Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hospital Roommate Etiquette: Rule Number Six

Here’s the latest in my list of etiquette rules all hospital roommates should abide by. The  first five were:
 No whining or screaming;
 Be considerate;

The sixth involves reacting to a situation. You are in close proximity to your roommate. You may not have seen her (in my case, I was confined to my bed for months and couldn’t walk around the room. And unless the curtain between us was pulled, I never laid eyes on several of my roomies.) But you’ve heard her, you’ve heard her visitors, her doctors and nurses and you know more than you want to know about her. You’ve overheard her most intimate, embarrassing moments and she, yours. 

And so the next rule of etiquette relates to your involvement in your roommate’s life.

Rule No. 6. Only butt in when necessary.

There are plenty of opportunities, believe me. But unless it involves a serious health or comfort situation, you should keep your comments to yourself.

Once, I listened while a woman had many visits during the night from the nurse. Why she couldn’t sleep, I don’t know. But because I was a few feet away from her, I couldn’t either. She was in her 90s, she kept coming back to the hospital, she couldn’t eat solid foods anymore and I had heard her doctor tell her family that there was really nothing else he could do for her.

She was dying and her days were numbered.

Her caregiver showed up one day and was concerned that she was so sleepy. She yelled at the patient (she was hard of hearing) to ask if she had a good night sleep. And she kept expressing puzzlement at why the woman kept nodding off.

I knew the woman had had a rough night, but in the scheme of things, it really didn’t matter. So I kept my mouth shut.

But on another day, when that same lady was hooked up to a machine for a breathing treatment, a visiting minister came in and offered her Communion, a bread host that was exactly the type of thing she couldn’t swallow. The respiratory therapist had stepped out of the room momentarily and the minister asked her daughter if the woman would like to receive Communion.

Now I knew the daughter hadn’t been there much and wasn’t up on her mom’s condition. (The caregiver knew more than she did. That’s another story.)

“Sure!” she told the minister. “We’ll just stop the treatment.”

I imagined the poor old woman choking to death on the host and quickly considered injecting myself into the scene. Just then the therapist came back into the room,  became instantly alarmed and put an immediate stop to the dangerous plan.

Another day in the rehabilitation ward of another hospital, I did have reason to intervene in a roommate’s case. Twice. The patient was a lady who only spoke Korean. I mean she did not speak or understand a word of English. The nurses would try to explain things to her as best they could. The patient’s husband would show up and stay with her for about 10 hours of the day, and he would translate as needed.

But that left many hours in which she was at a loss for what was happening and the nurses were at a loss on how to get through to her.

She was a screamer. She was afraid of anyone in scrubs and anything they wanted to do to her, and she would let them know. Loudly.

She also used two words over and over. When her husband was there,I learned they meant “pain” and “cold.”

I can’t remember what the word for cold sounded like, but the word for pain sounded to me like “ahpo.”

The poor thing was apparently always cold and in a lot of pain.

I listened as a nurse came in to see what she was hollering about. “AHPO! AHPO!” she said sternly. 

“OK,” said the nurse. She left the room. Awhile later, she came back with a banana.

“We didn’t have any apples,” she told the woman. “Hope this is all right.”

Shortly thereafter a new nurse came on duty. The husband still had not arrived. I called her over to my side of the room. It was a spacious room and our beds were facing each other, behind curtains.

I told the nurse if she happened to hear a word that sounded like “ahpo”, it meant pain.

Another night, I also butted into my roommate’s business. She was recovering from brain surgery. The staff was concerned about her getting up and falling down while she was by herself. So they pushed her bed against one wall so she could only exit from one side. And they stationed an attendant outside in the hallway for a couple of nights, just watching her to make sure she didn’t try to get up.

They would always explain how she could summon help by pushing the button. If she needed to get up to use the bedside commode, they told her, PLEASE push the button. I don’t think she understood at all. She never pushed the button in several days I was with her.

In the middle of one night, after the guard no longer stayed outside our door, I heard some telltale sounds. She didn’t mutter a thing. But I heard the trademark “rrrrrip” of tape from her adult diaper. I heard her rustling around and I heard her sit on the bedside commode.

I pushed the button and called the nurse. “My roommate is not supposed to get up and she’s up!” I announced when the nurse wanted to know, via speaker, what I needed.  One good thing about having a roommate who doesn’t speak English, she didn’t know I was ratting her out.

The nurse raced in and chastised the patient, helped her back to bed and told her not to EVER get up alone and to PLEASE push the button if she needed something.

Again, she didn’t understand.

One time I was on the receiving end of someone butting in to my business.
When I was alone on my side of the crowded room in the nursing home from hell,
 my call button fell to the floor.

I uttered a mild expletive.

Immediately, my ancient, nonverbal roommate pulled back the curtain between us. She looked at me quizzically and made a sound. Yeah, I said, I dropped my call button. And because I was disabled and bedridden, there was no way I could retrieve it.

And, bless her heart, she understood. She pushed her button and the nurse came in our room and solved the problem.

When you are seriously ill and hospitalized, it’s all you can do to worry about your own health. You don’t want to be nosy or intrusive. But sometimes it’s OK to butt in. Kind, even.