Last year on March 1, I had an unexpected and devastating visit with the DO who had taken over as my primary care physician. She had done a lot for me: set up my first mammogram, referred me to an amazing pain specialist, and while I was in a CGRP study prescribed the other migraine meds I would need. I was completely blindsided when she began attacking me that day about using the ER and I left in furious tears. When I was finally calm enough, I wrote a blog entry / letter to the hospital (at which I was and am always treated extremely well) called “Dear Emergency Room” (addressed to the CEO of the hospital) in which I poured out all my agony and grief at the confrontation and explained why emergency care had become part of my migraine protocol.
I realized right away I could never send it. It was a perfect blog post, but way too emotional and long to be used as communication with someone whose help I was going to keep desperately needing. I did ask A, the study coordinator, to write the hospital a letter on my behalf, especially to state that I always reported my ER visits to her, since that was one of Dr. S’s main points, she claimed, that I didn’t follow up with her each time.
Since it took me so long to be insured and am still struggling with that issue, I never did file a complaint about Dr. S. When I finally made an appointment with a new family doctor, that didn’t go too well either. He made me feel uncomfortable and asked for details about why I left my former doctor. I feel like I am trapped as I can’t keep making appointments with new doctors until I find a good one.
Anyway, after my recent hospitalization I planned to write the hospital CEO a different letter (email), to express my appreciation for one of the nurses I’d had. It was nice because some of the other things I wanted him to know and had stated in the previous letter, I was able to express, finally.
Here is the letter. Some names have been obscured for privacy / non-disclosure purposes.
Dear Mr. K,
Hello! You may not remember me – we aren’t well-acquainted, but I used to work at the Community Center and I have a daughter who has danced in the Nutcracker with your daughter since 2014, and we have greeted each other at both places. My name is Elizabeth, and I have chronic migraine disease. I am a featured writer / patient advocate on migraine.com, so as I experience issues regarding my health I often begin writing about them in my head as they are happening. There is a very long narrative of how I got from my first ER visit Wednesday after a week of severe pain to being admitted, but the part I want to share with you is regarding the amazing nurse I had Thursday night on the second floor, Sheryl.
Since 2014 I have been involved in clinical trials for the new CGRP antagonist medications through Amgen and Xxxx. I have been doing everything I can to control my pain at home, but frequent ER visits have been necessary, and the staff at WCH have almost always treated me with the utmost respect, concern, and care despite national confusion over how to treat chronic pain. The doctor I felt had the most trouble understanding my situation, Dr. “Black”, is actually the doctor who admitted me early Thursday morning. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and he was very kind, and when the treatments we tried at that second visit within 24 hours only lowered my pain from a 10 to an 8 and I was still vomiting, it was decided to admit me. I was so grateful that he was willing to do that.
At that point, I was in a nearly-empty ER and when I was moved upstairs, I was the only one in the hall. I was in a tremendous amount of pain, and the nurses who registered me were that perfect combination of kind and efficient. I was brought an eye mask, ear plugs, and an ice bag and they made sure I was given more medication as soon as it was possible. Soon there was a huge influx of patients as the hall filled up. Nurses were running everywhere, I didn’t see my doctor again as expected, meds were late, and other nurses were called in to work as the “other wing” was opened up (I learned later). Even then, the current RN, Sarah, remained kind and calm and when I wasn’t able to be seen to right away with IV or pain issues I knew it wasn’t her fault.
The nurse I had in the overnight hours from Thursday to Friday morning, however, seemed to have almost super-human powers. Her name is Sheryl Xxxxx. I was still in a lot of pain, but had moments of clarity when I became aware that though I had seen Dr. Mxxxxx once and the hospitalist, Dr. Dxxx, once (who said he’d never met anyone with migraines as severe as mine), there was no plan in place that I knew of to get me home. Without my asking her, Sheryl, as busy as the floor was, began working behind the scenes. She learned that my medications from home hadn’t been ordered and that Dr. Dxxx had left, so she asked a PA to order those so they would be in place. She also had it approved that I could be given another Imitrex injection so that I would be receiving something other than the regular pain and anti-nausea medication for migraine, which was exactly what I needed and hadn’t yet been able to discuss with anyone. (Getting rid of an intractable migraine for me is like getting rid of a tree, and both the roots and leaves need attended to. Imitrex would work on the roots, and pain medication, the leaves.) I don’t think she knew that precisely, but her thorough attention to my records and other prescriptions meant that the building blocks for my improvement and release were in place.
Meanwhile the IV I had been given in the ER was pressed against a valve in the vein and was in the crook of my arm, so my IV machine was constantly beeping angrily which was extremely detrimental to lowering of pain (sudden loud noise). Sheryl re-wrapped and taped it a couple of times, and also examined veins lower in my arms to see if she thought a new IV could successfully be started. She determined she didn’t think it would be a good idea to start a new one because I was still dehydrated, and I appreciated her honesty and attention to those details and my comfort. So she re-wrapped and re-taped again.
My worst moment was waking up in the dead of night somehow soaking wet because apparently I had drooled or something all over my hospital gown. My arm hurt and when I looked down my hand and lower arm were grotesquely swollen and I basically started to freak out. I was gross and confused and still in pain and I paged the nurse crying, asking for Sheryl specifically because she knew exactly what was going on with my arm. When she walked in, I apologized and I think called myself her “freak patient,” and she made me feel immediately like everything was going to be fine. She peeled off the gross hospital gown and helped me get on a new one, and admitted my hand looked pretty awful, but said, “You know, I think it’s just because of how tightly it was wrapped.” She unwrapped and untaped it again, re-did it looser and propped my arm up differently so all the blood wasn’t going to my hand. She saved that bad IV over and over, while making me feel somehow NOT ridiculous. I was able to doze off again, and the next thing I knew she was back with pain meds because it was time and she knew I’d had to wait a long time twice the day before. Once more, she delivered meds on time and my pain for the first time edged below 5. I had begun having withdrawal effects from my Zoloft because I’d been too ill for several days to take it at home, so the fact that she had arranged for me to have it that morning felt miraculous, as did the fact that I would soon have another Imitrex injection coming.
When Dr. Dxxx returned in the morning, it was because of Sheryl’s hard work on my behalf, before I could even properly advocate for myself, that I was in good enough shape to talk to him in a more coherent way. He told me he’d meant to have me receive another Imitrex injection the night before as well, but that hadn’t been communicated. He said that he would prescribe another IV treatment of Decadron (I’d had one dose in the ER) with the Imitrex, and with those delivered together my pain went down to zero and I was able to be discharged late that afternoon.
Sheryl’s treatment of me during that hectic (for her), scary gross and painful (for me) dead of night time was so above and beyond what was required of her. I was probably a very low patient on the totem pole of needs, yet she never made me feel I was taking up her time with my weird IV situation and invisible head pain. She was efficient and reassuring, and made sure I was comfortable. In my 30 years of being chronically ill, I have had to deal with countless nurses and doctors and lots of different kinds of medical professionals in myriad situations. Sheryl is the best nurse I have ever had. I hope that somehow she can be recognized for her excellent care, because I can’t be the only patient she’s positively affected both by paying attention to detail and being extremely kind. Sometimes a nurse will be good at one of those but not both at the same time, and Sheryl really was.
That said, every staff person in the ER and hospital I worked with from Wednesday through Friday was caring and respectful. I think that it is tempting to judge a hospital by its cancer treatment, or surgical center; but I think a better baseline to use would be how it treats its chronic pain patients. I deeply appreciate that whenever I come to Wxxx County Hospital, I know I am going to be treated like a human being in pain who is worthy of kindness and care.