For as many times as we have made trips to the ER in the past seven years, Sunday night was the first time Chalupa has ever been admitted to the hospital. On Monday night, the hospitalist (does anyone else just love the title “hospitalist”?) agreed with the pulmonologist that he needs to stay a second night, although everyone seemed hopeful that he could go home on Tuesday, and that’s precisely what happened. On Tuesday morning, we packed up my lapotp and his iPad, our changes of clothes, and his bags of medicine and headed home. Now we’re back home with Ruthie, who is happy to have us home but still a little angry that she didn’t get to see us for two days, and I’m trying to force Chalupa to just take it easy.

Chalupa’s asthma could certainly be worse–he has never had to be intubated, for example, and he is still able to work a regular job. The severity of his asthma seems to be in the fact that he is constantly sick, not that his symptoms are regularly life-threatening.

So this was the first time he has been admitted. In the forty hours that we spent at the hospital this week, I learned a few lessons that I didn’t know before.

1) If you have spent most of your life in one town, you will see lots of people you know at that town’s only hospital. From the guy you used to work with sitting outside the ER waiting for a ride back to work to the old family friend who stops by on her way to her nursing shift, you’re going to know folks. We’ve even been to the ER enough times this summer that the doctor on shift recognized us immediately, and I knew two of the hospitalists who talked to Chalupa. One had helped to take care of my grandpa a few years ago during a hospitalization, and I went to the other’s wedding last year because he married my sister’s sister-in-law.

2) Take advantage of the times that your doctor is in the room, because it’s not going to be very often. Doctors are busy people, and they’re probably not anywhere near as important in the quality of your care as the nurses and other staff who will be working with you. But–they do make the decisions. I wasn’t expecting any of them to linger in the hospital room for extended periods of time, but after the first few visits from the hospitalist, I finally started remembering to take advantage of the time that they were there. In those short minutes, it’s important to ask as many questions as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask the doctors to repeat themselves. Write things down if you need to. Ask for follow up. Remind them of things that they said earlier and say, “Is that still true?” If you think of a question after the doctor leaves, write it down and remember to ask it the next time.

3) Bring something to do. Holy crap, sitting there is boring. Bring a computer, a book, some knitting, anything.

4) Ask for what you need. In most situations, being polite and asking for things can’t really go wrong. I know it’s easy to get nervous in unfamiliar situations and not want to cause any trouble, but how much trouble are you really causing if you need to ask where to refill a pitcher of water or get a new pillowcase because you accidentally spilled a cup of said water all over the bed? The answer: of course not.

5) “If a person is sick enough to be in the hospital, they need someone there with them.” My mom said this in passing the other night when I told her about a negative encounter Chalupa had with a respiratory tech on Monday night. In that moment, thanks to the bizarre negligence of someone who was supposed to be getting Chalupa to breathe, I found that I had to step in and advocate for my husband’s care. I had to transition from passively watching to actively engaging with the staff. “He needs another breathing treatment.” “I know what happens when he gets this bad and ends up in the Emergency Room–he needs more treatment than he’s getting right now.” “If the therapist won’t come back and give him more drugs, he needs to take his own.” I don’t think that I know more than medical professionals in very many situations, but I do know how to recognize when Chalupa is in distress and that he was not receiving the care he needed to recover.

Although I did leave the hospital twice in the evenings to pick up changes of clothes and things we needed from home, I’m glad that someone was with Chalupa pretty much the entire time he was hospitalized. I was able to clarify his answers to questions, remember what doctors and nurses said and did, and put my foot down when he was in acute respiratory distress.

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