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Hospitals' Bedside Manner Needs to Extend to Family of Patients

Updated on December 13, 2017
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Jennifer Branton is a nerd by trade most often writing about books and video games. She has a BA in Journalism from Lewis University

Little More Than A Dial Tone

"Is that it?" She asked me in her rough nasal voice over the chaotic background of people shuffling about and the bonging chime on a nearby elevator.

"The doctor told me this morning that I was welcome to check in throughout the day if I liked at the nurses station. And here I am calling for updates on my husband." I wasn't about to get the overworked and irritated day nurse get the best of me. "I will be checking back in this afternoon to see if he talked to the psychologist as well." I added.

"Well he hasn't yet and we don't know anything until he does so is that all then?" Nurse Ratchet retorted.

Here I am back at that.

Remind to twelve hours ago where I was just a wife coming home from work, irritated from a long day and the issues at the office to come home and have a little spat with my husband whom has spent most of the day cleaning the home for us.

Enter just the wrong thing being said and he flew into an impulse and took a handful of cold pills and threw down the glass in victory as if to "show me." Suddenly seeing the color drain out of my face, he realized what he had done and instantly began to make himself throw up. I called poison control but they said it was best to see the nearest hospital, fortunately for us was only a few blocks away.

I waited nervously through the night until nearly two am as they had him drink charcoal mix and see various night staff before being moved to a room on the third floor.

I explained the the ER staff that he has Asperger's Syndrome and a brain injury, which he has been on medication for for many years. I had copies of his prescriptions with me. Still it was told to me that he would remain on suicide watch even though I explained that it was most likely an Autism Meltdown, common to people on the spectrum.

I was sent home, only to try to call back after three hours when I realized that the Emergency Room staff hadn't prepared me for how difficult it will be to get information on a family member with a mental health issue.

Suddenly I was treated like a pariah every member of the hospital staff I continued to encounter, and I wasn't the one that swallowed those pills.


By the next day I was treated like a pariah by hospital staff, and I wasn't the one that swallowed the pills.


I completely understand the hospitals need to keep patient confidentiality but I was the one that signed him into the ER in the first place and was listed as the primary point of contact as other family members are all down South.

Upon my return the hospital the nurses station told me I could only get information if I had the Pin Number to the case. I explained that I wasn't given anything the night before and was told by the Emergency Room I could just show up in the morning and come and go as I pleased during visiting hours.

One nurse gave the me phone number to the room then another said that patients on suicide watch weren't allowed phone calls, completely contradicting what I was told earlier. The more I asked questions as the advocate for my husband, the more I was treated as if I was causing a problem by being at the hospital.

I went down to his room, but was never allowed to be alone with him.

The hospital I was told did not have a proper mental health unit so they had Sitters that would stay in the room of mental health patients and especially suicide risks monitoring their every move- which in my husband's case was either sitting on the bed or using the washroom.

I wasn't even allowed to have a conversation with him without a Sitter standing less than a foot from me following my every word. Very hard to ask a loved one how they are being treated when the enemy nurse is staring you down.

While I did see they were gentle in their words to him, they hated me on site for having the audacity to ask things like if I could have the doctor paged so I could go over the information with them myself.

Bedside manner for the patient but the the patients family members.

If I was having so much issue being in the hospital talking to these people face to face, I could only imagine the wrath being projected on family that was continuing to call on the phone.

Without a proper mental health unit, the hospital had Sitters that would stay in the room with my husband every second of his stay, and not allow us anytime to speak privately making it very hard to see how he was being treated.

His Doctor VS Their Doctor

With little hospitalization in my own lifetime, one of the first thing a family member told me was to call his prescribing doctor and make them aware of the hospitalization so that everyone could compare notes.

I mentioned this in the Emergency Room but no one seemed interested in my information. I asked again at the nurses station upon another return to Hospital Hell and was told they didn't need any such information which seemed ridiculous so I called his doctor myself and left a message with his nurse.

The staff the night before kept mentioning that the psychologist will probably want to do inpatient elsewhere, even though I had the information of the his current Psychiatrist that he actually had an appointment with later in the week that I had informed on my own since the hospital didn't want the information.

When I finally was able to talk to the doctor doing rounds that morning, I explained the whole story which matched what my husband had said as well and the morning rounds doctor had told me he believed that it was an impulse caused by his disability and that the doctor that morning thought pending a visit with the psychologist would clear all this up and he would probably be discharged in the next day or so.

I hadn't slept, I had to call off work to be in attendance of the hospital for the duration of the day so I went back home to catch up on some sleep and hopefully know more about how the visit went with the psychologist from the hospital and if his doctor had been in touch.

Hours later, all hell broke lose when I called back to the nurses station.


Untrained to meet the needs of people with Mental Illness, the hospital left my husband in a room guarded by security not even allowing me to talk to him on the phone.

Phone Fun With Nurse Ratchet

After several hours, I called to get another update and was met with the same scrutiny by the nurses- apparently it wasn't time for the evening shift change yet.

I was told he was resting comfortably and had eaten. I said that I knew that from when I was in the room at 8 am this morning and to tell me something that had happened in the last few hours.

Again I got the type of sigh you use with a irritating child. "We don't know anything until he sees the psychologist and see what they recommend as far as inpatient or whatever."

I was about to tell her where she could put whatever but I stuck to being tactful.

"I am concerned because I am the only family he has in Illinois so I need to plan my work schedule accordingly to be able to be there when he is discharged or have the information when he is transferred."

All I got back was the typical "I don't know," that I had dealt with since the start of the nightmare.

Work with me here people!

If you don't have the complicity at your hospital to understand Mental Health patients then could you either give a definite answer if you are moving him or not? I don't think I'm out of line here for the person he left in charge as the contact to be part of the planning here?

I explained the Nurse Ratchet even though we live less than a mile from the hospital I wasn't about to let him get discharged in the middle of December with no way to get home while I was at work if that is what they ultimately decided. Since my husband isn't allowed to call out, and the nurses are less than willing to talk to me on the phone, how will I ever know anything if I'm at work?

They simply don't care.

I get I am not the patient but the family has rights to know too when it comes to the treatment of their loved ones, especially in the cases of mental illness where the most clear headed person to turn to for information most likely isn't the patient themselves.


In Limbo

Almost twenty four hours after the emergency room, I still know nothing. And I am still treated like the enemy from the hospital perspective.

I don't even trust these people to call me when either he can be discharged from their location or moved somewhere else where I can't have any contact for a few days wondering and worrying about his treatment there and how he will even get home from said place.

I feel like this hospital wants to waste time until the insurance has enough of paying for the same blood tests and EKG's that he has taken for at least the fourth time today.

I am hoping upon my evening return to the hospital to have found that the psychologist that finally showed up has talked to the morning shift doctor as well as my husband's own doctor and they have made the decision to let him out of there.

I don't know how this story will end almost a week before Christmas.

With mental health affecting so many people, hospitals that don't have the appropriate psychiatric departments need to learn to understand the needs of their patients more and how to work with the families involved in those cases.

Don't treat me like I'm a nuisance for wanting to know information about my family member. You don't have the right to dehumanize those affected by mental illness. This is a disease just like everything else that your hospital is treating.

Hospitals like this will be more than happy to bill our insurance for every cent they can get but they lack the ability to show any real compassion the family left behind in such cases.


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