A letter from a patient

Dear health care worker,

I recently experienced a parent’s worst nightmare. One evening my nine-week old baby developed an extremely high fever. We rushed to our local community hospital and were admitted through the emergency department to the pediatric unit. We were discharged three days later thanks to the skilled doctors and who cared for our precious little one. While our ’s care and health outcomes were fantastic, our experience was less than satisfactory. I noticed some key trends that seemed to repeat themselves that shaped my experience as a .

During my hospital stay many staff took the opportunity to bad-mouth their colleagues to me when we were alone. I am not sure if this occurred because I looked rather trust-worthy or they wanted to let me know they were more competent than their colleagues. Whatever the reason, if there was a positive purpose, it was definitely lost on me in the moment. The emergency nurses complained about the doctor’s orders and the delay in response of the pediatric nurses. The pediatric nurses complained about the emergency room nurses inability to get an intravenous line. The pediatrician complained about orders made by the emergency doctor. Once admitted, our pediatric nurse complained about the pediatricians approach to the care of my baby. Then the pediatrician complained about the pediatric nurse’s lack of ability to obtain a urine sample. This pattern continued for the duration of our stay.


At every opportunity the parent in me wanted to scream at the top of my lungs “Can everyone stop complaining about each other and look after my sick baby?” From my vantage point it seemed that everyone was so focused on their own needs and skills that they appeared completely oblivious that there was a sick baby that needed their help. At no point was it beneficial for me to know that the emergency and pediatric physicians had different opinions on what lab tests should be done on my baby. Nor was it beneficial for nurses from each ward to openly criticize the others in my presence. In fact it was downright disappointing. This did nothing other than state to me that egos were taking priority over my daughter’s care.

I cannot tell you how many times nurses told me, “I am so busy today.” I am not sure if they were telling me to excuse the fact that my daughter’s medications or vitals were not on time or maybe they were simply looking for support. Every time I heard this statement my head played my own version that sounded more like “your daughter is not a priority.” Everyone is busy. Be thankful you are busy; this means you are in-demand and in today’s tough economy, not at risk of losing your job.

Do not use patients or their families as your personal confidante. I was in that hospital room to care for my infant and see her condition improve, not to hear that staff were not equipped to see this goal through. Patients and their families need to know they are your priority and your job is to care for them in an effort to restore health. Please take time to tell them this, share in positive news with them as if you are happy too, because I know you are.

Use the chart, read it, write in it and refer to it. After all, this is where everything that happens should be documented. At every interaction with a physician and their students I was asked the same questions “was she premature” and “was your delivery normal.” I answered these questions the same each time, surely someone wrote this down in our chart. Answering the same questions over and over again made me feel like they were questioning my response. I started to wonder if they thought I was lying.


The majority of health care workers that approached my daughter referred to her as male. I would politely correct them with her or she. My daughter spent her time in hospital wearing only a diaper. Despite no obvious gender indicator, surely somewhere in my paperwork it indicated that she was female. I began questioning if there was a mistake on her chart due to the frequency at which staff referred to her as male. As sleep deprivation and stress took their toll I wondered what other mistakes may lurk on my baby’s paperwork. While this small slip of the tongue seems minor, it became a major cause for concern as more and more staff made the same error. Please be careful of what you say to patients and how you say it. When you are caught on such a slip up, be genuine in your apology and make a sincere effort to refrain from repeating the same mistake next time. Patients and their families need to know that you are listening and that you care about what it is they are saying. The gender error is one that left me with a sense of sloppiness and lack of focus on behalf of all who made this innocent mistake.

I am a health care worker just like you (though I never let those who cared for us know this). People trust us to take care of their most precious loved ones in their most vulnerable states. This is our job and we do it with pride, but how we treat each other (especially in front of the patients) is dreadful. Patients know that healthcare is not a glamorous career choice. They know that most of us do it because we want to help sick people get well. Do your best to confirm this belief when people are in your care. Try to ask yourself, if I were a patient what I would like to hear. You are a knowledgeable person who has a lot more to talk about than incompetency of colleagues. I am not innocent of uttering some of these statements above. However, I can assure you that I will be more conscious of what I say to patients and their families after my daughter’s hospital stay.

Fellow health care workers, choose to interact with your patients in a way that instills confidence in yourself and your fellow team members. You alone have the power to positively shape the patient’s experience.

Yours truly,

An appreciative mother


*This month’s Editor’s note comes from a mom and nurse who recently visited a hospital with her new baby.