Reminders for Family Members

Yesterday, I floated to a unit where people of all ages are recovering from a variety of problems. Strokes, falls, car crashes, medical issues… this unit helps people get back on their feet. As I sat in the nursing conference room, people were discussing family members that had fallen or been in accidents.  Falling is unfortunately frequent up here this time of year – it is cold and slippery and dangerous to walk outside!

When I got off work I received a call that one of MY family members had an unfortunate accident and had to go to the hospital.  As I learned the details through texts and phone calls, I couldn’t help wishing that I could be right there, at the bedside, supporting, helping, and advocating.

So, as a family member and a nurse, here are my thoughts on that relationship.

1) Family members are a really important part of nursing care especially on a general care floor. The fact is, no matter how good of a nurse you have, he or she can’t be in three rooms at the same time, or watch every little change in the patient’s condition, or know everything about that patient right away. Family members are really important as advocates for the patient. Does your family member look different? Are they in pain? Do they take their pills whole or crushed in applesauce? Families are important partners in the process.

2) However, “advocate” doesn’t mean “be rude.” I understand a little rudeness – you’re stressed! you’re coping! – but please try to be a polite advocate.

3) Asking questions is good. It may annoy some  nurses, but it’s a good chance for education. I find it helpful to be asked questions. And sometimes, that can help nurses catch things that otherwise would slip through the cracks. There are a lot of people working in medicine; people make mistakes; questions help catch mistakes.

4) There are some things where you do have to step back and let nurses do their jobs. For example, and every case is different, getting a patient up to the bathroom. We really don’t want patients to fall, and we don’t want family members breaking their backs. So let us help them get up to the bathroom.

5) Be patient. Healthcare is an enormous affair and lots of different people are involved – doctors, nurses, aides, respiratory therapists, nutritionists, chaplains. We really are trying to put your family member, the patient, first. That means you may have to tell the story a few times to several different people just so we all get on the same page.

6) Lay aside your professional status (doctor, nurse, lawyer) and be a family member. Sure, if you as a professional know that something is wrong, speak up. It shouldn’t be used to intimidate people. Rapport and camraderie are important in the teamwork setting of healthcare.
As for nurses, it’s really important for us to remember that every patient is someone’s loved one. A wise nurse aide once told me, “Treat all the ladies like they’re someone’s grandma and you’ll be fine.” Also, we are meant to be patient’s advocates, and if they don’t have a family member to help advocate, we need to pick up the slack.

Hopefully the nurses taking care of my loved one will treat her like I would treat their loved one; with the utmost care, respect, and patience. Hopefully they will understand if I call the nursing station tonight to check on her and ask a few questions. We do what we do because we care, both as family members and as nurses.

Get well soon!

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