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Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Never-Ending Supposed Nursing Shortage in Hospitals

Last night I spent the night at the hospital. My mom had just undergone heart surgery and, as I always do with my family members, I stayed with her all night.

Throughout the night, other patients' family members would drift in and out of their rooms like silent ghosts, making forays into the nearby kitchen or in an attempt to get the attention of a nurse.

As usual, the hospital was understaffed. Hospitals always are. And it's not a particular hospital: It is every hospital I've been in in the last 15 years.

And yet, the cost of care hasn't declined.

Hospitals have discovered that they can use family members as assistant nursing staff.

To encourage this, they keep their staffing minimal. Woe to you if you don't have someone who can take care of you all through the night and part of the day, because you will only see your nurse at the beginning and end of her shift.

You may be told that you're not allowed to get out of bed, but you are treated as a nuisance if you page the nurse to help you in any way. Want water? Get an eye roll. Want to go to the bathroom? Get a resigned sigh.

Hospital rooms have become holding cells. Nurses are no longer there to help you in any real way.

I discovered this the hard way in 2005 when I made the mistake of going in for my neck fusion without any family members or friends on hand. I had assumed nursing care was of the same caliber it had been in the early 90s because, until then, I had been remarkably healthy.

When I woke from my surgery, I found that I could barely breathe. I knew how the problem could be easily solved, so I asked for Benadryl. That's all. Just Benadryl.

For two days, they withheld the antihistamine because it was not a priority to make sure I was comfortable. Every time I asked if they'd been able to get a release from the doctor to give me Benadryl for the swelling, they told me they hadn't heard back from him. No attempt was made to make it a priority, as I battled to breathe but I was too weak to make a fuss.

Occasionally someone would check on me and slap down a tray with a glass of gingerale onto the sticky table next to me. I'd gasp a request for Benadryl, and they'd disappear with insincere assurances.

I was told that I would not be released until I was better. So on the second day, I called a friend and told her to come get me. "Have they released you?" she asked. "They will or I'll walk out anyway," I wheezed.

A nurse told me I wouldn't be released until I was feeling well. "I'm great," I gasped enthusiastically. I won my release from prison, my friend retrieved me, I went home and took 2 Benadryl, and collapsed into bed. My last thought was that I would rather die at home and take my chances. I went to sleep with the full realization that I might not wake up again. But I woke up completely better. All I'd needed was the antihistamine.

After that, I vowed I'd never let anyone I care about go through the same thing.

Apparently, I'm not the only one. Last night proved it to me.

As is always the case these days, most nurses will say hello at the beginning and end of their shift. Other than that, I was the one to raid the kitchen for Mom when she was hungry. I was the one to help her get up to go to the bathroom. I was the one to get her water. I was the one to get her a new gown. I was the one to get up and get help because the nurses all but ignore the "call" button.

At 4:30-5 in the morning two of the nurses stood outside Mom's room to complain bitterly about the hospital, their pay and their benefits. I was so exhausted I slept through it but it woke Mom up, and she went to the door and politely ask them to move off. After that, she couldn't get back to sleep. We were up for the duration.

When we found out that the hospital wasn't going to be serving food until 8AM, I went down to the Dunkin' Donuts franchise on the floor of the hospital and got us food and coffee. When you've been awake for 3 hours already, and neither of you had eaten much the night before, you get hungry.

No one could get my Mom's meds right. Despite a complete list of her meds that was entered into the computer at the beginning, and despite repeated requests, we were given the endless runaround again. We were also told the hospital pharmacy was completely out of one of her meds. Having thrown out all the expired stock some time ago, they never replenished it. And despite knowing she was on that particular medication, no one thought to check to see if the pharmacy even had it until it was too late.

Years ago I was with my dad overnight at the hospital. He is a quiet, gentle man and very stoic. When he began to tell me he was in pain, I knew it was serious. At first I kept hitting the 'call' button. But, as usual, we were ignored or a bored voice would come over the tinny speaker asking what was wrong and assuring us that someone would eventually get to us.

After some time of watching my father in agony, I flew out into the hall, flounced up to the nurses station, and had a complete meltdown. An aggravated nurse then accompanied me, reprimanding me all the way, telling me that pain was to be expected.

But when she got in the room and pulled back the sheets, she stopped talking. Then she hit a button and called a Code Blue.

Dad was bleeding out.

Because I was there, Dad was spared that night. That doesn't make me a hero, but it still makes me very, very angry.

Every time I've complained about one of these instances, the answer is always the same. It's a one-time nursing shortage. This "one-time nursing shortage" has been going on a very long time. It is no more genuine than a politician.

All those silent family members last night proved that we've all received the message, loud and clear. Like a good Marine, you leave no one behind. And like a battlefield, there is too much that can go wrong in hospitals now. The only one that cares enough to make sure your loved one is taken care of is you.

We must pity people without a social network.

If there ever is a large-scale health emergency, we're all doomed to die slow and agonizing deaths, stacked like cordwood in our local hospitals.

There will be no one to help, due to that "one-time nursing shortage."

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