on her leg and pivot. In other words, she was completely immobile.
Because we had no idea what was causing this reaction at the time, we were both frightened. Not only were we afraid for the present, the past came rushing back at us like a runaway freight train. It’s been seven years since I was a full-time caregiver and my wife was a cancer patient. However, with this being the unknown, both of us feared a return of the nightmare we endured in 2006.
It hit me right away that this was not the time to overreact and panic, nor was it time to sweat about the small stuff like “What stuff do we need to bring to the hospital?” or “should I call the health insurance providers first?” Immediately, I returned to Caregiver-mode. Unlike the previous episode, when I had no idea what a Caregiver is and what I need to do, I was completely prepared. After all, having written We’re In This Together: A Caregiver’s Story, I was ready to utilize the 70 Caregiver Tips I offer in the book. Additionally, I’ve learned so many new tips since the book was launched this past July.
My wife and I discussed her current condition and agreed we needed to visit the Emergency Room of our local hospital. Coincidentally, this is the same hospital that hosted my book launch party on July 14, 2012, so we were rather familiar with some of the administrators that worked here.
As most of us in the United States are aware, we are in the midst of a powerful flu epidemic. As I wheeled my wife into the building, it was clear to us the emergency room was packed with those suffering from the flu. We were informed by the receptionist checking us in the wait would be at least three hours. For us, this was quite disconcerting considering the pain my wife was enduring.
I realized it was time to incorporate a caregiver tip. We contacted an employee of the hospital that we knew to let him know we were on property if he wanted to visit with us. He has always been kind and helpful to us in the past, and this time was no exception. He immediately came to meet with us. After learning why we were there, he dismissed himself and returned with a rather pleasant individual. We were introduced to the Emergency Room Director.
Caregiver tip number two came next. We asked her all about herself. We said nothing about our symptoms or why we were in the hospital. We focused our attention on her. Her response was to take the time to share with us her history at the hospital. When she was done, she asked why we were there. We described in general terms our medical situation.
Her response was that they were very crowded and wished she could do something for us, but her hands were tied. We smiled and stated we completely understood and were not asking for special treatment.
Less than a half-hour later, a nurse called my wife’s name. She led us to a private room in the ER with a bed and chair. As we were being escorted to the room, I saw the ER Director through a window. I smiled at her and she winked back at me. Everyone who had been parked in the ER prior to our arrival had yet to be seen. Obviously, we had just received special treatment.
After helping my wife change into the “fancy green gown” with the all-too-familiar air vent in the back, we had some free time. Because it was the first of the year, our insurance coverage and policy had changed somewhat. Many fine insurance companies, such as Aviva, pride themselves on providing exceptional customer service. Mine was no different. I called, reviewed our coverage and learned what I needed to do to satisfy my deductible and co-pay so I can be prepared should that information be needed.
I returned to our room and began to wonder how many other caregiver tips would I incorporate in what we hoped would be an outpatient procedure, though we truly believed she would have to be admitted as an inpatient.
The nurse arrived and we immediately began kidding with her. She was receptive to our lighthearted banter. In fact, by reading her body language, we could tell she truly appreciated it.
Next came the Physician’s Assistant. Again, we asked him questions about himself and learned we had a great deal in common. Throughout, we smiled, laughed and focused our attention on him. He, too, appeared extremely appreciative and receptive. With so many patients in the hospital, we knew if we stood out, we might receive a more focused level of service – which we did.
However, as a Caregiver, we can never let our guard down, even if we believe the doctors, nurses and other members of the medical community “have our back.”
Folks, we are all human. As humans, we are susceptible to human error. Though we were receiving special treatment, we can never relax to the point of not paying attention. One human error can turn into a fatal mistake. As Caregivers, we have to always be at our best to protect our loved one. Additionally, we should never hesitate to speak up if we are not in agreement with anything taking place.
In our brief stay in the ER, three significant errors occurred within a two-hour time frame. Had I not caught them or spoken up, serious mistakes may have been made.
Error #1: The Physician’s Assistant prescribed a specific medication for my wife, which would have been given via intravenous injection. Had I not questioned the nurse about it just prior to it being given, we may have had a much more severe medical issue to deal with. The previous time my wife had been given that medication, she almost died. By my asking about it and telling the nurse what occurred the previous time it was administered, we prevented the possibility of a reoccurrence.
Error #2: The nurse indicated the P.A. had shared some vital information with us. I told her she was incorrect. We had not been made aware of the data. She went to the room he was treating another patient and he disagreed, stating he was certain he told us what he needed us to know. I pulled out my computer, where I had recorded everything that had taken place thus far, including each conversation held and what was said and by whom. I showed her that the information he had allegedly imparted had never been shared. When he returned to our room, he realized he was thinking of another patient, apologized and then spent significant time with us discussing what we needed to know.
Error #3: A young man appeared at our door with a wheelchair and identified himself as an employee of the transportation department. He informed us that a heart scan had been ordered and he was there to take my wife to “nuclear medicine.” I immediately told him that I was not aware a heart scan had been ordered and asked him to see our physician’s assistant to confirm this was the case. If it was ordered, I asked him to request the P.A. return to our room to explain the need and why we had not been informed of this test. He did so, returned to our room, and apologized. Although my wife’s name was on his orders, the heart scan was for the patient that had been in our room prior to our arrival.
The good news is that they injected my wife with steroids, and immediate improvement was witnessed. The majority of her pain dissipated, she was able to turn her neck side-to-side without difficulty, and she could move her extremities. Therefore, after remaining in the hospital for seven hours, we were discharged.
As we were wheeled toward the front door and passed by the waiting room, I recognized most of the individuals who had arrived prior to us. They were still waiting to be seen. One was complaining rather loudly about the length of her wait.
As a Caregiver, you have to always be alert and utilize every tip and opportunity available to ensure your loved one receives special or, at the very least, accurate and proper medical attention. Doing so is the greatest service you can provide to the person who means so much to you.