Family Ties


It’s a funny thing when someone in your family is sick.

There are many different types of reactions that the family members typically have.

I had a patient who lived alone in a senior building on the beach. When Hurricane Irene was predicted we called all of our patients and their family members who were being evacuated. My patient’s daughter did not want to talk to me and did not care to discuss her mother’s evacuation. I explained that according to the documents that the daughter signed when care began, she is responsible for her mother if the home health aide cannot make it to her mother’s home due to illness, weather or “acts of G-d”. This patient’s daughter made it very clear that this was my problem, not her problem.

Once I saw a patient for monthly visits who had recently moved in with her son and daughter in law. The patient was near the end of her life and her son felt they should spend this time together. The son spent all day, every day with his mom. He planned activities, took her to get her nails and hair done and to visit her friends. The funny thing was his mother couldn’t really appreciate the outings. She was just too sick and too weak to appreciate or understand what was going on in her surroundings. The nurse I work with joked that the son is busy with his mother’s schedule and his mother is “asleep in her soup”. Maybe this patient’s son was “over doing it”.

One patient I saw was home after a recent hospitalization for a fracture as the result of a fall. She was fine before the fall so she wasn’t receiving any help from family. After she came home she needed some help. I talked to her son about setting up services for his mother. He didn’t know anything about her. He didn’t know where she got her medications or how she usually shopped for food. I was a little surprised that he wasn’t more “on board” and didn’t seem particularly concerned.  Over the next several days and weeks I encouraged the son to be more involved and educated him regarding his mother’s needs. The son “stepped up” and began to worry that his mother was not improving like she should. He took her to see a specialist and she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The patient died soon after with her son by her side.

I used to see a patient for wound care who had arterial disease (i.e black toes). The patient had a stroke years earlier and her daughter took care of her full time. The patient was bedbound and required complete care, which the daughter lovingly provided. I advised the daughter that her mother’s wounds would not heal and her blackened toes would likely self amputate. The daughter insisted on trying multiple different wound care options and even insisted on a certain type of gauze. I showed the daughter how to wrap the patient’s feet but the daughter insisted on wrapping each individual toe. When I was nine months pregnant this patient’s daughter requested that I be removed from the case. Why? Because she was afraid that it wasn’t safe for me on her stairs. She had four stairs.

I saw a patient recently who had recently had her second stroke. This stroke left her unable to speak and paralyzed on her left side. The patient lived with her daughter and her daughter’s family in a small apartment. The daughter cared for her mother full time including changing her diapers and transferring her with a hoyer lift. This patient required total care and her daughter was happily providing it. I complimented the daughter on what a great job she was doing with her mother, she thanked me with tears in her eyes.

I received a complaint from a home health aide that a patient was developing skin breakdown in her diaper area. I called her husband to ask how often he was changing her diaper. As it turns out, he wasn’t changing her diaper at all. The home health aide was changing it in the morning and the evening and the husband wasn’t changing any diapers in addition to those. I (patiently) explained the importance of keeping the patient’s diaper dry and the husband (claimed) to understand. I followed up with one of their adult children just to be sure that they were aware of the situation.

I want to understand why some families are so attentive to their elderly and sick loved ones and some are so absent. Maybe there’s nothing I can do about it, but I really want to get it. I want to understand so I can help everyone take care of their loved ones so everyone can live (and die) happily ever after. I am aware that this is unrealistic but it is my heartfelt desire. I may have to accept that there is no rhyme or reason to this.

I have worked with a wide spectrum of patients. The majority of my nursing experience is with low income, underserved and poorly educated population. I found that most of my patients felt a strong responsibility to take care of their loved ones. They often didn’t understand their illness or their treatments but they truly seemed to care.  I recently started working with more wealthy and highly educated patients. I was sure I would see a difference, some type of benefit to all of their money and education. It’s been almost a year and I now see there is no difference. The families are the same. Some are hardly involved, some much more so.

I guess its as simple as that. Most people take care of their family because that’s what they are-family.

Lessons I learned:

  1. Always compliment the caregiver
  2. Never assume the family is aware of the client’s needs.
  3. Treat everyone the same regardless of financial and educational status.

One thought on “Family Ties

  1. I love the POV and the lessons learned. And you are a terrific nurse that you not only take care of your patients physical needs but also want to better their emotional/family needs.


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