I’m here in New York, where the daily news is more gruesome than that in Las Vegas. But no matter how gruesome any city’s news may be, only that which affects us in some way — directly or indirectly — stays with us at the end of the day.
When one is very likely in one’s last illness, one tends to not be all that interested in what is happening on the streets of New York, in Washington, D.C. — and even more particularly, in the White House and/or Congress — or anywhere other than in one’s own area of involvement and circle of life.
Rehabilitation centers are one way to phase back into “normal” life. One is hospitalized for some serious condition, and although one feels the crisis is past or they cannot do any more for the patient, one is not ready to go home. And the doctors not only agree, they more or less make it clear that you can’t go home UNTIL you’ve been through “rehab.”
So while I’ve visited several friends who have been down the rehab route, those facilities are different from each other, just as hospitals are different from each other. The particular rehab center that I’ll be referring to is well over 50 years old; probably over 60 years old. One would hope that since the building has been renovated, probably more than once, the care offered would also be updated, since that is the most important part of any hospital or rehabilitation center or system.
But alas, that has not been the case. Having been a nurse myself, I understand the situation from “their” point of view. Too much to do, not enough time, too many people needing something; being pulled over here or over to there. But the most important thing is for the aides and the nurses et.al. to understand things from the patient’s point of view. My sister is the patient that brings me here. She is not what you’d call a “hardcore” complainer at all, but a hundred little things can add up to at least one big pain in the neck, causing one to wonder whatever happened to old-fashioned patient care: as in, we’re all here for the comfort and welfare of the patient.
Everyone out there who has ever had someone they loved — or even an acquaintance — go through an extended period of time in a hospital or rehab center knows the 101 little things that can be annoying and frustrating for their friend or loved one. The patient may even tell their visitor, “Please don’t say anything about it because that might make it worse for me.” You observe that the patient, in addition to living with their painful physical condition, is now also living with fear of the person or persons that are their caregivers.
For one thing, all patients get an opportunity to choose what they want from the “menus” offered for each day of the following week. The menu does not state that you can write in something that you would like or want instead, and they might never get around to telling you that you can do that unless you make an issue of what they served you. (When one is ill, there are more things that are unappealing to one, and since one needs to eat to get the nourishment one needs to contribute to one’s wellness, it behooves the institution to serve what the patient will eat. And do I dare suggest that it look appealing, or even attractive, on the tray? Believe it or not, there are hospitals that care about how the food looks to the one receiving it. We in the Las Vegas area have several hospitals that add those little touches — one of which is a fresh flower — but your basic slapdash institutional food service doesn’t even care that the so-called burger/frozen thing on a bun has any condiment at all to go with it, nor is the bun toasted, nor is there anything on the plate to accompany the burger-thing on the unappetizing roll — not a spoonful of potato salad, or beans, or sliced cucumbers or tomatoes, or even that ever-popular spring of parsley.
There are jokes, of course, about hospital food, just as there are jokes about prison food. Yet still, there are those who are lucky enough to get sent to an institution (hospital, rehab center, or prison) where the food is considered fairly-to-really good!
So while we’re on the subject of food, what I personally observed was that things would show up that weren’t on the menu; for instance they would make an arbitrary exchange of some gloppy thing with a piece of white bread for the menu item of what sounded good on the paper the patient checked off for lunch that day. Or they described what they were going to serve you — let’s say a hard-boiled egg — and it showed up not only not sliced into a bowl or on a plate, but “as is,” still in its shell, along with the toast they promised, unbuttered, but at least with a side container of cream cheese. That was breakfast. Also, every day I was there, they served her coffee, which she never drinks, never drank, and doesn’t even like the smell of. She wrote it down on her menu as well: “No coffee.” A tiny thing, but multiply that by every day she’s been there and you can see how a patient would feel that she doesn’t really matter.
I really can’t imagine how they choose the so-called “nutritionist” who decides what to serve and how it will show up on the patient’s plate. I’m so disappointed in what they call a rehab center! How can one regain one’s health when the people who are supposed to care for and about you, don’t!
Then there was “the warden”: an aide who took it upon herself to act like she actually was a warden — of a prison. Here is one example of “the warden’s way” of treating my sister: When you’re in the hospital, taking a shower is one of the little joys that can make you feel better. My sister had mentioned that it felt so good to have a shower (which she had taken just the day before, and after five days of waiting for one), so later that day, this aide came to her room, wheeled her down the hall to a “special” room, without any explanation, proceeded to take all her clothes off without telling her what she was going to do — and without closing the curtains to the hall where anyone could walk by — and they did — and then used the spray hose on her. Nothing gentle, nothing comforting, only a harsh, almost spiteful spray shower that was almost to the tune of, “You like showers? I’ll give you a shower!”
Anyone who has ever been in a hospital or a rehab center knows that there will likely be quite a wait till someone answers your call bell. Yes, even if it’s important. Yet just as customers in a restaurant like to be acknowledged, no matter how long they have to wait, so too do patients need to be acknowledged — but in a kind way, not like we’ve often heard and seen. Who wants to be told in a harsh, sharp voice, by the aide who is supposed to be coming to help you, “I’ve got other bells to answer; just hold your horses!”
Thank goodness my sister is back home now, in a familiar and loving home with her husband at hand, and her children able to visit as often as they can. Home is where the heart is, and all those who care for the ill in an institution of some kind should remember those important words of Hippocrates: “First, do no harm!”
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.