'Sorry, the doctor isn't in'

IS DOCTOR IN? — The coronavirus pandemic has hampered health care information, but too many patients and their families are being left in the dark when they deserve all the details of care.

The doctors, nurses and first responders are the real heroes during this coronavirus pandemic, but contacting doctors who are not on the front lines has been difficult to impossible.

The coronavirus is part of the problem, of course, but you would think those who aren’t treating COVID-19 patients would make an extra special effort to communicate. Those of us who have loved ones in senior living centers, assisted living facilities, nursing homes or hospitals are in the dark much of the time when it comes to getting information from doctors who are not on the front lines.

Since last November, my wife has been in an assisted living facility, in the hospital for eight days after a fall and in a nursing and rehabilitation center since March 19. Visiting wasn’t a problem at the assisted living facility, but that was before the clampdown came on visits because of COVID-19.

Visits to nursing homes and hospitals were restricted and that is perfectly understandable because we want our loved ones fully protected. However, I got regular reports from the nurses and other staffers at the nursing home.

My wife has some serious health issues, and she has been to the Memorial Hospital emergency room four times in the last two or three weeks. They kept her there on the last visit, and I got to see her at the hospital Monday.

It was the first time I had seen Jo Ann since she entered the rehab center March 19. Doctors have to approve hospital visits, and I saw a doctor earlier Monday and decided to see how Jo Ann was doing.

A friend of my daughter’s in a Facebook post explained how important visits are because she had a family member in the hospital.

“My heart is breaking for those people in the hospital suffering with anything, not just with COVID-19. Because of COVID, people are being treated inhumanely,” she said. “There is more to getting well than just medicine. Love and physical touch play an important role in getting well, too. People with illnesses, varying stages of Alzheimer’s or COVID need the compassion, love and touch of their loved ones….”

I managed to get some reports from hospital nurses near Jo Ann’s hospital room, but they are busy, too. However, my experiences with doctors last week motivated me to write about the poor communication I have experienced for much too long.

Jo Ann’s trips to the emergency room were necessary because she is having difficulty swallowing and eating and was dehydrated. A gastroenterologist and the doctor who sees patients at the nursing home and rehabilitation center saw her Wednesday.

She had an IV for the hydration problem. However, we still don’t know what is causing her swallowing problem, why she isn’t eating, what tests they gave her and what we should do about it.

The nursing home doctor did call me later Wednesday. However, he said Jo Ann had eaten some pureed food and we should wait a day to decide what to do if eating was still a problem.

Jo Ann’s family doctor hasn’t been involved in any of these recent medical dilemmas, so I decided to get him involved. I told his office Thursday morning I was in desperate need of his advice, but he wasn’t in and they said he couldn’t be reached until Monday.

As you would expect, I waited anxiously later that day to hear about whether Jo Ann was eating OK. The nursing home doctor said I could call him, but he wasn’t in when I did. His call Wednesday was the last time I spoke with a doctor.

My daughter and I were anxious to hear something Friday, so I contacted a nurse near her hospital room. She was extremely helpful and said Jo Ann was eating, and relayed messages to her. What a relief it was to finally get some good news.

Later that afternoon, a nurse at the nursing home called me to say Jo Ann was being sent back there. A doctor had to release her from the hospital, but I never heard from any doctors. I would like to have known why they released her from the hospital.

One physician has been the rare exception through all of my many efforts to try and get medical information on my wife. Dr. Micah LeLeux, a family doctor I have never met, was on call last Sunday. He visited Jo Ann at the hospital and gave me one of the most detailed reports on her condition I have received. He checked back with me Monday.

Getting Jo Ann into an assisted living facility and then into a nursing home after 65 years of marriage was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make. Strangers and friends of mine have told me since then to be sure and visit her every day.

The coronavirus took that away, and I know it can’t be helped because it’s the best way to protect her and others at the facility. However, when you can’t reach doctors to get advice or to find out how your loved one is doing, that’s unacceptable.

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