When one of my elderly parents is admitted to the hospital, the other parent stays there too, usually curling up on a pull-out bed or a recliner. Lately my husband and I have taken on some of this responsibility, either taking turns, one night at a time or breaking the night into two parts and switching places.
We do this even though the hospital is top-notch and even though we have lots of faith in the physicians and nurses who provide care.
I’ll admit, for the past several years I’ve humored my parents, helping out, but not really believing in the need for someone always to be right there in the hospital room. Now, however, I’ve decided that we need to adhere steadfastly to their plan.
Just before Christmas, the ninety-four year old mother of a friend of mine — a woman who despite some memory loss was basically active and healthy — had a seizure, and her children took her to the hospital. Over the next week a series of mistakes occurred, including a fall. I won’t describe them all here — but by the beginning of the next week, my friend’s mother had died.
Around the same time I read a short description of another parent’s death — a cancer patient who was not as old as my friend’s mother. Jonathan R. Welch, MD, writing in writing Health Affairs, described how he identified mistakes during his mother’s hospitalization, but even he, an adult child and emergency physician, could not get his mother’s treatment adjusted in time to save her life.
Although many of us regard hospitals as safe, secure, and welcoming places, in some ways they are not. Hospitals are busy and chaotic, with sick people, germs, and constantly changing teams of health care workers working hard to attend to their patients.
With so many people in and out and back and forth, mistakes can occur, so keeping a familiar individual nearby a hospitalized elderly parent, I now understand, is a must. When I am the extra person, I make sure that all who come into the room immediately wash their hands. I also help my parent get in and out of bed and go back and forth to the bathroom. Most importantly, I can keep track of the medications and treatments and, when necessary, ask questions. It’s tiring but necessary.
What have I learned from these experiences? That my mom and dad are right. Keeping an extra person close by an elderly parent’s hospital bed is a must.