hospital imageThere is a story about a sweet older lady who dialed the hospital with a request for information. In a weak voice, she politely asked about the condition of Norma F. in Room 302. The operator checked with the nurse and returned after a few minutes with the good news.

“Norma is doing very well. Her blood pressure is improved, her lab results came back as normal and her doctor has scheduled her discharge for Thursday.”

The old lady was so grateful, “Thank you. I was so worried. God bless you.”

The operator asked, “You’re so welcome. Is Norma your daughter?”

“No, I’m Norma F. in Room 302. Nobody tells me sh*t.”

I laughed the first time I read this, but the reality hits a little too close to home.

My mother in law was hospitalized recently for “testing” that has turned into a bit of a nightmare for her. She went in with the normal aches and pains of a woman of 86 years; her new physician was concerned about edema and wanted to explore further.

On admission, they were slow to administer the pain and anxiety medications she has taken routinely, prescribed by an arthritis specialist.  Her anxiety and blood sugar have spiked, she is depleted in sodium and potassium from the diuretics, she developed a heart murmur, she is refusing to eat.  A cardiologist and kidney specialist now monitor her rapid descent.

Things have escalated very quickly. And she has no idea what is going on; the doctors only consult with her adult children.

She is praying to be sent home to die.

It reminds me very much of my own mother, who was admitted for what she believed was a bladder infection. She had stage 4 cancer, which she only discovered when she was sent home and a neighbor asked. “So, what kind of cancer do you have ?”.

They might have used the excuse that she “couldn’t handle the information”, since her chart prominently showed a recent psychiatric hospitalization.

This was in the late 1970’s, and I assumed things were better now; that patients were granted the dignity of being informed.

Maybe, not much has improved. We wait and watch.

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40 Responses to Uninformed

  1. Jim says:

    prayers for you

  2. I am so sorry to hear about your mother-in-law’s awful experience. I don’t believe what’s happening to her, alas, is unusual. We must start paying attention to how we handle death and dying. She has a right to know her future, she has a right to understand her present, she has a right to deal with death the way she would choose. Her nightmare is unfair and unjust. But, maybe if she is refusing to eat, she already is informed. Maybe she knows what’s happening to her better even than the doctors do and maybe she’s taking matters into her own hands as best she can. I hope so and I hope your family finds peace and comfort in each other as you go through this. I wish for peace for her most of all.

    • Her spirit has been crushed since the loss of her husband of 64 years in late 2013. You are right in that she may be trying to let go, Debby. She has tried to move on, set up in Senior Independent living, making new friendships there. But she is still grieving, and very lonely, in spite of her attentive family. Thanks for your thoughts. ❤️

      • Been thinking about your family each day. I know how endless these days feel. And I so understand how deeply her loss cut her soul and how that wound could be more profound than even the love of family could heal.

      • We’re very encouraged…they might release her to go home today, with some nursing care. Thanks, Debby.

  3. I laughed too, but was jolted by your family’s reality. So sorry to hear this. I hope there is a happy and swift outcome.

  4. Sue Vincent says:

    I do hope things turn out well for you and your family. The story hits too close to the bone for me to laugh… after weeks of hearing ‘stable’ I was ready to scream….

  5. So long as a patient is cognizant, no matter how old the patient, there really is no excuse for not telling the patient about his or her condition. A couple of years ago, we went through this with my own mother – my brother had to be the one to tell her she had throat cancer. But at least she was aware enough to make her own decision as to whether or not to have surgery (she was 90 and opted not to have the surgery). My thoughts are with you and your family at this difficult time.

  6. I’m very sorry about what is happening to and with your mother-in-law.

    I think patient’s rights have improved in recent decades but still some medical professionals have a tendency to talk over the heads of their patients or provide inadequate information. I always have a notepad of questions I want clear answers to.

    • My sister in law has taken up the role of the clipboard/note-taker, Laura. She is very thorough. I still feel her mom is fully capable of getting direct info from her doctor. She is very sharp, or at least she was until the hospital admission. sigh…

  7. There is nothing quite as fear inducing as not knowing what is happening to your own body.

  8. Just Plain Ol' Vic says:

    Care and compassion should always be a doctor’s (or hospital staff’s) primary concern. Part of that equation is talking with the patient, so they know what is going on at any given moment and to discuss and concerns.

    In our quest for efficiency, humanity is lost.

  9. George says:

    Prayers and best wishes for you and your family, Van.

  10. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry Van. The joke is funny, but the true stories you tell afterward are heartbreaking. ❤
    Diana xo

  11. lbeth1950 says:

    Sorry things are spiraling. Whenthe doctor or nurse visits,ask “do do understand what the doctor(nurse)sai)?” Or restate what was said if you think it went over her head. She may be overwhelmed, depressed, or not want to know, but there’s a chance she may ask questions if it is a little easier. Thinkin king of you. Certainly been in that painful place. It hurts.

    • Thanks, Linda. You’re so right in that we believe she is overwhelmed, delirious with pain in the absence of her normal meds, and certainly depressed.She’s having a lot of audible conversations with Jesus, mostly. Thanks. 💕

  12. Human dignity. If nothing else, remember that everyone is a person… Not a “patient,” not an “elderly lady,” a person. Why do we sometimes think that goes away with age? Your post is a great reminder about how simple but powerful it is to strive to maintain the dignity of others.

  13. Discouraging to hear these stories, Van, as my father had a very similar experience recently. We were lucky to have a doctor in the family who stepped in and got things moving smoothly, but what if we hadn’t…

  14. markbialczak says:

    This is purely awful, Van. Your MIL needs an advocate to get the health care team on one page, it seems. A case worker, social worker, something of this sort?

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