Q: My son is admitted to the hospital and I cannot stay with him because I have small children at home. Who will keep him safe when I am gone?
A: Many parents feel apprehensive and disoriented when their child is in the hospital. Seeing your child injured or lying in bed hooked to monitors and IV medications can be unbearable.
Even when you are at the bedside, you may feel that you are spending hours simply waiting – waiting for medication, waiting for lab results, waiting for information. Perhaps the things that strike you as requiring immediate attention do not seem to get an immediate response from hospital staff, a situation that can skyrocket your fear, stress and anger.
You are a stranger in a strange land, with seemingly little control over anything that is happening to your child. And in the circumstance you describe, where you must leave your child alone in the hospital, it is natural to feel conflicted.
How can you be sure that someone will watch over your child with the same vigilance that you would? How will they know if he’s in pain or needs something?
Fortunately, hospitals have set up systems to keep your child safe, starting with the medical team. The best thing you can do is get to know your bedside nurse. Take a moment to learn his or her name and spend some time talking to them about your child. They are your strongest ally in caring for and protecting your child. This nurse will be with your child for 10 to 12 hours, providing care and comfort. The nurse spends exponentially more time with your child than the physician does. She or he is the one most invested in knowing how to talk to your child, how to comfort your child and how to advocate for your child.
The nurse is tasked with alerting the physician team about any changes in the child’s clinical condition. Physicians count on the nursing staff to know the minute-to-minute status of the child and to call for help in a timely manner. And nurses take this responsibility to heart.
Should your child need immediate assistance, there are a number of ways that the nurse will know, and can call for help.
First, some children are on monitors which track their heart rate, breathing and oxygen levels. If your child’s vital signs change, an alarm will ring at the front desk and keep ringing until someone checks.
Second, there are patient care techs who check on patients and collect vital signs in between nursing rounds, providing an extra set of eyes on the child.
Third, inside your child’s room, there is likely a call button which the nurse can use to communicate with the front desk and with other staff to ask for help.
Additionally, most nurses carry work cell phones nowadays, used to scan medications among other things. They can call for help from hospital based rapid response teams from those phones. Every hospital has different safety systems in place. These systems are regularly tested and maintained. When the technology gets old, it is replaced.
Should you have any specific questions about the safety systems, you can ask to speak to the unit’s charge nurse, unit director or medical director. Though each hospital may have its own unique leadership ladder, all hospital administrators in every hospital are tasked with quality of care and patient safety.
At some point, the time will come when you have to leave your child. This can be a difficult separation for both child and parent. Here are some tips that can make it easier for your child:
Before you go, please let your child’s nurse know that you are leaving. Being away from a parent can be a difficult part of a hospital stay for children, especially those under age five or six.
Always tell your child that you’re leaving and when you’ll be back. It may be tempting to leave while your child is occupied, but that may make your child feel abandoned. With younger children, describe when you’ll be back in terms of familiar daily routines, like “I’ll be back after dinner.”
Write down important phone numbers for an older child.
Explain that when you return, you’ll always be able to find your child. Sometimes children don’t want to leave their rooms for the playroom or tests because they fear their parents won’t be able to find them.
Unfortunately, many children do have to spend time in hospitals, but all pediatric staff try their hardest to make their stay as safe and short as possible.
Anjali Subbaswamy is a Pediatric Intensive Care Physician at UNM. Please send your questions to her at ASubbaswamy@salud.unm.edu.
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