Patient, heal thyself

There’s nothing like spending a few days on a hospital ward to take you out of your regular life in a hurry. Suddenly the career challenges, household duties and social engagements that propel one forward on a life of eternal busyness recede into the background and everything becomes more simplified–you wear the same clothes every day, you sleep in a narrow unadorned bed and eat plain food. Sounds almost idyllic, doesn’t it? Except for the fact that someone is sick.

During the deadline crunch for this month’s issue, my husband and I found ourselves at Welland County Hospital for several days because our 21-month-old daughter had an acute asthma attack while we were visitng my mother in the Niagara region. Ruby was admitted to hospital after a chest x-ray revealed pneumonia. This woke us up–brutally–to the fact that what we had thought was fairly mild asthma that would just flare up occasionally, was in fact a condition that could easily escalate to crisis proportions if we didn’t respond with a well-thought out treatment plan.

This hospital stay was the culmination of a series of doctor visits over the past few months that left us with our heads spinning with conflicting information and a queasy dubiousness about her medication regimen. For example, our pediatrician said a compressor was the most effective mode of drug delivery, but an emergency room physician said an Aerochamber was the only way to go. One doctor said treatment was required only if there was wheezing, but we read that even a simple cough could be a warning sign. We were told to use a humidifier overnight, but then learned that the moist environment it created was a breeding ground for dust mites.

At the Welland Hospital we were fortunate to be visited by a respiratory therapist who devoted over an hour to educating us about asthma. He gave us several informative booklets–one of which was “Your Community Pharmacist Gives You the Facts on Asthma”–and also gave us a valuable piece of advice: ”It’s up to you to be informed–don’t look to your doctor for all of the answers. You need to find them yourselves.”

This experience demonstrated for me the true power of patient information to educate and inform. It also made me realize the potential impact health professionals like pharmacists have to dramatically change and improve people’s lives by becoming certified educators in areas like asthma.

As I write this, sitting on a hospital bed next to my daughter’s crib and listening to the soft purr of her breathing, I’m glad to say we’ll be leaving this place a lot wiser than when we arrived. And from now on, we won’t always be looking to the “experts” to have all the answers, but will take more responsibility to seek them out ourselves. Because of this, we’ll all be breathing a lot easier.