She’s a Person – Not a Patient!

My 89 year old mother recently sufferred heart failure with complications from pneumonia.  Our experience in the hospital provided another example of good people losing sight of their sacred mission.

My mother received the best medical care in that the symptoms were treated, the heart failure was mitigated and the pneumonia was cured. For that we are thankful.  However, the focus was on “curing” the disease rather than healing the person.

Let me give some examples.  No one asked about my mother’s abilities prior to her arriving in the hosptial.  It was assumed that she had not been mobile, that she sufferred from dementia and that she could not care for herself.  These assumptions set the expectations for the outcomes of her treatment even though none of them were accurate.  She was just another elderly patient like all the other elderly patients the staff saw on a daily basis.  She was not seen as someone’s mother with a personality and the will to fight.  Someone who had bounced back before wihen the doctors had given up hope.  She was lucky because we as a family were there to make sure they understood the “person” they were caring for - not just a patient with a set of symptoms. Unfortunately, we saw many who had no advocates.

She was told at 11 a.m. that she would be moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility.  I asked that the move happen during daylight hours because she would become more disoriented.  I was told that the staff understood my concerns but they couldn’t guarantee the time of the move.  Sure enough the move took place in the dark at 7:30 p.m. and sure enough my mother became more disoriented making her recovery even more difficult. This is what we do to disorient terror suspects.  Blindfold them, move them around in the middle of the night and wake them at all hours so they are deprived of sleep.  Sounds like the hospital and nursing home to me.

Each of the individuals who cared for my mother were decent human beings and good at the technical side of their jobs.  However, with a few exceptions, they had become disconnected from their sacred purpose and that disconnect had negative consequences for my mother’s health.  The solution here is not more money but leadership that builds a culture that sustains that connection to sacred purpose.  In the long run, that connection to purpose saves money, improves profits and leads to “healing” at the physical, emotional and spritual levels for both paients and providers.

Do you have a story to share?  Let’s hear the good and the bad.

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5 Responses to She’s a Person – Not a Patient!

  1. Kathy says:

    You’re absolutely right: we need medical professionals to treat the person, not just the illness. I hope your mother’s doing better now.

  2. Judeth Davis says:

    It only takes one individual in the situation of injury or illness to give a suffering patient a secure, loving context for their recovery. How wonderful if each of us would commit to being that individual for someone. It changes the whole world of the patient.

  3. David says:

    I think it is such a privilege that you are able to be there for your mom. I imagine that many people who are trying to support their sick family members do not know how to act as an advocate for their family.

    My girlfriend suffered the loss of her father several years ago. Her father, Igor, had been fighting an incredibly aggressive cancer for nine months and many of his last days were spent in the hospital. On top of an incredibly painful experience of suffering for both Igor and his family, they all had to fight to get decent attention to Igor’s needs. My girlfriend and her family did not feel that they were able to get much of any serious consideration to their request on their own and were forced to improvise with their own resources to provide Igor with the care he desperately needed. Near the end they did eventually meet two incredibly caring nurses who did what they could to acquire more attention and care. Those two nurses are still family friends to this day.

    All of this occurred in Russia. Although not all of the steriotypes placed on Russia’s medical industry are true, it is no where near the quality of medical care that we have here. The most shocking part of this reality was the fact that, though the technology was available for Igor, many of the nurses and attendance in charge of the hospital acted with such little care or concern for the needs around them that they appeared almost heartless. Of course these individuals weren’t evil and I believe whole heartedly that a lack of leadership and focus on meeting the needs of the lives around them cause these workers to behave carelessly.

    I still have a hard time understanding how some of the hospital employees were not able to initiate the thought in their own minds that people around them could benefit from their care and attention. Isn’t there embedded in each of us some sense of those needs that sacred leadership would help communicate? Perhaps not. Perhaps the reason for this is a lack of leadership, not just in businesses like hospitals, but in the schools, in homes, in the media, and the list goes on. It seems many cultures no longer maintain the morals which are vital to their very existence. Sacred leadership is vital to our existence.

  4. Scott says:

    How true….

    My own Mother was recently admitted to hospital for a rather tricky procedure that required a skin graft to be taken from her left thigh to perform reconstructive surgery after she had potentially cancerous cells removed.

    Having observed the attitudes, actions and behaviors of the hospital personnel, I believe that the daily grind of dealing with helpless, incapacitated or elderly patients desensitizes them to the INDIVIDUALS with whom they interact.

    Of course, some of the elderly patients WERE loud, demanding, impatient, but let’s face it, they’re SICK!!!

    I believe that the hospital administration and leadership should provide training or counseling or SOMETHING to help the people providing aid to remember their “sacred mission”, and NOT become jaded or inattentive to this calling.

    For example, one attendant came in, told my Mom that she was there to change a dressing, and GRABBED my Mom’s left thigh to roll her over!!!! WITH AN OPEN WOUND that extended from my Mom’s hip bone to just above her knee, and about four to five inches wide!!! Needless to say, my Mom HOLLERED in pain, and let her know of her error in judgment. Hearing Mom tell her story, I mentioned that had it been ME, I probably woulda hauled off and SLUGGED the attendant….HARD!!!!

    It just goes to show that the attendant came to do her job technically well, but neglected to review the chart to familiarize herself with my Mom’s condition, and not blindly reach down to grab a leg with a massive skin graft that is about a quarter of an inch deep…

    I tend to lay the blame at the feet of management, who needs to provide an environment and resources to “recharge the batteries” of those workers on the “front lines” who interact with sick, hurting people every day of their working lives.

    Sadly in this day and age, though, that probably won’t happen because the administrators would have to spend money for resources that would take the place of their lofty salaries and perquisite packages….

    {Is that jaded and cynical???} At least I’m AWARE of it…

  5. jdavis says:

    Scott,

    I don’t think it is jaded or cynical – it is just reality today. That is why I have organized this movement to reinstate the “sacred” in the helping professions especially but also in all of activities. We all need to see that our survival and overall quality of life depend on our honoring a committment to the common goot.

    Thank you for commenting.

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