Thursday, 16 August 2012

I'm a patient, get me out of here

“Your mother might have had a minor stroke,” said the nurse , in response to my inquiry. This was a week into Mum having first entered the hospital. A few days later, almost in passing, we were told: “oh no it wasn’t a stroke.”
This was one of a number of episodes to unfold over a two month period earlier this year. My mother fell over and hit her head. She had fallen over the week before, resulting in her going to hospital but they kept her in overnight, diagnosed a urine infection and discharged her the next day.

This time she was kept in, though only after protest. Our neighbour Val went up to the hospital with her and she told how a doctor wanted to push her out that night. It was only Val’s protestations that she was the neighbour not the carer that led to this plan being abandoned.

Things would change over the ensuing weeks, as it became a struggle to try and get Mum out of the hospital. She spent a week in the Clinical Decisions Unit before being moved to the day ward. Finally, she went onto a ward for rehabilitation – it was here that I was first told about the possible stroke. Mum was to remain in this ward for the next three weeks before discharge to an intermediate rehabilitation centre (IRC) for two and a half weeks.

Visiting the ward over those three weeks, a variety of hospital life was on display. There was a dementia patients, constantly on the move and looking for the bus to go home. Another patient had a number of angry encounters with a relative, who she believed wanted to put her in a home.

At one point, there was an insight into the two ends of the spectrum. On the one hand there was my Mum, desperate to get out of the hospital and go home. She was picking up colds and feeling a lot worse than when she entered. At one time she was sure she had been given hallucinatory drugs.

In the bed next door was an elderly lady who had been in the hospital for a good while but did not want to leave. She had no family or support network and was really worried about what awaited on the outside.

Information as to the situation with my mother was not freely available and generally had to be drawn like teeth from the staff. It was only when I presented an ultimatum to the effect that Mum was either going to the IRC or coming home – where she would have to be provided with care support – that anything seemed to happen.

Then a place was found at the IRC to try to get her back on her feet. It is important to remember that once in hospital there is a right to six weeks of rehabilitation care. We were told Mum could go to the IRC for up to six weeks or she could go home and receive care support there. Alternatively, there could be a mixture of the two types of support care.

The couple of weeks at the IRC proved fruitful. The staff were excellent, providing the support required. The only problem that arose was due to a lack of communication. The care company that provide support to Mum in the home had been talking to the IRC about Mum coming home. As I forcibly pointed out they should not be talking to the care company but to us. The care company had a commercial interest in getting Mum home, though ofcourse they would dress it up in the language of compassion. It was none of their business to be speaking to the IRC at all.

Anyway, the moral of this story is the need to always have someone in your corner looking out for your interests. The plight of the lady with no one in the rehabilitation ward of the hospital cannot be uncommon across the country. Who was there to stand up for her? The right to six weeks of rehab care is another thing that needs to be born in mind.

The whole experience though really brought home to me why so many elderly people are frightened to go into hospital - in case they don’t come out. The whole experience certainly changed my mother’s view of the local hospital. Previously a big fan, now she seeks to avoid returning to the place at all costs.

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