AN ACQUAINTANCE HAS BEEN IN THE HOSPITAL FOR A FEW DAYS, A BIT LONGER THAN PLANNED. She’s a bodybuilder and the lousy food and interrupted sleep have been especially hard on her. It reminds me of this column I wrote years ago. Excerpt:
Being in the hospital is an exhausting, draining experience even if you aren’t sick. I spent a lot of time, and a couple of nights, there, and I felt like I had been run over by a truck. Imagine how I’d have felt if I had been, you know, a patient with something actually wrong with me.
Sleep interruptions are one problem. The floor below my wife’s housed the sleep-disorder clinic, where they monitor people and try to help them overcome various problems, like sleep apnea, so that they can achieve an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Ironically, it’s probably the only place in the hospital where they let you sleep all night long if you want. My wife was interrupted, on average, about every 90 minutes or so all night long: To have blood drawn, to have vital signs checked, to have her temperature taken, to be given medications (“wake up, it’s time for your sleeping pill” isn’t just a hospital joke) and, most irritatingly, to be weighed.
Now, there are good reasons for a lot of this stuff. Medications have to be given at certain times, temperatures have to be monitored, and so on. Even the weight is important, especially for cardiac patients where fluid balance often matters a lot. (Though not in my wife’s case, as her problems were different.)
But the end result of all of this stuff, especially when it’s spread over the evening, is a huge amount of stress on somebody who’s already under stress from illness. I don’t think that anyone has done the experiment (as has in fact been done with regard to mental hospitals) of hospitalizing some healthy grad students for a couple of weeks and then measuring their condition on discharge, but I’m pretty sure I know what the result would be: Most of them would come out in far worse shape than they were when they entered, even if they managed to avoid other hospital hazards like nosocomial infections or malnutrition from lousy hospital food. And I rather doubt that anyone familiar with hospitals and hospitalization would disagree. That suggests to me that somebody ought to be thinking harder about ways of making the hospital environment more patient-friendly. It’s impossible to make a hospital as stress-free as, say, a spa or a hotel, but it seems to me that with a bit of planning and organization it would be possible to do a lot better than we’re doing now. (And several of the nurses with whom I discussed this problem agreed.) Like the traditional hospital gowns, an awful lot of things seem to be “flimsy, drab, and designed for the practitioner’s convenience rather than for the patient’s comfort.” It’s time for that to change.
Speaking of hotels and comfort, it might be a good idea for hospitals to pay more attention to visitors’ needs, too. No matter how good the nursing staff is, they’re understaffed almost everywhere. That means that hospitals rely, to greater or lesser degrees, on patients’ families and friends for everything from minor services like refilling water glasses to fairly major things like monitoring treatments and medications to make sure there aren’t errors. I always pay close attention to that sort of thing on behalf of my family members who are hospitalized, and have caught a couple of mistakes that might have led to serious problems.
You’d think that would be cheap malpractice insurance, and hospitals seem to notice in the abstract — I saw posters telling people that if they couldn’t have family or friends around they should hire someone to sit with them — but not much is done to make the lot of long-term visitors easy; even the chair in my wife’s room was excruciatingly uncomfortable. (“I’d rather be a patient than a visitor,” one nurse told me). While there are some efforts along these lines, there’s not enough.
Related: Why Hospitals Should Let You Sleep: Frequent disruptions are more than just annoying for patients. They can also cause harm.
Much more here.