By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First Published in Print: 04/17/2011
I WAS able to arrive at the hospital an hour after my frail, elderly aunt had been delivered by ambulance to her local emergency department last month. I found her lying motionless in bed, moaning softly, covered only by an impossibly thin hospital gown, her eyes shut protectively against glaring overhead lights.
Without her hearing aides and distracted by pain, she had trouble communicating. I saw by the way her contorted left limbs "rested" on the bed that she most certainly had fractured her hip and arm during the fall she'd just taken.
Before attempting to track down the doctor for his medical assessment and plan, I asked my aunt what she immediately required for comfort. "Blankets," she replied, and "to urinate -- but, please, not in this bed."
I tensed immediately -- realizing that the ritual of trying to establish caring connections with complete strangers on a medical staff had begun. I would initiate the ritual by trying to broker my aunt's requests for warmth and dignity, which, on the surface, seemed easy to remedy and worthy of concern.
Still, as both an insider physician and veteran patient, I knew those requests could be otherwise perceived by the staff -- as an intrusion or annoyance, perhaps. Or a judgment about inadequate attention to my aunt. At worse, as an imperious claim of entitlement to the staff's valuable time. The stakes were high -- I feared that any staff displeasure I might inadvertently generate could jeopardize the quality of my aunt's future care.
The ER nurses were sitting at a desk 15 feet away, in direct line of sight of my aunt. I took a deep breath and approached them.
"Excuse me," I began apologetically, "but my aunt needs to urinate, and if we could please just get her a couple of blankets "... ."
The nurse barely glanced up from her computer and mechanically replied, "We're busy. Besides, we need two people to move your aunt onto the bedpan."