Being on the Other Side of the Hospital Bed


by Betty Long, RN~It’s not easy being on the other side of the hospital bed. For 28 years, I’ve been a registered nurse. And for the last eleven years, I’ve worked as a nurse advocate. I’ve worked with hundreds of patients and families to help them through the craziness of the healthcare system, to talk with their physicians and get their questions answered, to make sure that they were receiving good care in the hospital. To give them peace of mind at a challenging time.

And then last week happened. I was lying in a hospital bed after having major abdominal surgery. I had tubes coming out of me, and intravenous fluids going into me. I had staples closing the 9” incision and plenty of post-op pain. I felt vulnerable. And frightened. And acquiescent. In fact, a few close friends suggested that they had never seen me so agreeable. Doctors came and went on their once-a-day rounds, often first thing in the morning, when I was just waking up. I think it’s fair to say that they didn’t spend any “quality time” with me.

What I felt those four days reminded me of why I became a patient advocate. Patients ARE vulnerable. They ARE frightened. No one WANTS to be in a hospital. They’re there because they’re sick! And they need help. They don’t know how the healthcare system works. They don’t know the ‘insides’ or how things get done. They don’t know what to expect. And even if they did, they don’t know what questions to ask. They certainly can’t count on their physicians to open the lines of communication and review whatever it is that needs reviewing.

They’re stuck in passive roles, very often waiting roles. Waiting for an appointment. Waiting for test results. Waiting for the doctor to see them. Waiting for treatments to begin. I was lucky to have a few of my nurse advocates watching out for me, but just like I did in 1999, I wondered “What do patients do who don’t have someone advocating for them?”

One very small example during my stay was that each day, the clerk on the nursing unit proudly delivered a ‘care plan’ for me to review. The goal of the care plan is to keep patients informed about their care, what medications they’re on, and perhaps, prompt their questions. When I was well enough to glance at mine on Day 1 post op, right there in black and white my diagnosis read, “Pulmonary Collapse.” Uh-oh, I thought I was in for a hysterectomy. Not a great start, I thought, if they can’t even get my diagnosis right. Wonder what else they’re getting wrong? Though I did bring it to the attention of nursing management, when I was discharged, guess what my diagnosis read? Yep, pulmonary collapse.

Being in the hospital was no picnic, both physically and emotionally, but I got through it and gratefully, I am continuing to recover smoothly at home.

So take it from my own experience—if you do need to interact with the healthcare system, please make sure you have someone looking out for your best interests. They may be the only one!

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About Betty Long, RN

As a registered nurse working in greater Philadelphia-area hospitals over the past 27 years, Betty Long’s experiences as a nurse and manager proved to her that maneuvering through today’s healthcare system can be daunting, especially when you don’t have someone to help you navigate the system. Care decisions, insurance decisions and coordination of treatment services can overwhelm even the savviest consumer. Those experiences, and other more personal experiences, led Long to launch Guardian Nurses Healthcare Advocates in October 2003. Guardian Nurses provides advocacy services for clients, both private and corporate, all over the United States. The driving mission for its nurse advocates is simple: to act as representatives and advocate for their patients. And since nurse advocates work independently of hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and government agencies, they can be a strong voice for patients in all areas of the healthcare system. Nurse advocates understand healthcare issues from the viewpoint of caring for the patient and of the medical professionals trying to provide care. Nationally, Long’s advocacy work has been featured on The Dr Oz Show and National Public Radio’s Marketplace and Marketplace Money shows and various print publications.

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