It is only common sense to think that the most important people in the hospital are going to be the doctors and nurses. I want to present the argument for the family member as one of the most important visitor of a patient. It can be a spouse, a parent, a sibling, but someone who has spent more time with the patient and knows the ins and outs, the norms, what is right with their family member.
Case in point. My father had gone into the hospital for lung cancer surgery. Everything had gone as well as could be expected for a lifetime smoker with other health complications, but overall, the news we had been given was actually quite good. The surgeons had extracted all of the cancer and though originally not planned, were able to leave half of the lung in tact. My father had spent a little extra time in the recovery room as he did not want to come out of the anesthesia as quickly as the doctors would have liked, but overall, it seemed we would turn the page successfully.
When my dad was brought up to his room, clearly he was not comfortable. This was to be expected after being cut from one side of his body to the other, his one arm being placed above his shoulder for an extended period of time, and unfortunately a few drainage tubes. Medication would help with his discomfort. But by the next day, the doctors would want him moving and eating. It was not happening. The doctors chose to give him a little more time. My father was not fighting them, and for the most part, he was able to communicate with them.
But on the third day I got a phone call from my brother asking me about my father’s eye glasses and if I had them. I told him that I did have them and was bringing them with me later that day. When I asked my brother why, he told me that my father could not see the cup of coffee right under his nose. Though my brother should know better than I, my father’s eyesight is not that bad. But my brother was adamant about it, my father could not see the coffee right in front of him. I got to the hospital later that afternoon, and upon finding out that my father had not eaten, in spite of the food being placed in front of him, hunger should have been an issue after three days.
I noticed he was not wearing his dentures. Maybe this was why he was not eating. “Dad, here are your dentures,” as I had the case in my hand. He looked up at me, “I got ’em in”. We traded “no you don’t” and “yes I do” a couple of times, and then in spite of me holding the open case with his dentures in it, he proceeded to put his hand to his mouth and started yanking at his gums as if he were trying to remove them to show me that they were in his mouth. And then he abruptly stopped trying to show me.
I have heard my father laugh so I know that he has a sense of humor, but he is not a “slapstick” humor kind of guy. My brother witnessed my father’s struggle and we agreed something was not right and brought this to the attention of the nurse who then consulted the doctor in charge who then felt it would be a good idea to bring in a neurologist. I had no idea how that would tie into oncology or pulmonology. But the neurologist came in, took a look at my dad, who at that particular moment offered nothing off-the-wall in form of commentary or behavior, and the neurologist felt there was no issue and moved on.
As time went on, having a conversation with my father was only as long as the attention span of a flea before he would seem to drift off. We would get his attention and resume the conversation. Later that evening, I told my brother that we needed to get my father to eat some how and that I would go down to the cafeteria to get him whatever we could to get him to eat. I knew he liked fried mozzarella sticks and in spite of them being unhealthy, I needed him to eat.
I put them in front of him, and again, he did not even look at them. So I placed a stick in his hand, and he proceeded to take a bite. “Hmm… these are good. How did they make them so soft?”, he asked. I asked, “what do you mean?” He responded, “these carrot sticks…they’re so soft.” I looked at my brother and we were both horrified. Again, my dad does not have that level of sense of humor that both my brother and I possess to make a joke like that. Something was wrong. “Dad, that’s a mozzarella stick.” “No, it’s a carrot stick. It’s orange see?”
Again, my brother and I raised the concern with the nurse who again made the doctor and neurologist return. The neurologist sat down in front of my father with a piece of paper and a pencil and drew five columns of horizontal lines and then handed the pencil to my father and told him to draw a perpendicular line through each. My father happily complied and then said, “finished.” My brother and I looked at each other, then at the neurologist who then said to my dad, “what about the rest of the lines?” My dad said that he had finished what he was asked, and then the neurologist moved the paper two inches to the left and just then my father realized that he had missed the last three columns on the right. “Hmmm…I didn’t see those” and proceeded to cross another two columns missing the third column. We went through the same process one more time.
The neurologist told us, your father has had a stroke, clearly on the left side as he was not seeing anything on the right side. And as he walked, he also veered to the right as he could not see, nearly walking into the doorway in his room.
As we are all told, the key to recovering from a stroke is timing, how quickly it is recognized and treated. My father went for an MRI that evening, fought it, and had to have a CAT scan the following night which revealed not one, but two strokes on the left side of the brain. Just two days before, the neurologist had said that my father was fine. But my brother and I knew something was not right. And these strokes very well may have occurred in the recovery room or during the surgery. We will never know, nor does it matter at this point.
There is more to this story from the recovery point of view, but the point of this post, is proving the value of having family involved as much as possible when a loved one is in the hospital.