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In 2013 I toured the new intensive care units back at the hospital where I volunteer. At the time I was acutely aware how outdated my nursing skills were and realized that I wouldn’t even be safe to flip on a light switch. The state-of-the-art machines were daunting. I never thought that three years later I would have a family member, my husband, in the new unit.

It did help my anxiety that I knew what the ICU looked like. I remembered there was a sort of bench under the window—all the rooms had a window—that could be converted into a bed for family to stay over. I had decided before Ernie’s surgery I would spend the night and as many nights with my husband as needed. So many errors occur in hospitals. In my mind, hospitals are not safe places to be sick. I would be the sentry for safety.

After my husband’s six-hour surgery, two heart valves replaced, my daughter and I found him in a high-tech Hill-Rom bed, unconscious, intubated, and surround by snakes of IV tubing and lines attached to various machines.Hill-Rom bed

The nurse caring for him introduced herself and gave us a “tour” of the landscape, that is, what medications he was getting, what fluids were draining out of what orifices and what the monitors were monitoring. The breathing tube, she said, will come out soon and he would be awake and alert tomorrow. Really?

That was when I decided to spend the night in a hotel room. Fatigued from worry about the outcome of the surgery, I knew a good night’s sleep would be more helpful than spending the night with beeping machines. Besides, I felt an immediate sense of comfort knowing that Ernie would be getting excellent care.

As I look back on this event, I am reminded of the post I wrote on February 23, 2014 about Dr. Arnold Relman, the former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. He had just turned 90 and fell at home, cracking his skull and breaking three vertebrae in his neck. After he had made a full recovery, he confessed that he had never made the connection between good nursing care and the patient’s outcome.

I had never before understood how much good nursing care contributes to patients’ safety and comfort, especially when they are very sick or disabled. This is a lesson all physicians and hospital administrators should learn. When nursing is not optimal, patient care is never good.

This he found out at the ripe old age of 90!

The next morning finding my husband alert and sitting up in a chair beside the bed without his breathing tube and looking surprisingly good brought me close to happy tears.

It’s been two months since Ernie’s surgery. He is getting better, slowly, every day. I continue to be impressed with the surgeon and his team that stopped my husband’s heart, touched, repaired and restarted it with skill and accuracy. They bring big bucks into the hospital coffers. They get the accolades and attention. At the end of the operation, they take off their surgical scrubs. Go home. Have a good meal. Get a good night sleep. But it was the nurses that watched my husband’s battered body around the clock, monitored his fluids, medicine, breathing, pain and his heart and put him on the road to recovery.images

And I am grateful.

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