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You're Not a Number

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News September 2013

The medicine goes down much easier when it is delivered with a smile.

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One of the most difficult things I find about being a patient in the hospital is the feeling that I’m just a number.

First of all, when I call for assistance all I hear on the intercom is “assistance to bed number so and so.” Rarely am I acknowledged by name, or asked, “What can I do for you?” Instead of getting the impression I’m talking to someone concerned for my welfare, I get the opinion I’m interrupting something more important than my needs.

Then when I’m visited by a nurse or caregiver, I’m asked the same questions over and over as if my condition is not worthy of being remembered.

But the worst feeling of all is when there are a group of doctors and nurses in the room, conducting an assessment, and they talk about my condition as if I’m not there. I have to learn about what is going on with me by overhearing a conversation between two or three other people. 

Actually, I’ve found a favorite game to play. Sometimes when I’m asked “How are you doing today?” I’ll answer something like, “Well, I got drunk at Disneyland last night, so I’m a little tired.”

I kid you not, sometimes the caregiver continues taking my blood pressure without missing a beat and says, “Have a good day. Is there anything else you need?” I swallow the urge to shout, “Someone to pay attention to me!!!” and politely answer, “No thank you.”

Since most people reading this are spinal-cord patients, it’s safe to assume you’re long-term-stay patients. This means you’ll become familiar with your medical staff and eventually know each other’s names, and there could be a tendency to become lazy in terms of your mental and emotional well-being.

I need to share with you that if you allow that to occur, your stay in the hospital will become even more depressing. But, as with all my columns, I’m prepared to offer some advice based on my personal experience.

First, when you call for assistance, announce your name and then say what you need. If no one arrives within 15 minutes, you call back a second time, saying again your name, but this time politely asking for the name of the person picking up the phone.

If no one arrives in another ten minutes, ask for the nurse manager and give her the name of who you spoke to. This will add a level of accountability
to whoever answers the intercom.

Second, when the nurse or doctor comes into the room, greet them just as actively as they greet you.

When they ask, “How are you doing Mr./Ms.?” your answer should be something like, “Fine (or not) nurse or doctor so and so. How about you?”

This actually encourages more active communication between you and the medical staff. Additionally, if more than one person comes in, you should greet each person separately, therefore acknowledging the presence of everyone.

Then, as the conversation unfolds, if you find they’re leaving you out for some reason, you simply say, “Doctor so and so, I understand you have a lot of patients to take care of, but please include me if this conversation concerns me and my condition, OK?”

Chances are, you’ll most likely be brought up to date on a more personal level, and not accompanied by any additional negative emotions.

There are two ways to get attention while you are in the hospital:  by being loud or by being pleasant. Being loud causes negative emotions such as anger, frustration and resentment. Although doctors and nurses are trained to withstand that from a patient, it can still have an effect on the quality of your stay.

But by being pleasant, your medical staff will look forward to visiting with you, will attempt to be more in tune to your needs and will increase the quality of your visit. 

Now, the level of your care will be the same in both instances, but the medicine goes down much easier when it’s delivered with a smile.

In accordance with my first rule — you are the first line of defense — it’s best if you realize how people approach you is largely based on how you act toward others.

Don’t misunderstand me, though. I’m familiar with the many emotions you’re probably experiencing as a result of your accident/hospital stay.

My wife and doctor usually have to drag me kicking and screaming into the hospital, so my first few days aren’t filled with sunshine and roses, either.  But the sooner you can get out of any type of negative space you’re in, the better your hospital stay will become.

Veterans, your medical staff is here to help vets. Many of them are vets themselves; you just don’t know it, and they don’t advertise it, but they are here for you nonetheless.

And as I stated earlier, you can be loud or you can be pleasant. Personally, I’ve been both. And I can say without any semblance of doubt, I like being pleasant better.

I invite you to try it my way, and see if you don’t feel the same.

 

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You're Not a Number

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