Time stood still while the lights of San Francisco flashed by the back windows of the ambulance. “How long until we reach UCSF hospital?” I asked the EMT.
“It depends on traffic,” she answered, and then she continued to try to take Pedro’s medical history.
“He has non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with central nervous system involvement,” I answered as patiently as I could. “Any chance you can give him a bolus shot of morphine?”
The EMT shook her head and continued with her checklist. “I’m not allowed to do that without a doctor’s order. Does he have any allergies?”
I mumbled the answer and thought of the futility of the conversation. This was just a short ride from the air ambulance at the airport to the University of California Medical Center at Parnassus—a new hospital where I’d have to give a complete medical history before they would administer the pain medication Pedro so badly needed. I was on a one-woman mission to get my husband to a place that could (hopefully) help him.
Around midnight, Pedro safely admitted and sleeping, I wilted into a chair in the corner of his room. My day started before dawn a thousand miles away and I had no idea that I’d end up in a strange hospital in a strange city at the end of the day. A nurse came into the room and started when she saw me.
“What are you still doing here, Honey?” she asked as she checked Pedro’s vitals.
I shrugged. “I don’t have any place to go.” I looked around the room and noticed, really noticed, for the first time that Pedro had a roommate.
“I’m sorry, but since it’s not a private room, visitors are supposed to leave by eight p.m.”
Following Hospital Rules
I held the tears back and bent down to pick up my backpack to hide their presence. I wanted to be back at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital where the nurses brought a cot in for me to sleep on and Pedro didn’t have to share a room with someone else. “Where can I go?” I asked, more pathetically than I intended.
“I’ll show you the waiting room for this floor. We’re not really supposed to let people spend the night there, but…” her voice trailed off as she bustled from the room and headed down the hallway. Along the way, she stopped at a supply closet and grabbed a blanket. “Just toss this on any laundry cart you see in the morning.”
She pushed open a door and motioned for me to enter. “Good. It looks empty, so you can stretch out on the floor if you want to. Once he starts chemo he’ll get moved to a private room, and you’ll be able to sleep in the room with him.” I nodded wearily and she continued to fill me in. “There’s a bathroom down the hall next to the elevators and in the southeast corner there’s a room where you can take showers. Just make sure you’re out before ten o’clock when the doctors do rounds.”
I used the blanket to pad the hard floor and my backpack for a pillow. In the morning, I would wake up and figure out this hospital’s etiquette. But for now, I could sleep—Pedro had arrived and the hematology oncology unit at UCSF was sure to save him.
Why You Should Stay
When this caregiver journey started five months earlier, I had no idea that family members could spend the night in a patient’s room. Nor did I understand the importance of having a family member nearby as much as possible. I didn’t know that family members could shower at the hospital or keep food in a refrigerator. Nor did I realize that each hospital has it’s own set of rules (spoken and unspoken) about family members.
While caregivers play a vital role in helping a critically ill patient to recover, it’s also important to remember that the medical staff has a job to do and each hospital treats caregivers in a unique way. I learned a few things along the way.
Eight Tips for Caregivers Who Spend the Night in the Hospital
1. Ask! When your loved one is admitted to the hospital, ask about the hospital’s policy on family members staying overnight in the room with the patient.
2. The main job of the nurse is to take care of your loved one—NOT you. Let the nurse do his or her job, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. At one hospital the nursing staff brought in a cot and bedding for me each evening without me asking them to. At another hospital, I had to ask if I could spend the night in the room the first night, and a kindly nurse showed me where I could grab bedding each evening.
3. Some hospitals will have social workers on duty whose job it is to assist families find the resources they need—whether it’s a place to stay, financial assistance, or cafeteria cards.
4. Bathrooms in patient rooms are meant for patients’ use. Visitors and family members are generally expected to use visitor bathrooms—but ASK!
5. Ask about showering—both for you and for your loved one. The nursing staff don’t mind if a caregiver wants to assist their loved one in their showering and bathroom needs.
6. Oftentimes there is a kitchen area on each floor with a refrigerator. Ask if you can keep leftovers in the fridge, or TV dinners for yourself or your loved one. The hospital allowed Pedro to eat TV dinners instead of hospital food when he was neutropenic.
7. Find out when doctors make their rounds and how they make them. Plan on being present so that you can ask questions.
8. Most of all, kindness and politeness work the best. Remember that hospitals induce stress, but people will want to help—if in doubt, ASK!
What have YOU learned from staying in the hospital with your loved one?
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