How a Trip to the Emergency Department Helped a Patient Learn What Matters to Them

Everyone becomes a patient eventually. A month ago, it was our engagement leader Cathy Almost’s turn, when an accident made her seek care at the emergency department. Now she describes her experience and her findings about what matters to her as a patient:

“As I was falling, I heard my arm snap and then I thought I heard it snap again. For just a moment I was distracted by being outside. My friend and I just had a great visit and I was leaving her house. It seemed like my whole body collapsed on her outside stairs. I knew I was hurt, but I was in shock, I gently got myself into a seated position. I bashed my knees and could not carry my purse in my left hand. Rather than knocking on my friend’s door to tell her I was hurt, I got into my car and drove home in a daze.  When my husband got home, he suggested we should go to the hospital.

The Emergency Department (ED) was overflowing with sick and injured people and their families. It was difficult to know when it was my turn to check in.  I got my hospital bracelet and waited in the casting room. It was 4:45pm when I arrived and at 6:30 pm a resident assessed my arm. Unfortunately I am a stoic patient: I don’t complain and I don’t show any visible signs of trauma. I am also not good at identifying where my pain is coming from unless that part of my body is being touched. Because of this, the resident came to the conclusion that my arm was fine and told me I would not need x-rays, however, she decided to let the doctor give a second opinion. After she left the x-ray technician came in and apologized for the backup and took me for x-rays. This turned out to be a good idea, as the x-rays showed that my elbow was broken. A nurse came in to tell us that it would be a while as the ED had just received a bunch of patients.

At 8:45pm they put a half cast on my arm. As the tensor bandage was being wrapped around it, the doctor said to loosen it if I noticed it was too tight and to come back if my fingers swelled. The next afternoon, I noticed that my fingers were very swollen. I elevated them for an hour with no change.

As a patient I suddenly realized what mattered to me. Even though the doctors thought they had communicated clearly, I did not understand what they meant. “Loosen it” was not enough information.

What mattered to me is to know what my next steps were for healing and how to take care of my arm once I was home by myself.

Fortunately my family doctor squeezed me in for an appointment, so that I did not have to go and wait another four hours at Emergency. He loosened my tensor and I realized I would not have been able to do that because the tensor was wrapped in the plaster from the cast and stuck.

It’s now three weeks later and I have been back to the hospital for x-rays twice. The first time I realized they were only x-raying the elbow. I had neglected to say that my wrist hurt when I saw my family doctor.

The lesson here is to make sure that you understand what is said while at the hospital, and that being in emergency is not a time to be stoic. It’s okay to ask “What does that mean?”. It’s also important to say when other parts of your body hurt. Don’t try to be tough. Be your own advocate.

What Matters to Me is that I communicate and I am communicated to, and that understanding follows.”

What about you, what matters to you as a patient?

On June 6, we invite you to join us on “What Matters to You?” Day, an international campaign to encourage and support meaningful conversations between people who provide health and social care and people, families and caregivers who receive health and social care.

Learn more about the campaign and how you can join as a patient partner, sign up to show your commitment to patient-centred care, and share what matters to you with your health care provider! There are many resources designed just for patients that can help you plan for conversations with health care providers – order them here.

Guest post written by Cathy Almost

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