I was just in the hospital with my 3 year old son. It was his 12th surgery. Between my medically complex sons, they have had 19 surgeries and dozens more hospitalizations in only a few short years. I would like to think I have learned how to compose my emotions so I can be allowed to communicate well with our hospital team. I haven’t always done this perfectly so I would like to share some useful tips if you ever find yourself in the hospital with your child.
- “I would like to be more educated on this topic.”
Doctors are experts in their field and you are an expert on your child. Sometimes that can be a power struggle. Personally, I don’t always agree on the opinions of my child’s doctors so I force them to talk me through it. Instead of coming at them in a combative way, using this phrase gives them credit on their expertise (possibly strokes their ego a bit) and opens up the conversation. It works with nurses too. Are they doing something unfamiliar or something different that your desires? Use this sentence. Medical professionals should be educating parents all the time to set them up for success at home.
- “What is your role in my child’s care?”
Many hospitals are teaching centers. This means you don’t just have 1 doctor- you may have dozens. From my experience, most medical professionals do not state their title or explain how that falls into your child’s care. I will give you cliff’s notes.
Attending Doctor– Highest level doctor in the unit and supervises other doctors.
Fellow– A step below the attending. They have completed residency and are doing additional training in a specialty.
Resident– A doctor in their first few years of training. This could be brand new doctor or one with years of experience. Do not hesitate to ask what year of residency they are in.
Student– Not a doctor. In medical school.
One thing I have learned the hard way is doctors don’t oversee the nursing staff. Most of your interaction will be with your nurses and if you need higher level communication with them, don’t go crying to your resident doctor. Ask for a nurse manager or nurse supervisor. And a word to the wise, if you are climbing the ladder to complain, try taking a day before you decide to do that. It’s easy to react with emotion when you have a sick child in the hospital but you want to stay in the good graces of hospital staff.
- “Can you please go over the 5 rights of medication?”
It’s all fun and games until someone tries to give my child a medication without informing me. For everyone’s safety, lines of communication should be wide open when it comes to meds. The 5 rights are- the right patient, the right drug, the right dose, the right route and the right time. You should be fully informed on why your child needs this medication and do not forget, you can refuse medications (in a polite way). If you aren’t comfortable with the answer, delay the medication until you can speak to the doctor.
- “I would love to partner with you in my child’s care.”
Ok, your child is in the hospital and you are scared. Maybe their tiny life is in danger. This phrase works! I’ve had disagreements with neurosurgeons (that’s right, I’m bold for my kids), and their argument is, “Our team has made the decision to do XYZ.” I come right back with, “Am I on that team?” Their answer will always be yes. In fact, as the parent you should be the team lead. Make sure you are involved in big decisions. Most doctors are wonderful about including parents and truly want your input. This phrase can also be flipped to, “Thank you so much for letting me partner in my child’s care.”
- “What is the plan of care?”
This is a pleasant way of saying, “What the heck is going on?” The hospital is a very confusing environment and often times many specialties are involved. The day shift staff will do rounds on your child so clearly tell your nurse that you want to be invited into rounds. This is a short discussion on the plan of care for the day and you will get most of your questions answered here. Do you want a certain specialist to be called in? Are you curious when your child will go home? Ask those questions during rounds. You should clearly understand what the plan is for your child that day. It could be healing and growing, having a new scan or just monitoring.
- “What you are doing makes a difference in the world.”
Can we all just say this to each other all the time? It feels so good to say and to hear. Hospital staff work incredibly hard and walk a fine line of saving lives and coddling parent’s emotions. So give them a shout out! I always buy them coffee, share my cheesecake and ask about their kids. They are people too and they don’t want to be your enemy. I love feeling like my nurses and doctors are in our corner and they have gone up to bat for our family more than once. Plus, it takes about a thousand years to become a doctor. They spend time away from their kids to take care of yours so throw them a fist bump, thank you note or use the above phrase. It brings a smile 100% of the time.