Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Brakes On the Wheelchair

Last month, I felt quite clever but at the same time irritated that by the third visit to the hospital we were able to navigate the long walk from the front lobby to ICU without a map. After all, I didn’t sign up for this stint of several visits a day. It was involuntary enlistment.

Nevertheless, in such circumstances you learn the ropes and develop a routine. Being a quick study conserved my energy for more important things. What I noticed though, was how attentively the Cleveland Clinic hospital where my father was admitted eased the stress of family visits with simple courtesy.

Staff at all levels seemed trained to be mindful of visitors. Recognizing – and alleviating - bewilderment is apparently a priority. You get a map every time you check in. Stand still in a hallway for just a moment and staff – whether housekeeping, a tech or a doctor – ask how they can help to direct you. Everyone seemed to understand that – with the possible exception of the maternity floor – every visitor in the building wished they didn’t have to be there.

My first inkling I'd be catered to in this way came at the entrance, where visitor wheelchairs are stashed . On my first visit after arriving in town, the usually abundant supply was gone but a valet traipsed through two departments to retrieve one for us. Then, after we arrived at ICU, I realized my ignorance with this basic piece of equipment – fumbling at first until an aide pointed out the brake that would keep the wheelchair from scooting across the room, landing the occupant squarely on the floor (!).

Like everything else in healthcare, treatment of patient families is institutionalized and codified. In fact, my research on the subject turned up a press release from the Disney Institute announcing a new training module on family interaction for the purpose of increasing hospital satisfaction ratings, which are about to become a matter of public record due to new government regulations.

But only so much civility can be taught in a seminar. At a hospital where veterans lead by example and empathy is valued, painful memories of a last hospital stay are softened by the kindness of strangers.

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