Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Surprising Adventures in Advocacy

     Feel Better Hospital has been a fun place to volunteer these days. I've been primarily on the Couplet Care Unit (another name for the Postpartum Unit) or, where moms go who have recovered from childbirth and are ready to be moved with their babies (hopefully) to a different floor. I have done breastfeeding surveys, handed out car seats to moms being discharged, and collected breakfast trays and passed out ice water. These various activities have provided opportunities for me to see adorable babies and sweet couples recovering from the thrilling exhaustion of childbirth. By the time they are hours from being discharged, car seat in hand, the reality of parenthood the first, third or umpteenth time around has settled into their demeanor: this little person going home with them is all theirs!
     Quietly knocking on the door and announcing, in a soft voice (I dread waking any mommy up), "Hi there. It's Laura from Volunteer Services. I'm here with your car seat,"  I greet them as I open the door and pull back the curtain. I'll look at the baby and reply, "What an adorable baby!" Then I'll look at both mom and dad and say, with great exuberance, "You two did a great job! He's beautiful!" They both smile and sometimes have a sheepish look on their face. (This sweet look on their faces has the effect of melting my heart a bit and diminishing aspects of the pain-stained memories of some of my childbirth experiences.) I'll proceed to talk about the car seat and the benefit of strapping the baby in before they are taken downstairs so they are not struggling with adjusting the baby's straps while also trying to get the seat buckled in their car. I have the mom then sign that she received the car seat. Before I leave I assure them that if they have any questions they can call for their nurse or me. "Congratulations!" I say as I exit the room and head toward my next car seat recipient.
     Years ago, after I had Daisy at The Country Club Hospital, there was a student nurse that came into my room to do whatever. She was so cheery and complimentary in her own way: "I can tell this is your 5th child. You are so relaxed. The atmosphere is totally different in your room than down the hall with the parents who just had their first." She wasn't judgmental or critical of the other patients, just sharing an observation she had made. I felt so comforted and encouraged in this peculiarly validating way. Her sunny disposition more than anything was a very bright spot after an extremely upsetting delivery and a scary night at the hospital.
     So, it is my attempt to recreate her sweet and cheery disposition that makes me approach new parents with such a positive attitude. Of course, loving all things mother/baby/childbirth/family also comes through in my encouragement and enjoyment of every couple's new baby. I so hope that even in a tiny way I've put a  measure of encouragement into their parenting journey as they welcome their new baby into their lives.
     Today brought an interesting acouple my way. How things played out with them both heartened and surprised me. I entered their room and began talking with them. Both were very intellignet and articulate. After I dispensed said car seat, I asked them, "Is there anything else I can get for you?" The mom, a tad bleary-eyed, asked, "Can I be discharged today?" We talked some about when she delivered and how it went. I saw no reason why she couldn't. However, I only said, "Let me talk to your nurse." After mentioning to her nurse the patient's request, the nurse quickly barked, "No she can't! She just delivered yesterday." I walked back into the room and told the patient what the nurse had said. "However," I added, "You can ask your nurse to ask your doctor. Your doctor is the one who will actually discharge you." I encouraged them to "sweetly and assertively" ask that the nurse call their doctor regarding their request. They chuckled at this suggestion and mentioned that they had already called the doctor's office to let him know she'd like to be discharged today. Good for you! I thought. I love patients who are smart and assertive.
     We began to talk more about the details surrounding her baby's birth. As her lovely birth story unfolded there was one very sad element in the whole blessed event: Dad had missed the delivery. The clincher?
     Naturally, my "Childbirth-Should-Be-As-Positive-As-Possible-Including-Having-Your-Husband-At-Your-Baby's-Birth" hackles were raised. As we discussed more details about what happened, I explained why the nurses might have taken the course of action they did. I also agreed, though, that they could have done things differently to ensure that he was present for his baby's birth. I also suggested that he talk with the nurse manager of Labor and Delivery (I even provided him with her first and last name!) and/or that he write a letter explaining what happened, how it negatively impacted him, and how they could have specifically handled it better. This man's sadness and disappointment was palpable. My heart broke to see that. His sweet, upbeat wife was trying to reassure him that he was there for the most important part, her labor, and that he would be available for all the important details of caring for their new, darling, dimpled baby. I appreciated her efforts, but they were lost on her husband. I validated how he was not served by the short-sighted nursing care and how sad it was to miss his baby's birth. I encouraged them to speak up about it.
     And then I  did something  about it. (This is where the delightful surprise came in: I could take action to help in some small way to right this wrong they had experienced.) After bidding them farewell, I went down to the patient advocate's office. She is a lovely woman who holds herself with such composure and dignity, that I sincerely hope and pray that it translates into her ability to affect some sort of change in nursing policies on Labor and Delivery at Feel Better Hospital. I briefly described the situation, how the dad was visibly affected, pointed out how the nurses could've handled it differently and told her the patient's room number. She was very sympathetic and agreeable with me. At the end I said, "My husband missed one of our baby's births. It was devastating. It's a moment you can never get back." The depth of her understanding reflected in the sympathetic look she gave me. She reassured me that she would talk with the patient.
      How all that might make any difference, I don't know. I hope the couple is comforted by it. I hope the nurse manager and that particular nurse are made aware of it. I so hope that one dad is spared missing his baby's birth, with his wife frantically calling out for him, because I brought the issue to light in my small little corner of the world. Feel Better Hsopital should earn its name, instead of Feel Really Bad Hospital.
     I'd like to think that my volunteer activites aren't so shaped by all of my childbirth experiences, that I'm somehow past the effects of all that, but I'm not. They have shaped me into the person I am, for better or worse. I trust that God will use them to bring some redemptive benefits into this world however He sees fit.

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