A carer’s insight into hospitals by Brydie Allen

“Nurses are wonderful in care, though sometimes I wonder if I am in the way. Am I a nuisance being here? I don’t want to leave mum.”

- A carer’s insight into hospitals

This line is a quote from the 13 page account of Megan McKay’s time in hospital at her mother’s bedside. Megan has been carer for her elderly mother Dawn for the past 5 years, moving her in with her own two daughters. Throughout this time Megan was also working full time, involved in musical and sporting activities, and caring for her teenage daughters. Dawn began to develop early onset of dementia, and would become increasingly agitated if Megan had not returned from work or an outing exactly when she had written down she would be home.

In January 2015, Dawn was rushed to hospital after having an accident on her mobility scooter, hitting a moving car outside her home. She was taken from the local hospital to specialist John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, a four hour drive from the home she shared with her daughter and granddaughters. 

For 8 days straight Megan was at the hospital, staying in a cottage on the grounds to be with her mother Dawn as much as possible. She wrote a record of each day in the hospital, writing down everything that happened between the time she arrived, usually at 6.00am, until when she left, between 10.00pm and 1.00am.

From the time Dawn was admitted, Megan had many times of discomfort. “I felt like a nuisance because it was like I was there, but I was disrupting their way of day, their routine.”

“I didn’t feel that they were utilising me in a productive way. I felt that I was sitting around watching them.”

During Dawn’s time in hospital she fell in the bathroom, worsening her head injury. Megan wrote at the time that she lost a lot of the gained respect and appreciation for her mother’s nurses: “Before the fall I was thinking ‘how am I ever going to repay these nurses? How could I repay them for the attention they had given mum?’ But after the fall it was like they were ignoring me, it was averted eyes and hushed tones.”

NSW Health Institutions information pamphlets available from hospitals and online, offer guides for patients and visitors on how to navigate the hospital system. Included in these guides are indications that staff directly involved with care will introduce themselves and explain their role in your treatment, as well as advise you of the times that doctors visit.

It is information like this that would be welcomed by carers, as something small to make them feel more comfortable in the hospital setting. Unfortunately, Megan writes that the patient information board, with details such as the current nurse assigned to her mother, as well as the date and plan for the day, was barely used in the week Dawn was a patient.

“As carer for my mother, there was no information. I would have liked an information pack for a carer that was going to be there consistently; telling me who was who, who was in charge, maybe a little pad so you can make notes.”

Megan McKay’s top hospital tips

Keep a notepad and pen with you and write everything down. It will help you remember exactly what happens, when. The days can turn to mush if you’re there for a long time.

Find out who the head nurse throughout the day is and who to talk to if you have any concerns.

Find out what facilities are available at the hospital that will make your stay easier. For example, cottages on the grounds.

Always ask questions. If you don’t understand something or something doesn’t seem right, ask more questions until you feel at ease.

Make sure you speak up when new people come into the room so they’re aware of who you are.

It can be hard but try to take care of yourself and rest whenever you have the chance.

If possible, have someone with you. It will make it a lot easier to remember important information and they can help calm you in moments of high stress and emotion.

Accept help when it comes.

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Carers NSW acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land, Elders past and present and all Aboriginal people.