Monday, August 4, 2008

A patient's search for dignity at Baystate Medical Center

I just spent the last three days as a patient at Baystate Medical Center. Suffice it to say I will live. I don't fault the medical care offered there-- much of it is excellent. (Only one mistake-- I hope-- and one near-mistake in my case.) But in the eleven and a half hours it took to me to get from the emergency room to a room of my own, I witnessed or experienced many different varieties of injury to the human spirit.
My first stop is a chair right next to the security guards' office directly opposite the ambulance entrance. The guard on duty is a hefty blonde named that someone calls Kel.. Ambulance services and fire and police departments from surrounding communities pass through those doors and there is much colleagial mingling.
A young woman comes through the ambulance entrance accompanied by a police officer. She's been crying very hard, her face is red and she has a tissue pressed to her eyes.
The guard says to two colleagues, "Bet she's headed for the crisis unit. 'I hate men, I hate men!'" she mimics.
I can't believe what I'm hearing.
Seeing as she's standing right next to me, I say, in a low voice, because it is not my intent to embarrass her, "You shouldn't talk like that in front of other patients." She looks at me and glowers, says nothing, and goes back in her room, where two of her colleagues are hanging. Voices grow hushed.
A minute later one of the men comes out, leans against the doorjam, and says, to no one in particular, "Well, I thought it was funny."

Three hours later I am finally sharing a chilly examining room with two other people, one of them a frail-looking elderly man who had already been hooked to an IV. He is sitting on the side of his cot, trying to put on his shirt but getting tangled in the process. (It's impossible; I know, I've tried it.)
A nurse comes in and in a teeny tiny high voice she says to him, vowels rounded, words cadenced, "Oh, Mr. Wilson, look what you've done, now just lay right back and let me untangle you." She's talking to him like a baby!
"Laying back has nothing to do with it!" he snaps.
"You're right!" I call over. Of course she just wants him to lie down. Later he and I talk and he tells me he's an engineer.
"Retired?" I say.
Yes."
"My dad was a civil engineer."
"Too much tromping around outside for me," he says.
We chat until someone comes to move him to a room. I find him to be a rational, intelligent adult who just happens to be 82 years old.

Finally, at 12:30 a.m., I am moved to a room in the Springfield building. The woman in the next bed has her TV on! And loud! I'm going to myself, Oh, for Christ's sake, I'm exhausted and this is ridiculous. I ask the woman, who is non-English-speaking, to please turn down her TV-- using gestures and pointing. She looks at me blankly.
I say to the TA, "Can you please ask her to turn down her TV? Isn't there any kind of a curfew about how late TVs can be on?"
She looks at me blankly.
"People have a right to have their TVs on," she says.
"And how does that compare to people's right to have peace and quiet in a hospital?" I ask.
"Why don't you just climb into bed, honey, and I'll get you a sleeping pill?"
That does it.
"Don't call me honey!" I snap, knowing I'm about to be labeled the bitch of the ward. But at that point I just don't give a damn.

The next day I write out a note and tape it to the end of my bed.
"Please don't call me 'Honey' 'Sweetie' or 'Cutie.' Please call me by my name or leave out the name altogether."
I know this form of address doesn't bother a lot of people-- maybe, in fact, in this cold, cold world, some people are even grateful-- but to me when medical personnel address a patient in this way it simply increases the power imbalance between them, and patients are disempowered enough as it is.

How anyone gets well in a hospital is a small miracle.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you are AOK. Thanks for exposing some unprofessional behavior.

AdamH said...

Sorry to hear you were in the hospital; glad you're out.

I know nurses and NAs have a lot of work to do, and too many patients, etc etc etc, but there are lots of little things that could be done to make patients more comfortable in hospitals. *sigh*

Michaelann Bewsee said...

Thanks, my friends.