Lessons from a health crisis

My journey from an expert in elderly care to critically ill patient has and continues to be both challenging and informative and I thought I would share my learning with you. I hope you find my experience from ‘the other side’ helpful.

Background

After feeling fine and working, as usual, one morning, by the evening I was shivering violently and then fell into a semi-conscious state for three days without food or drink. I live alone and had been literally ‘struck’ down with a serious illness. I was also very confused and hadn’t turned up for personal and professional appointments, much to my horror and embarrassment. The outlook would have been fatal had it not been for my son and daughter-in-law arriving to take me out for a Mother’s Day lunch. Ignoring my protestations that medical intervention wasn’t necessary, they called for an ambulance and I was taken to hospital with blue lights and siren, dramatising my journey.

The hospital experience

The paramedics, doctors and nurses who treated me were exemplary and an example of the NHS at its best. I was treated immediately under the sepsis protocol and given antibiotics within an hour of arriving at the hospital.

I was diagnosed with pneumonia and, on admission, sepsis. I was told I had been seriously ill, and recovery could take several months.

Unlike many hospital wards, the small one I was in was incredibly quiet at night as there were only two patients as well as me and they both slept like logs all night. Unfortunately, I did not.  I was kept awake by a drip that set off an alarm every time I moved my arm, in addition, I was coughing persistently. My Fitbit recorded that I had under one hour of sleep during the four nights I was in hospital!!

The discharge experience

On my second day in the hospital, I was given a leaflet about a safe discharge home. This advised that I would be allocated a discharge key worker from the hospital team who would be able to talk through any concerns I had about leaving the hospital and that I would be assessed for any support I might need to remain independent at home.

Unfortunately, this did not happen. Because I had been independent prior to my illness, it was somehow assumed the long recovery period I had been advised to expect would disappear. I still felt weak, very unwell and had not slept or eaten much.

Thankfully I have an excellent occupational therapy consultant who my company uses regularly who came to my rescue and even took me home on D-day!

Together we worked on a discharge plan that included referral to a care provider for support three times a day (luckily we know the good ones and chose Right at Home as we have found them very flexible with good quality Carers) and for an emergency call alarm during my initial period at home, as well as frozen meals. A few items of equipment were also considered necessary to ensure a safe discharge but unfortunately, they had to be ordered, along with the emergency call alarm, by a hospital OT. Health staff did not consider that I needed an OT assessment and I had to challenge this to get one in order that the items I needed could be ordered. I wonder how someone without professional knowledge and access to specialist professional support would have managed in this situation!

So here are my Top Ten Tips for business owners (sole trader or company owner) living alone, arising from my experience.

  • If you have been seriously ill, insist on having a plan for your safe discharge home from hospital. This will need to include an occupational therapy assessment in order to commission equipment to safely maintain your independence. This can include a personal alarm which can be provided on a temporary basis to give you confidence that you can summon help in an emergency.
  • Be aware that friends and relatives, although willing to help, will not necessarily be available when you need them for specific tasks, as they have their own jobs and commitments.
  • Allow your friends and relatives to visit you as often as they can to keep you stimulated when you return home.
  • Be aware that all care providers struggle with recruiting staff for weekend working.
  • Be prepared to pay for help when you first return home if you are not eligible for Social Services support.
  • It can be difficult to decide how much help you will need when you first return home, so arrange more than you think you will need. You can easily reduce calls if you need to.
  • Ensure you keep a list of up-to-date information about your medication available. A repeat prescription is ideal for this purpose.
  • Give your next of kin an up-to-date list of your contacts, including those holding power of attorney (if different from your next of kin) to use in case of an emergency.
  • Ensure you have a plan in place to cover your business in the event that you are taken ill suddenly.
  • Provide emergency replacements with access information to your business bank account and payment schedule.

None of us knows when ill health will strike, however hard we try to keep healthy. By spending time putting the above in place both you and your business will be well prepared.