A view from the other side

Published 1:22 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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Sometimes, situations in which we find ourselves provide a different vantage point. My perspective is usually one of a hospital leader and nurse, but last week I viewed life as a patient’s family member. I always learn something when my point of view changes, and I want to share what I learned.


Importance of Close-to-Home Care: I have life-threatening allergies to tree nuts, shellfish, and bananas. My condition was adult onset. I ate many of those foods most of my life and then had an anaphylactic reaction one day. A food allergy is an immune system response when we eat something to which our body is hypersensitive. As a result, some people experience hives, digestive symptoms, or, in my case, a tiny amount of the food can cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock, tachycardia, and the potential of the esophagus swelling shut, even to the point of death. 

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I must check every single item I encounter—food, lotions, shampoos, etc. to ensure that it does not contain or has not been cross-contaminated with my allergens. Holiday parties, buffets, potluck dinners, and special events can become a field of landmines for me to navigate safely. This past holiday season, I unsuspectingly ate something that contained an olive oil processed in a facility that also processed tree nuts, and I had a sudden food allergy reaction. 


When I experience a food reaction, access to my Epi-Pen and an emergency department is critical. Living less than 10 minutes away from St. Luke’s brought me great comfort as we raced toward the ER. We must remember how important it is to have a hometown hospital and the benefits of care close to home. I was reminded of this during my patient experience over the holidays, but also recently as a family member of a patient. 


The Value of Great Caregivers: About a week ago, my husband Timothy awoke with severe abdominal pain. As I rushed him to the St. Luke’s ER in the middle of the night, I was reminded how caring and compassionate caregivers matter. When you are in your PJs and roll into the ER with your family member doubled over in pain, having a nurse say, “we’re here and will take great care of you,” really relieves your anxiety. 


Emergencies make for terrifying times. And when you have an unknown issue, it’s reassuring to have a kind lab tech draw your blood and a radiologic technologist who reminds you they have 25 years of experience running the tests about to be performed on you. I watched as my husband’s stress and worry were relieved by these men and women who were there to care and help find answers.


The Skill of a Super EMS: After an overnight stay at St Luke’s, we learned that Timothy needed to be transferred to another hospital for tests by a GI specialist that St. Luke’s does not provide. After a flurry of activity, paperwork, and coordination between the St. Luke’s team and Polk County EMS he was transferred. It was his first ambulance ride. But the paramedics listened to his concerns, thoroughly communicated their answers, and prepared him for the trip. I was again thankful and felt fortunate to live in a community where we have many qualified emergency medical service members who touch patients’ lives daily.


The Patient and Family Perspective: Ultimately, the outcomes for Timothy and me were positive, for which we could not be more grateful. But more than gratitude, I’ve started the year with a new perspective on the services St. Luke’s provides. I was a patient in our emergency department, sat in the ER waiting area, and slept in the recliner beside my husband’s hospital bed. I walked Timothy around a nursing unit in that “beloved” hospital gown. We ate hospital food (St Luke’s has excellent food, by the way!) and used the patient portal to view test results. We waited for the doctor to round and share updates, talked to the nursing assistants at the 4 a.m. vital sign checks, and reviewed the discharge instructions to ensure we knew what to do when we got home. 


At every step, I was reminded how important the voices of family members are when advocating for our patients. Family members matter so much to help us prioritize the work that we do every day. While there’s always room for improvement, we also have SO much to celebrate in the things we do very well for patients and families at St Luke’s. I know, because I experienced it firsthand.


I hope it will be a while before I see healthcare from this vantage point, but for me, it was a healthy perspective check.


If you have a healthcare topic of interest or want to learn more about St. Luke’s Hospital, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or visit our website at StLukesNC.org.