About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The "Palomar Hilton" Medical Center: A Room with a View and Dream Team Nurses

As my wife was wheeled into her hospital room at midnight last Monday, a paramedic politely questioned her, testing to see if the UTI diagnosed earlier in the Encinitas emergency room had affected her mental state.

"What's your name?"
"Karen Riehl."
"Do you know where you are?"
"I'm in a wonderful hotel!" She made a grand gesture around the room.

It was her sense of humor, of course. The ambulance crew discovered it during their drive from Encinitas to Escondido's Palomar Medical Center. But when I joined her later, I discovered it was no joke. The place truly resembled a well-appointed hotel room with a hospital bed. When Karen learned she would be admitted to a hospital overnight, we pictured a small, double room with minimal necessities, beds separated by a translucent curtain, sleepless nights, and the usual assembly-line patient care.

What we found instead was a spacious single room with a large window framing a splendid view of the rolling hills of Escondido. The remote device used to call the nurse and to operate the TV also controlled the window shade. Below the window was a sofa that folded into a bed, my sleeping quarters. The room's thermostat hung on the wall next to the sofa. Karen had it set to 74°.

 A smaller window, near the door, allowed a nurse to keep watch on a patient without entering the room. A 45-inch flat screen TV hung on the wall opposite the bed. Below it, a narrow counter, large enough for personal effects, towels, coffee cups, etc. ran most of the length of the room.

A Patient Resource Guide stood on one end of the counter, just like a fine hotel's Guest Services guide. It had answers to every patient's questions: a description of each feature of the room, how to adjust the bed, what to do with your personal belongings, encouragement to speak up for your needs, a list of your privacy rights, how to pay your hospital bill, and what happens on your going home day.

A menu for room service was placed next to the resource guide. The meals were delicious. In her three days Karen enjoyed grilled salmon, pizza, granola, hot dogs, fruit, and chocolate ice cream.

A whiteboard on the wall in the corner of the room facing the bed contained vital patient information, beginning with the individual's preferred name. The room number was listed, as well as its telephone number, today's date, and the name and call numbers for all caregivers. The board was updated daily.

But what impressed us most about Karen's stay was the incredible teamwork among the staff. Each time there was a change in nurses the one leaving joined the one coming on to introduce the new one to Karen and assure that she did not have to retell her story about symptoms and personal needs with each change of nurse. Each nurse was exceptionally kind and knowledgeable. Nurse Kurt had a fine straight-faced sense of humor, warning us that he was known as the hospital's hyperactive nurse, once harboring aspirations to be a standup comic before picturing himself standing in front of an audience with nothing to say. He handed Karen off to Nurse Ferdie, who took the time to explain, in layman's terms, what the various medications and treatments did to help Karen recover from the bacterial infection she battled. Nurse Haley had a sparkling sense of humor and an intuitive understanding of Karen's frustrations with being tethered to an IV machine for hours each day. 

The day of Karen's discharge five individuals with supervisory responsibilities for patient care joined Nurse Haley in Karen's room. They wanted face-to-face feedback on her stay. No hospital had ever given us that opportunity. As my wife's sleepover roommate, all I could add to my satisfaction with this hotel was being jolted awake one night by the silence. Had we been left behind in an evacuation? Nope. It was just a priority for this hospital to keep it quiet at night, recognizing the healing power of a good night's sleep.