By Stephen Knight
For the past seven weeks, I have been a receiver of care dispensed by the American healthcare system. Because it is constantly one of the most talked-about, maligned, celebrated, frustration-inducing, relief-producing, and all-around-politicized parts of today’s American society, I thought that I knew all about what to expect.
I was wrong. I was unaware of the amazing technological advancements in the medical arts I was about to be subject to, nor the remarkable upgrades in the personal care of the patient that are part of the entire experience. I thought my reflections would make an interesting subject for those of you that have not been hospitalized overnight in some years.
Not because my experience was so exceptional. Just the opposite. Because my experience is the new normal. It’s what you can expect from yours.
It had been determined years ago that I would require a left knee replacement at some point. By last fall, the time had come. In November, my surgeon scheduled surgery for January 20th.
For comparison with today, I spoke with a friend of mine who had experienced identical surgery from the same surgical group in the same hospital just nine years ago. He had state-of-the-art care and a perfect outcome. Great docs, great care … all performing to the standards of the day.
Obviously, the medical result is the same. In my case, a new knee. But every step other than the scheduling of the surgery itself is enhanced. Here’s what I mean:
Step One: Surgery scheduled. No change there. Doc talks to you about the procedure, what to expect, and so forth.
Step Two: Sign off by primary physician. Formerly you talk to your doc and, well, that was pretty much it. Today there are blood tests and nasal swabs to make sure you, the patient, aren’t bringing nasty things into the hospital. If, for instance, your body might be carrying the difficult MRSA bacterium which could infect other patients. An EKG might be performed to ensure you can handle the procedure. Other tests are performed which are designed to prevent complications when you’re in the hospital.
Step Three: This is new. It’s called Joint Replacement Class. Mine was at Midstate Medical Center at the Connecticut Orthopaedic Institute. Two Orthopaedic Nurse Navigators conduct an informative and, frankly, entertaining 90-minute class using both a PowerPoint presentation and a 38-page brochure crammed full of information about what you need to know about every single thing that is going to happen to you. It starts with Preparing for Surgery, what to bring to the hospital, making your home safe (i.e. remove throw rugs that might foul you up when you’re using a walker or cane), all the different team members who will care for you, exercises to do at home after surgery. Got a question? The answer is either in this book or you can call your Nurse Navigator on their cell at home anytime.
They also give you the opportunity to sign up to have the pain meds your doc prescribes delivered to your room before you go home and for physical therapy that starts after you’re discharged.
Step Four: You get phone calls from suppliers of equipment you will need at home (i.e., a machine that wraps your knee in cold water), the preadmission department at the hospital, your Nurse Navigator and I forget how many others to make sure you have all the information you could need.
Step Five: Another appointment with your surgeon. By now, you have been attended to by a dozen people. He or she will go over the procedure once again.
Step Six: The hospital stay. Adjectives fail me when I try to describe the level of care, the genuine friendliness and cheerfulness, the welcoming attitude, and the informal yet thoroughly professional care that I received at MidState Medical Center from every single person. My wife even received texts during every step of my surgical procedure. The only other place I’ve ever felt more cared for or welcome was on a cruise ship.
Discharge was as thorough as the Joint Class. A Nurse Practitioner walked me through a 19-page After Visit Summary written specifically for me. Tons more information on how I could make my recovery more successful.
Step Seven: Weekly home care visits from a nurse for two weeks, in-home physical therapy for two weeks; both provided by Masonicare right here in Wallingford. A follow-up call from one of the Orthopaedic Nurse Navigators to check on my care.
Medical practice continues to evolve, continues to improve, and the outcomes we patients get are better and better all the time. Combine all that technology with the medical professionals that put all this into practice with such concern and grace, and we can all be thankful that we have such care right in our back yard.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.