Elder Parent Surgery, Part III: Expect the Unexpected

After a successful day of treatment at the University of Virginia Health System we were relaxed. We thought that we had considered every detail of Mom’s surgical adventure. Then at 4:00 a.m. a fire alarm went off in the hotel on the night after my mother’s surgery, and we had to evacuate the hotel immediately.

But we had not considered everything. We could have thought a bit more about travel safety. That’s pretty important to think about when we travel with elders.

The evening after Mom’s surgery, glad that we were finished, we drove the two blocks back to the hotel. We ate lightly, cleaned up a bit, and went to bed early so that we’d be ready for the next morning’s 60-mile drive home. Around four in the morning we awoke to alarms blaring and fire lights flashing.

The four of us took more than eight minutes to get to the stairwell — way too much time. We pulled on jackets and pants, looked for shoes, locating three out of four pairs, helped my mom, grabbed purses, mobile phones, and a briefcase, and left the room (only some meds, no laptops, only one watch, etc.). With my mother hobbling along we made our way slowly down three flights of stairs, but she was a trooper. We left a lot of important things in that hotel room, but the most important goal is to get out, so that’s what we did. Fortunately, when we travel, my husband always checks out the locations of stairwells.        

So now I’ve added new details to travel planning– with or without my parents. When we stay in a hotel for the night, I’ll know where the most important items are — and I plan to put the most important things in one or at most two places so I can grab them if I need to evacuate the building.

Lots of guests were angry at the hotel, and some were still talking about it at the free breakfast several hours later — but we weren’t upset. Had a serious fire had occurred somewhere in the hotel, we probably would have been safe because the fire alert system worked. Malfunctions occur once in a while (we also wondered whether a guest had been smoking in a smoke-free hotel), that was the price to stay for safety.

If I fault the hotel at all, it’s because those of us with post surgical patients were on our own, or at least it seemed like that. For a few seconds I thought that I might not be able to get my mother out of the hotel. Other post treatment patients might have been less robust than my mom.

As a guest at a hotel that cooperates with a major medical center (we’ve had three such stays at different locations), I’d like to know that each evening the staff closes the books for the day with a complete list of the rooms with guests staying at the hospital rate. I’d like to know that a list exists so the fire fighters can check out those rooms — fast — and be sure that patients were able to get out.

Check out this hotel safety tip document from the National Fire Protection Association.

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