This is a book you probably thought you’d already heard of, because it seems so obvious that it should have been written. Put together through hundreds of hours of interviews with medical personnel, it is the brainchild of Martine Ehrenclou, someone who
- like so many of us - has had to deal with the vast labyrinthine hospital system without a roadmap in an attempt to get the best care for a family member or loved one. Ehrenclou decided to draw the roadmap.
If you are assisting a friend or family member who is hospitalized, the first thing to remember is that you are not an annoying gadfly trying to ruin some nurse’s or doctor’s day; you are the person most concerned about the patient, and your input could save a life. I am well aware of this since my brother was released, alive and well, from a critical care facility where he lay in a coma for several weeks, not expected to survive. His partner stayed by his side, and at every small wobble in the machinery that checked his vital signs, she dragged a nurse or orderly into the room and demanded their attention. No one doubted when my brother walked out under his own steam that she had saved his life. Probably several times.
Critical Conditions is a well-organized guide to getting your personal patient the care he or she needs and is paying for. Part of this process involves being polite and calm, not assuming that the doctor is purposely ignoring you or is just a jerk. Hospital staff report that “some family members treat doctors and nurses like indentured servants.” Instead, approach staff politely, but don’t be afraid to speak up or to continue asking questions.
Check everything, like my sister-in-law did. The book even suggests making sure the equipment is plugged in and
that the food going through the tube is the right food for the patient. Get to know the staff routine and the nurses’ names. Be assertive (but polite) with the doctors and come prepared with questions (the book has a list of things you might need to ask). Write stuff down (you can use the book for that, too). Don’t assume that because the hospital staff is paid to help sick people, they will do everything possible, will do everything right, or will care as much about your family member as you do. “These guidelines are to help you circumvent the red tape. Simply get moving and expect to do some of the work yourself.”
The book is set up with space for you to keep track of necessary information. In that way, it’s a workbook as well as a guidebook. There’s a glossary of standard medical terms and a lot of personal case histories to underscore the need for vigilance – yours – for someone who has to be in the hospital.
The book would be good reading for any of us, because at any time, you could find yourself in the ER with a sick child or a friend who’s just had an accident. Even if the stay is short, it helps to know some of the things that can happen and how to deal with them. When I worked in a large medical facility, I learned that a hospital is a world unto itself, something like a small city. It has its own culture, hierarchy, language and slang. Being knowledgeable about that can help you, whether you are just passing through or staying for a longer time.