Over the last three and a half years of caring for my patients and helping other nurses with theirs, I’ve seen and heard a thing or two from patients and families about their expectations for the hospital stay. And with the changing atmosphere of healthcare our job as nurses proves more and more difficult. Somehow it is our job to ensure everything is perfect. From the food to the cleanliness of the toilet. And somehow that often is what we are evaluated on so I want to set a few things straight.
- The nurses didn’t cook your food. Working in Progressive care many of our patients have a tracheostomy and a PEG tube so they don’t eat regular food. If we do have patients that eat, about 50-75% of them complain about the food. A little news: The quality of the food will not cause detriment to your health…unless you decide not to eat it. If you don’t get salt or sugar with your meal it is because you are not supposed to have it. Sorry it doesn’t taste as good, but I’m guessing you’ve been told before that you should have those things and you never gave them up. As all kids should learn, sometimes you have to eat stuff you don’t like because it’s what’s best for you. Be an adult and eat it. When you get out of the hospital, treat yourself. Once. And only once. If you need to find new cookbooks to continue the heart healthy or diabetic lifestyle, check your local bookstore or Amazon. Don’t complain at your nurse repeatedly for the inadequacies of the food they didn’t make you. If something is wrong or forgotten on your tray, we can try to fix that. Once again, we don’t have a kitchen in the nurses’ station so please don’t expect it to be in your room in 5 minutes. We have to call the kitchen, they have to prepare your request, and then someone has to bring it to us. We will get it as fast as we can, but we are not magicians or chefs. We are nurses.
- We save lives. That is our job. We were trained to save lives and that is what we’re doing when we’re not answering your call bell. We are a team and try to get to every patient that needs us as soon as he or she needs help. However, sometimes, we are busy keeping someone alive. Your cup of water can wait and if you need to use the bathroom, please, please, please don’t get up by yourself because you will most likely fall. Did I mention we are experts at cleaning up blood, vomit, poop, urine, etc. with our patients still in the bed! Oh and if you or your family member poops and we are tied up in an emergency (in a hospital an emergency is generally life-threatening), we will be in to your room to clean you up as soon as we can. We cannot always be in to clean up poop in 2 minutes even though we have just turned over doing compressions to someone else for 2 minutes.
- That beeping is important. Ok. There are going to be noises, beeps, alarms that you won’t be used to and will probably find annoying. We can’t help that they annoy you and yes, some of them are unnecessary, but we have turned them down and minimized as many as we can. Once again, we save lives with those beeps. Bring earplugs in your hospital bag.
- This is a hospitalization, not a hotel stay. Not all areas of the hospital are equipped with extra beds for your family and a million extra chairs and free snacks and drinks for everyone. The patients are sick, not on vacation and neither are the visitors. The bathroom maybe down the hall and, no, you should not use the one in the room that is for the patient or the one one clearly labeled “Staff Use Only.” That’s for us. So we can be near your family member to save their life if we need to. And if your family member is hooked up to a monitor, rest assured that the nurses are very near the beeping and alarming noises elsewhere and will come running into your room if something is really wrong. You don’t need to come out every 5 minutes and tell us there is an alarm you don’t understand. And no, we can’t shut all the alarms off…then we wouldn’t come running to the room in the event of an emergency.
- The hospital is probably a little cleaner than a toilet. Patients land in the hospital when they are sick, not healthy. Visitors come to the hospital to see their sick relatives and friends. Once again, their sick relatives and friends. Yes, we clean and we disinfect, but I believe the news talks about all the ‘Super Bugs’ out there and you should be scared of them. Do you know where those ‘Super Bugs’ came from? That’s right. The hospital. So don’t bring your new babies and little toddlers and let them run barefoot or eat food off the floor and for goodness sakes…Wash. Your. Hands.
- Thank the people taking care of you. Hospital staff are generally not allowed to accept tips or gifts from patients or family members. But you know a very simple gift that is always amazing to get? A simple (and I mean simple) “Thank You.” Verbal or written or however. It is a rare day anymore when a nurse can walk out of work and say, “I had a good day. My patients were grateful for what I did for them.” We work very hard to take the best care of our patients and if you have a nurse who doesn’t seem to be there for anything but a paycheck, it might be because she hasn’t been thanked in a very, very long time.
- You have lost some privileges. Why do patients come to the hospital? Most of the time it is because patients have failed or neglected to properly care for their illnesses. So when you step foot in the hospital, you play by our rules. If you or your family member is so ill that you need someone to fix what you’ve messed up, you better know that your choices and demands are limited. Have heart trouble or hypertension and don’t eat a low fat, low sodium diet or take your anti-hypertensives regularly? In the hospital you will eat the unsalted, low fat food and not complain about it. Have diabetes but don’t follow a consistent carb diet or check your blood sugar? We will be checking your blood sugar at frequent intervals and poking you with insulin needs regularly. We are not being mean. We are managing the disease killing you. And your diet will not include regular soda, cake, cookies, bread, etc. You screwed up. In this relationship, you are the child who needs to learn from parent. I understand you are an adult. You have been educated and if you don’t understand ask another question. If you don’t care to learn, don’t come to the hospital and beg for us to save you only to walk out and repeat your mistake.
- We have rules we can’t always control. We are reimbursed for you not showing up to the hospital for the same thing in a month. That means, we will repeat our instructions so that you understand how to properly care for yourself when you leave. We do not get reimbursed for certain things such as if you develop a pressure ulcer (really bad sore) or fall or come down with a hospital acquired infection. So in order to prevent these terrible complications for you and ensure we get paid for what we do, we will be making you uncomfortable by turning you, getting up in your business and cleaning well and making you stay in bed (until you’re well enough to get up by yourself). No, these things are not comfortable, but we are protecting you. And we want you to do for yourself the things you can. Our job is to train you to care for yourself to the best of your ability which will also maximize your health. If you need to write it down, bring a notebook.
- Your evaluation of the care you received is about you getting better. It is not about the beeps that we couldn’t shut off or the food that was gross or the lack of a view from your room. Our goal as nurses is to help you or your loved one reach the best outcome. And just to be clear, the harsh reality is that sometimes a dignified death is what is best for a patient. We have hospital rules that we can explain to you and we can educate you to the best of our ability, so if you are out of the hospital and you know more now than you did before you came in, please give us a fair evaluation. We have a great deal of knowledge about how the human body works and how medications should act in the body and how the many pieces of equipment attached to you works and we use that with nearly every interaction. Each time we walk in your room we are assessing your health and we make it look like we aren’t doing anything. If you don’t know what a nurse should be doing, ask or Google it, and rate us fairly.
- Talk to your family about your wishes for end-of-life care. This doesn’t just apply to senior citizens. This is for everyone. No one knows when or how they will meet the end of their time here on earth. This is difficult, but all too often we see our patients suffer because no one knows how the person wanted to leave this world. Take the time to have the difficult conversation. Palliative care and hospice care are not death sentences. Do some research and figure out what they mean to you before someone else has to make the decision for you. And don’t brush off the conversation that a family member may try to have with you regarding their wishes. Also, please, don’t use people for a paycheck. If you want your family member to stay alive because you want their checks, then you take them home and take care of them. It’s not fair to healthcare workers to watch helplessly as our patients suffer beyond our control. We became nurses to bring healing and dignity to the lives of those we care for, not to cause suffering.
Please pass these words of wisdom along to those who may be visiting a hospital near you.