Thursday, March 18, 2010
A Typical American Hospital - Overworked
There's a medium sized hospital where I've just been visiting the past couple of days.
My guy had to spend a couple of nights and he's fine now, but it was an educational experience.
I don't handle hospitals well now - I spent too much time there with both my parents and I imagine a psychiatrist would tell me I've got some lingering emotional trauma. I'd just say I'm not happy in a place I now associated with so much sadness.
I don't hold the hospitals or the staff responsible. My experiences with my mother were sometimes remarkable and sometimes nightmarish. I remember the young nurse who ignored my mother's complaints that her "arm was burning." She paid attention when I went to get her two hours later in the middle of the night. A vein had collapsed and the IV fluids had backed up; mom's arm was three times its normal size.
Other nurses visited every day when my mom was in a coma, talking gently to her, wiping her face, smoothing her hair.
My father was lucky enough to die at home.
I've spent some time in the past year with another loved one who recovered nicely and was treated very well, but this latest visit was the first one in the midst of this economy. And there's a difference.
Nurses are working long hours, working hard and being asked to work more. The ones we dealt with in this small city hospital were wonderful; kind and caring. They treated their patients like people, not like ailments.
But I heard more than one nurse tell us that she'd be with us all day, through the night and into the following day. And I heard some RNs and LPNs discussing phone calls asking them to work an extra shift.
It's become like a police or firefighter schedule; put in an entire week's worth of hours in one long stretch, then go home.
How do they do it? And how long can they last even if they manage to stay alert, make no errors and continue to treat their patients with compassion and patience?
What's the burnout rate?
The most telling example for me was an elevator ride home late in the evening. I was joined by a young nurse who was holding a sandwich wrapped in plastic.
"My dinner," she said ruefully.
"You look beat," I said.
She nodded. "I'm completely exhausted. All I want to do is go home and fall into bed. I doubt I even eat the sandwich."
The elevator reached the lobby and we said goodbye. And I realized that this is her life; work hard to make ends meet, take care of people who desperately need care, and sacrifice yourself in the process.
Like so much else today, it's not sustainable. And no one will do anything until there's a tragedy or a massive crisis. Maybe this is one time we should be talking about the problem before the crisis.