“Honey. Honey, wake up. We have to go to the hospital right now.”
My husband has had his share of health problems, but I’ll never get used to being awakened from a sound sleep to those words.
I somehow managed to get myself out of bed, brush my teeth, and throw on some clothes before braving the several feet of snow and merciless winter wind to get to the car. As he was doubled over in pain in the passenger seat, I pulled out of the driveway, into the dark and headed toward the local emergency department.
Walking in the front door toward the registration desk, I took notice of everything around us. Having worked at my share of hospitals, I was on high alert. Was the person at the desk looking up as we walked in? Was the waiting area clean? Were there signs telling us where to go and what we needed to do? I noticed everything.
It’s funny how we’re so much more vigilant when it’s a loved one as opposed to ourselves.
I got him over to the front desk and smiled when the woman told us her name and said she was going to walk us through the registration process. She was patient while he took a few extra moments to pull his wallet from his back pocket. The pain in his stomach made it hard for him to straighten up but she didn’t seem to mind.
We got back to the treatment area almost immediately and I noticed that everyone we passed on the way to his room acknowledged us in some way, whether it was a smile, a hello, or just eye contact. I started to relax. A little.
It wasn’t long before the physician came in and asked one simple open-ended question, “Hello, Mr. Kalthoff. What brings you in tonight?”
Anyone who knows my husband knows he can’t ever answer a question with a simple answer. If you ask him what time it is, you’ll learn all about the history of watchmaking.
I watched this doctor’s face as he relayed his entire medical history and that of his father’s and was truly impressed that she didn’t interrupt. She asked very focused questions to get him back on track but it never came off as rude or impatient. I could use some of that, especially when I ask what he’d like for dinner.
She got to the heart of the medical issue that brought him to the ER and in no time he was back in imaging getting a CT scan. They even let me go back with him, which I didn’t expect, and told us it would be about an hour before we’d get some results. I looked at the clock and started the countdown.
While we waited, several people came in to check on him, including a student who had anticipatory service down to an art. Without having to ask, he brought me a glass of water and a pillow for the uncomfortable chair I’d been sitting in and an extra blanket for my husband. I was impressed. He was oblivious. The pain meds had kicked in.
Which brings me to the point. Often, patients don’t notice the things family members notice. And even if they do, they’re less likely to be upset by them. I can make excuses for doctors and nurses all day if I’m the patient, but if it’s my family, that protective instinct kicks in and I’m ready for battle.
Thankfully, that night in the emergency department, there was no need for battle. Everyone was marvelous. The CT results came back sooner than expected and his condition was explained in a way we both could understand. We left feeling much better than we did when we came in and I happily filled out the survey when it came a few days later in the mail.
When we talk about patient experience, we cannot forget the people who are with them. They notice everything. They worry more. They have more questions. They listen closely to how their loved one is spoken to or spoken about. We have to remember to include them in the discussion and address their needs, as well.