Chat @ Caregiving: SSUURRRRE You’ll Be Back

You know it’s the small stuff that makes you crazy and I’m beginning to think making you crazy is the primary purpose of health care facilities.  Why else would hospital employees wake a patient numerous times throughout the night to draw blood, weigh, take vitals, etc. etc. etc.?  Now that Mom’s moved over to skilled nursing, there’s a little less of that going on, but they haven’t abandoned the most frustrating phrase in all of medicine, “I’ll be back.”

The medical world introduces you to various forms of this promise long before you find yourself in a nursing facility.  Like when you’re sitting in that paper gown on the end of an examining table. “The doctor will be right with you.” Yeah, after I have frostbite.  At least when you’re at the doctor’s office they do eventually appear.  They like to clear out the office before they go home.

In May, this medical odyssey began with a broken arm.   The arm had to be belted to Mom’s waist, rendering her virtually helpless.  Helpless and Ruth don’t belong in the same room.  Theoretically, she was supposed to call someone every time she got out of bed, but once she figured out that she could maneuver the wheel chair with her feet, she was through with that.  However, the task of dressing herself was a little more than she could manage.

Each day, whether by phone or in person, our first conversation of the day included a frustrated rant about people who promised to be right back, but weren’t.  They’d wake her up to give her meds and then promise to help her dress, but they’d never return.  She spent the whole day scheming about how she’d trick them into helping her dress on the following day, but those pesky aides would find yet another way to avoid her.  I began to think it was a part of the rehab program:  frustrate the patient enough and they’ll figure out how to do it on their own.

She did go home after a few weeks, at which time the rehab case manager informed me Mom was a little stubborn.  Oh really?  What was your first clue?

Then there was the first bout with congestive heart failure.  At the rehab facility, some anonymous person would come in and tell her something. Then my job would be to find out who it was and make them do whatever it was they said they were going to do.  The most elusive was a female doctor in a hijab.  In all the weeks Mom was at this particular facility, I never saw a hijab, but every time the woman came to see Mom, she’d leave some question hanging.  Mom put a marker in her brain and would wait impatiently for her return. Had the nurses not confirmed there was indeed a doctor in a hijab caring for my mom, I could have been convinced Ruth was hallucinating.

We’ve been in and out of the hospital a few times since the hijab, but folks are still falsely promising to return.  Mom’s current venue is not ideal.  I bet the “I’ll be back” thing works with a lot of the patients.  I’ve hung out with them.  I’m not trying to be cruel, but the fact of the matter is, some of them don’t know who they are, much less where they are. As soon as they hear “I’ll be back,” they forget it. But that’s not Ruth.

Yesterday was shower day.  Mom hates dressing for breakfast and then undressing for her shower, so she requested breakfast in her room.  When the aide delivered the tray, she asked, “Do you want your shower now or later?”  DUH!!  Who wants to get a shower while their breakfast is chilling in the next room?  So, the aide said she would be back.  Someone else came to pick up the tray and Mom was back in “be back” hell.

Since we seem to be able to regulate everything else when it comes to healthcare, I propose that we regulate, “I’ll be back.”  It should never be an open ended statement.  It should be, “I’ll be back in ten minutes,” or “I’ll be back at seven thirty” or something measurable – and then they should be back.  Heck, the world is so electronic, why don’t the have a channel on the TV that shows where the patient is in line.  Imagine how many calls to the desk that would eliminate.

I can hear all the healthcare personnel defending themselves and I’m not unsympathetic to your plight.  With who knows how many patients, all demanding your attention, I don’t know how you get anything done, but that little “I’ll be back” is part of the problem.  I was only there for a short while, but Mom talked to at least five people about her pending shower.  I have no idea how long ago the shower had been promised, but it was almost ten and breakfast is served between 7 AM and 8:30.  She’d been waiting more than ten minutes.

Someone might argue, “What’s the big deal?  It’s not like she’s going anywhere.” Right – with that attitude you probably have a great future in the geriatric healthcare industry.

OK – I’ll get down off my hobby horse.  “I’ll be back,” isn’t the only phrase that should be erased from human communication.  “No problem,” “Have a nice day,” “How are you,” and “I’m fine” are all pretty useless, too.  Every time a waiter tells me what I want is “no problem,” I know they’re cussing me all the way to the kitchen.  And there’s a new one, “My pleasure.”  Sure and I’ll be back.

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