Friday, August 26, 2011

Hospital Roommate Etiquette: Rule Number Two

Until patients each have private rooms when they are hospitalized, they should abide by some basic hospital roommate etiquettte. I’ve already posted one rule. Here’s my next suggestion.
Rule Number 2: Be considerate.
We all learned this when we were kids. It means using common courtesy and being willing to compromise. It becomes more important when you are confined to a bed and your roommate is inches away from you.
During my journey in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, I came across many hospital roomates who -- once they got in a gown and a bed -- didn’t seem to think that rule applied anymore.
There is a natural tendency to make an exception for yourself. You’re sick, your privacy is a dim memory and you are in close proximity to a total stranger. Being polite is not high on your to-do list.
But you don’t need to make things worse by being, well, inconsiderate. It just brings added aggravation to the room.
I found most insensitive behavior centers on two things: Cell phones and TVs.
Cell Phones
We’ve come a long way, in a short time, from the days when No Cell Phones signs were posted on hospital walls. Now, everyone has phones: patients, visitors, doctors and nurses.
I was too sick most of my time in the hospital  to even hold or speak on a phone. But some of my roommates just yakked and yakked no matter what time of day or night.
You know the uncomfortable feeling you get when a guy in line in front of you is openly blabbing about personal business on his phone? Image that in a confined space.
There’s a reason why in-room hospital phones have time limits. No calls after 10 p.m. or  before 8 a.m., for example. It’s to give the always sleep-deprived patients some peace and quiet.
But patients with cell phones aren’t bound by those rules. Did that one roommate’s husband really have to call daily at 6 a.m. before he left his house? Was there another time at all during the day when he could have touched base?
I had another roommate whose cell phone was constantly ringing, one call after another. During a rare break in the action, she actually apologized to me through the curtain, saying someone had apparently given everyone in her church her number.
You would think it would exhaust her. It did me and I was just listening. I wanted to say, “You are annoying the hell out of me: Would it kill you to turn the ringer down and just let them leave messages?” Instead, Polite Me said, “Oh, that’s OK.”  
But soon I learned she was not going to learn roommate courtesy and compromise that easily.
Which brings me to my second source of rudeness.
The TV
My hospital rooms each had a private TV you could manipulate so it was as close as you wanted. Each bed had one. I was very careful not to turn the volume up loud, but I did like to watch TV. It was company, helped me mark the time and provided a connection with what was happening in the outside world.
(I noticed one day my TV was advertising summer clothes. What? Last I remember it was snowing in my hometown -- a rarity. Turned out I had been given drugs to wipe my toughest months from my memory.)
The first morning with my cell-phone-addicted roommate, I woke up and turned on the morning news, after I knew she was awake. The set was about six inches from my face and the volume was the lowest it would go.
“‘EXCUSE ME,” she said. “Can you turn that down?”
I explained the volume didn’t go lower.
“I just don’t like the sound of TVs at all,” she said. “Can’t stand the noise.”
In a rehab facility, I shared a huge room with another patient. There was more space between us and we each had our own TV.
We would have to go to physical therapy -- in our wheelchairs -- down the hall once or twice a day. 
The polite thing to do is turn off your TV before you leave. 
My one roommate who spoke no English had a habit of leaving her TV on when she left the room, blasting never-ending World Cup in Spanish. She didn’t speak Spanish either.
In the worst rehab place I was in, my first room had three bed-bound occupants, no telephones or TV sets (ostensibly so patients could get out of their rooms and participate in life. Yeah, right.)
One TV owned by the woman in the center bed hung on the wall in front of us, so she controlled it. She spoke in gibberish. (And at least one nurse spoke it back to her.)
Her favorite channel was one that showed old crime dramas. But in the middle of the night she loved watching multiple “Big Momma’s House” movies, turned the volume up and laughed uproariously whenever Martin Lawrence appeared as a woman -- hours on end.
Not worth asking her to turn it down or be polite: she couldn’t comprehend it.
I finally got moved to another room, this time with a considerate roomie. We were in a smaller room, our beds arranged in an L shape. She kept the TV off, but kindly asked one morning if I liked to watch morning news shows. We agreed on a show to watch. Later, she would give me the remote after she had had it for a spell. I could have hugged her. Well, patted her foot. My hand was inches away from it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Favorite Daily Living Aids: Not Just For the Disabled

A sock thing
My favorite daily living aid -- something to assist disabled or handicapped people -- is not much to look at. White terry cloth on one side, black fabric on the other, two white straps stitched on.
But I consider it a miraculous invention, one that helps me not to feel so handicapped.
It’s what I call a sock-putter-onner and you’d never guess its function to look at it.
I would have never known about it if I hadn’t spent time in rehabilitation trying to make my way back from paralysis and brain cancer.
It’s one of three handicapped products that I learned about during my hospital and rehab stays that everyone should know about. You don’t have to be physically as low- functioning as I was to benefit from them. You can look for them at your local medical supply store or search for them using Google or Amazon.
No. 1. The Sock Thing
It was an occupational therapist who introduced this device to me. They (I had many over the months I was in rehab) taught me to do daily living activities -- brushing my teeth, washing my face, putting on clothes, socks and shoes.
I couldn’t bend down to get my socks on and still cannot. But the sock thing was a helpful device. You just slip the sock onto the end, pull it up and voila!

The sock is on your foot and the thing is in your hand.
In the midst of my pain and struggles to work my way back to moving, walking and taking care of myself, the sock thing gave me moments of joy. It seemed like a magic trick. It’s easy and it works.
When I got home, I searched the internet to find one like it.  There are many such devices at a variety of prices, but I found mine  for less than $10.
My husband thinks I am susceptible to gimmicky products and infomercials. I guess I am a bit. But this thing is no gimmick. It delights me (seriously) ever time I use it. It just gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I don’t have to ask anyone else to put my socks on for me.
Anyone having trouble putting on socks (like those who suffer from back pain or arthritis) would benefit from this device.
No. 2. The No-Rinse Hair Wash Shower Cap
I first came across this during my first stint in rehab. When you are busy fighting to recover from a horrendous injury or disease, washing your hair is not a top priority. But, you do think about it.
One of my roommates, asked by the nurse if she needed anything (like her water pitcher refilled, for example), said this.  “I really need my hair shampooed. And I could use some color, too.”
It had been days since she had been in an accident that left her severely injured. She hadn’t even been given a sponge bath, much less a shampoo.
The nurse ignored the hair coloring request but told her about a  shampoo-in-a-cap that she could get. They had to special order it for the patients. I got in on the ordering (don’t know how long it had been since my hair was washed).
It’s another miraculous product. It looks like a bulky shower cap, but if you warm it up a bit in the microwave, stick it on your head and massage it in, you have hair that feels  like it’s been shampooed and rinsed. It smells great and it lifts your spirits.
Back when I had hair and was confined to a hospital bed, my shampoo routine consisted of a nurse -- as part of my sponge bath -- grabbing a washcloth, dunking it in the soapy solution and handing it to me. I rubbed it on my hair.
Sort of the opposite of those shampoo commercials where washing your hair looks fun and luxurious.
When I was released from the hospital, I sent my husband to our local medical supply store to find the magical shampoo caps. The shop had to special order them and they were not cheap, but I would supplement the washcloth treatment with what was almost a real shampoo every once in a while.
It was as close to luxurious as I was going to get.
As I heard about friends or relatives undergoing surgery or breaking bones, I realized you don’t have to be bedridden to appreciate these. Anyone who can’t take a shower for whatever reason could use them.
No. 3. The No-Rinse Body Cleanser
Ditto with this daily living aid.

One of the products the hospital nurses used was a gentle no-rinse soap that I brought home when I was discharged. 
I couldn’t physically get in the shower for some time after I came home from the hospital. My caregiver continued the sponge baths I received in the hospital. She used the solution that didn’t require rinsing.
Eventually I got strong enough to get in the shower by myself and sit on a shower bench, which I still do today. But the no-rinse product is always handy for a quick standing-up-at-the-sink freshening-up. And I bring it when I stay at hotels or homes that are not handicapped friendly -- meaning I cannot physically use the shower or bath.

A version of this product also comes in wipes, which would also be useful.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hospital Roommate Etiquette: Rule Number One

More and more hospitals are joining the trend to make all patient rooms private. It makes for a more enjoyable, healthier stay for patients.

Until that day when patients do not have to share a room with a stranger, we could all stand to learn a few rules of hospital roommate etiquette. A lot of it is just common sense and plain courteous behavior. 
In the months I spent confined to a bed in hospitals or rehabilitation centers, I found plenty of roommates that seemed to have neither.
I’ve developed a list of rules that a patient should practice upon entrance to a semi-private room. It would make hospital stays a lot more pleasant.
I’ll share them on this blog one rule at a time.

Rule Number 1:  No whining or screaming.
If you were one of my roommates over the past several years, chances are you were not in good shape. I was in wings that catered to cancer patients, people with a brain injury or disabled folks. 
Not happy places.
But you roomies who spent all that time complaining or yelling made it more of a nightmare for me. And the others on the floor.
We were all hurting. And worried. And sometimes fearing for our very lives.
At a time when I was deeply concerned about my own health, you made it worse by whining about yours.
Early in my hospital journey, I shared a rehab room with a woman who had been in a sledding accident. She had broken several bones and was in a type of traction. Not pleasant, I know.
But did it help that she complained about it, loudly and endlessly on the phone, to her visitors and to the nurses?
“I don’t know how much longer I can stand this!” she said. Doctors told her it would take something like 8 weeks to recover. “EIGHT WEEKS!” she told everyone who would listen. “That’s a long time!! I can’t wait that long.”
Meanwhile, I was in the next bed, slowly going downhill. My diagnosis was a mystery. I kept getting sicker and sicker and doctors were at their wits’ end. They had tried almost everything. Yet my strength and neurological function kept deteriorating.
Eight weeks until your broken bones would be healed?  Sounded like a piece of cake to me.
While my hand trembled as I slowly tried to raise a spoon to my mouth for dinner, my neighbor was complaining about her beverage. She didn’t like the flavor and demanded that the nurse get her another one. She could have done it politely but no, she was harsh and acted like it was the end of the world.
Months later, when I was in a separate rehab facility that was the absolute worst, one patient would scream out all night, every night, keeping me on edge and awake. Because he wasn’t just screaming to scream. He was yelling “Call 9-1-1!!” and hollering the address of the rehab facility.
When I mentioned it to one of the nurses, she said, “Well, he’s been here a long time.”
No excuse.
Another roomie in a wonderful rehab facility seemed to have a deathly fear of the whole medical profession.
When a nurse would enter our room with a blood pressure machine -- which he or she had to do several times a day -- the patient would start shrieking as if she was being attacked. “It’s just a blood pressure machine and it doesn’t hurt,” the nurse would tell her to no avail. The patient couldn’t speak English.
I know. It’s scary being in the hospital. But complaining about it incessantly and at a high volume doesn’t help anyone, particularly your roommate.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

News Flash: Helping Hands Abound for the Disabled

The other day someone did something nice for me. I can’t remember what it was. It must have been extra sweet, because I mentioned it to my dad. 
“Well, there are some good people left in this world,” he said.
Actually, there are plenty.
Since I’ve become handicapped, I’ve had to depend on others for lots of little things: from opening doors and reaching items to chasing after a letter as it blew away from a drive-up mailbox.
And I’ve learned this: People of all ages are more than willing to lend a hand. They are happy to do it.
Despite what I call the “hell-in-a-handbasket” view of life
 (that things are worse than ever, nobody is like they used to be in the good old days, people, particularly the young ones, are more impolite than ever) there are many, many folks who are willing, even eager, to help out a person in need.
A friend of mine -- old enough to be my mother -- suffered a stroke a few years ago and I was one of the first she called (before she called a doctor) because I had been through so much, she was inquiring about her symptoms. Days later, her husband told me that she had, in fact, had a stroke and had to be hospitalized.
She recovered well and checked in often, me recovering slowly but surely from cancer and her the stroke. The incident taught her a big lesson, she said one day: People are extremely nice.
“It restored my faith in humanity,” she said.

I observe the kindness of people daily. Any door I approach using my walker, someone is always offering to hold. One older gentleman told me proudly, “I still hold doors open for women,” suggesting chivalry is not dead.

But young boys, even when their moms aren’t prompting them, step in and hold the door for this woman.
When I am getting in or out of my car, folks offer to assist, even though it’s not necessary. It may look like I’m struggling, but it’s just awkward. 
I was opening my door and preparing to get out in an emptyish parking lot when a college-aged girl came running up to my car, bee-lining about 30 feet just to ask if I needed help.
The same goes for me getting myself into a grocery store.
Here’s my routine: I drag my walker across my driver’s seat and place it outside on the ground. Then I stand up, grab my purse and shopping bags, then I walk toward the store. There I find a cart (sometimes I need help there), place shopping bags inside, then steady myself as I fold up my walker and throw it into the basket. Then I hit the hand-wipes station and clean the handle before I head down the aisles. (As a stem cell transplant survivor, I am particularly careful about germs.)
It’s a cumbersome routine but doable. People are so willing to help that I sometimes let them. Last week as I was approaching the outside of the store, a woman insisted on helping me, getting a cart for me, throwing my bags in, then my walker. “Is that it?” she said. Well, I told her, my last step is to use a wipe. She grabbed it for me and then threw it away when I was finished.
I learned that sometimes people just want to help, period. It makes them and you feel good.
An important part of the equation is not being afraid to ask for help and learning how to ask for help. I’ve depended on the kindness of strangers to unload my grocery items onto the counter, put things in my car, grab that errant letter blowing away, go fetch a sweater that I left somewhere, go find a pillow that I left in my trunk.
A frequent request is reaching something on the top shelf of a grocery store. More times than not the specific thing I need is just inches out of my reach. (This a new challenge for me as I’ve shrunk 2 1/2 inches due to osteoporosis.) I wait until someone taller comes along or I recruit someone in another aisle. If you ask them nicely, people will help with anything. 
Once at Trader Joe’s I asked a woman if she could reach a container from the top shelf.
“OK,” she said, leaning closer to the shelf, squinting. “Fresh grated, parmesan cheese, six ounces.....”
I interrupted her. “Oh, I said reach it, not read it.”
One rainy afternoon I was picking up my pre-made Dream Dinners  at the local store.  A helper carried the packages to my back seat and then hurried inside. As I was heading toward the driver’s door, I dropped my car keys and they bounced underneath my car and landed close to the center.
This would have been a prime moment to cuss loudly or lament the fact that I found myself in this predicament, disabled and keyless in the rain. Would have been a good time to shed tears of frustration.
But I merely went inside and asked for help.
Out came two guys armed with brooms who squatted down in the puddles and retrieved my keys. 
I thanked them profusely and went on my way.