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Lessons in surviving the acute care stroke unit

Mum spent about 5 weeks in the stroke unit of her local hospital.   It was the first real emergency we had had to deal with, and as we learnt, you do just get on with it and deal as best you can.     Fortunately for her, while she had a massive stroke sometime during the previous night, Dad called an ambulance first thing in the morning, so she was admitted to the acute end of the ward by 8am.  By lunchtime they had carried out the necessary tests and already started to treat her.  I arrived mid-afternoon to find Dad sitting with this little bundle of a person that used to be my Mum looking tiny in her hospital bed.  She couldn’t speak or move very much.  This was to be a very long five weeks as it turned out.

The important thing to say is that the care she received was fantastic.  The NHS definitely delivered for her despite being obviously stretched.  However what we really learnt is that as her family,  it was critical that we were involved in her care every step of the way.  Whether or not we really made a difference is of course anyone’s guess.  But it felt vital that we were there to see the consultant and doctors to understand her situation and her progress;  to be present in her care.  And so we were.

Over that five weeks we got to understand the rhythm of the day on the Stroke Unit;  physio and medical stuff in the mornings, and then a long rest of day until bedtime at 8.30;  when the consultants did their rounds, and when the Doctors came round to see their patients.  We got to understand the rota system of nurses and other professionals sort of, and slowly faces became familiar and we got to grips with who we could ask for what.

A great source of support was other people visiting the ward.   We started to look out for eachother, to notice improvements in eachothers relatives, working as a tag team as some people came earlier and others later, and handing over observations in the hallway.

With Mum we learnt a great deal.   No surprise but she really wasn’t interested in food, particularly that provided by the hospital.  Concerned about her hydration we learnt to sit with her and to drink small amounts with her, encouraging her as if a child.   We bought in juices and her favourite biscuits and cakes, and supplemented these with fruit and other healthy snacks.  Small victories when she would eat or drink, but along with the supplements the nurses gave her Mum seemed to survive pretty well.

She didn’t have a catheter and was unable to move unaided, with the inevitable consequences of course. This was particularly distressing for her, but it certainly didn’t stop her interest in personal care and grooming.  She was dressed every day, with hair brushed.   She even got interested in lipstick and makeup.

The biggest learning however was for Dad.   We learnt how exhausting it is just sitting with someone even for an hour who is unable to communicate in any way.  Emotionally and physically exhausting;  this on top of two trips a day to the hospital to visit Mum, dealing with all the very kind phone calls enquiring after her health;   walking the dog, eating and keeping the house going.  We learnt that it was much less stressful for Dad to take the train to the hospital and eventually we managed to persuade him to only go in once a day to visit her at least every other day.

The day Mum was discharged came eventually.  It was a day of really mixed emotions – thrilled that she was coming home, but realising that life would probably never be the same again.  As it turns out,  life hasn’t been the same since,  but we know that the medical teams did everything they could for her during those long 5 weeks.   We were just pleased to be able to be there with her, and learn as we went along.

Have you had a particular hospital situation? What’s your advice? Please join the Age Space forum and let us know.