Sometimes, the cliché that nothing stays the same, is a bad thing. But not in the case about which baby boomer Wendy Reichental wrote earlier this month in the Montreal Gazette. She was with her mother in her final days, and says change would be a blessing.
I recently witnessed something more and more boomers are seeing. It came as my mother lay dying. As so many of ours’ are. Which is why you should read this and try to avoid what I couldn’t.
Mine died last year of a sudden stroke, but not before surviving a painful week being bounced around between various sections of the emergency room at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. Before her death, my mother could only have been described as a Betty White double — sharp, funny, and although slow in movement, completely aware and hip.
I wrote to the head of the ER after her death. I poured all my anger and frustration into that letter, but with a determined purpose: to beg for change. I questioned why doctors and nurses are so quick to diagnose (or assume) that a patient is suffering from senility if the patient doesn’t answer a question properly or at all. I asked why staff don’t display more sensitivity, or fully understand the possible limitations seniors like my mother have, like hearing loss. The caregivers’ failures are inexcusable.
We should follow the model that some hospitals south of the border have put in place, like having special ER units and rooms designed specifically for the elderly. Softer mattresses to cushion more vulnerable bones and softer lighting are only two of the many things that could reduce the anxiety and consequences of an elderly patient brought in by ambulance.
To my absolute shock, I got a letter back, acknowledging my points and agreeing that there are numerous physical limitations with the current environment, where life-and-death decisions are being made with only a curtain between patients. The letter also agreed that staff do not always identify themselves to the patient or the families of the patient, and do not always demonstrate a suitable response to the special needs of our geriatric population.
I was told in the letter that my idea of having a reserved “geriatric section” is important, that the hospital is very committed to quality care of the elderly, that plans are underway to create a renovated “geriatric-friendly” unit with modified lighting, flooring, colors, and bathrooms, and that an architectural team is consulting on all of this.
I was thanked for my letter and told that the issue I had raised about some staff lacking sensitivity to patients with hearing deficits was the unfortunate consequence of the busy and loud environment that is the ER.
And I was told that what I had shared about what happened to my mother in that hospital’s ER was very helpful, and that constructive feedback can be the impetus for positive changes. I was thanked again and told that my taking the time to write about what I had witnessed will not go unnoticed or be in vain.
I read this letter with shaking hands and a heavy heart, because I will never know if this was just a standard letter meant to appease a distraught daughter who had just lost her mother and best friend, or whether what I had written would really get any recognition and consideration.
I can only appeal to others who experience firsthand, or witness, something in our hospitals that is not right to do, to get involved and voice these stories so that, hopefully, ER improvements will become a reality that we can all as a society benefit from one day. Because remember: when it’s no longer our parents … it will be us.
Wendy has written more about care of the elderly … click here for a link to the Montreal Gazette.