“The David Experience”
The recent experience with my special needs son David who required hospitalization, major surgery, and subsequent admission to a rehabilitation center as a medical patient, proved to be a challenge for both of us. As a presumably “competent” father, and especially as a professional well-versed in the treatment of the mentally ill, it was nonetheless a harrowing experience and an eye-opener. I thought to share some thoughts and make it a learning experience so that others may benefit if and as needed.
Tool Kit for Families of Hospitalized Mentally Ill Persons
- Make sure your loved one carries ID, name, phone number, names of important people (e.g. doctor(s) and phone numbers, name of residential facility supervisor, case worker, lawyer, responsible loved one(s)/caretakers. Perhaps a medical alert bracelet should be considered.
- Make sure your loved one has the means to go places or call for help if there is an emergency: a cell phone (even if limited); MetroCard; ATM card for emergency access to money.
- Tend to legal necessities: health care proxy; power of attorney; guardianship if warranted.
- Have all necessary information about your loved one pertaining to his or her care, treatment, banking, etc. readily accessible as the need arises.
- Be involved in treatment planning and ask to participate in treatment team meetings, etc.
- Maintain regular contact with people involved in treating or providing a service to your loved one.
- Make sure you have the names, phone numbers, and addresses of all your loved one’s “friends.”
- Have an awareness of your loved one’s activities and how he or she gets there.
- Monitor expenditures, especially if your loved one is on a limited budget and receives SSI/financial assistance.
- Keep in mind that the mentally ill are vulnerable and more prone to being taken advantage of and victimized.
- Monitor behavioral changes and emotional changes and intervene. Don’t assume or wait for things to go back to usual.
- Make sure transportation needs are taken care of: for instance, Reduced-Fare MetroCard (MTA); Access-A-Ride; Able-Ride; Suffolk County Accessible Transportation Services, etc.
- When and if you get the call at 3 am from your loved one that he or she is lost or stuck somewhere, be prepared to mobilize a plan of action that you’ve anticipated for such occasions, and do answer the phone!
At The Hospital
- Try as much as possible to be there at the time of admission; if not, as soon after as possible.
- Find out necessary information about the hospital.
- Get all necessary information about treating doctors, specialists, charge or unit nurse(s), and PAs. You can access information about their credentials, background, and experience on the Internet if invasive procedures are recommended.
- Get a second option.
- Speak to the doctors.
- Give your name and phone number repeatedly at the hospital and over the phone. When you leave messages always say and spell your name and leave phone numbers (I repeat name and phone number twice).
- Follow-up if you don’t get called back and document who you spoke to, when, and about what.
- Do an inventory upon arrival at the hospital (or as soon after as you can). Take all items that your loved one doesn’t need during a hospital stay with you.
- Make sure your loved one has clothing and all necessary amenities.
- Do an inventory at time of discharge.
- Keep all outside caretakers notified/involved at all stages of the hospitalization.
- Make sure you have necessary background information about your loved one’s treatment/healthcare needs: treating doctors; medication and doses; if injections are administered, name of medication, dose, frequency of administration, and when last administered; special test results; etc.
- Make sure you know what the discharge plan consists of and that you agree.
- Talk to the physician in charge of your loved one’s treatment.
- Be there at time of discharge.
- Ask for the discharge papers.
- Talk to everyone with whom a follow-up consultation was recommended or set up.
- Comply with the recommendations.
- As much effort as it takes to visit your loved one and advocate for him or her, consider that you are a lifeline. Think about what it would be like if the shoe was on the other foot, and that without your help and advocacy how easy it would be for your loved one to slip through the cracks.