A familiar story of illness suffering during Covid-19 is that family members are prevented from visiting their loved ones while in hospital. Such a restriction was experienced by six children and their elderly mother in Thailand. One daughter, a nursing professor, thoughtfully crafted and implemented a family nursing intervention directed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Head Nurse.
This daughter and family member is also my dear friend/colleague, Dr. Chintana Wacharasin, Professor, Burapha University, Thailand. With Dr. Chintana’s permission, I am sharing the educational family nursing intervention that she offered the head nurse in the ICU. Dr. Chintana’s 95-year-old Mother was admitted to the ICU with pneumonia, Covid-19 and electrolyte imbalance. She was also placed on a ventilator during part of her stay in the ICU.
Four of the Mother’s six children live some 12 hours away from their hometown in Thailand. But they all came quickly to be at their Mother’s bedside once they learned of her critical condition. Below is Dr. Chintana’s report of the letter that she wrote to the head nurse of the ICU.
“Yesterday, I advocated for my Mother by writing a letter to the head nurse of ICU. I sent the letter to ask to either visit my Mother in person in ICU or have a video call with my Mother since I wanted and needed to talk to my Mom. I believed that she was suffering a lot.
I told the head nurse that competent doctors and nurses could solve my Mother’s physical suffering caused by pneumonia, feeding tube, bedsores etc.
But my Mother’s emotional and spiritual suffering was caused by separation from her family. My mother did not fully understand why she was in the hospital, which caused her fear, stress, and loneliness. This suffering could be solved by having family support.
Gratefully, the head nurse allowed me to do a video (VDO) call. When my Mother saw my sister and me, she smiled and was very happy.
Today she was moved from ICU to a unit that allows two persons to visit. My sister and brother now stay with my Mother. She still receives oxygen and needs a lot of rest. But I believe that her emotional and spiritual suffering has now been softened because she has the comfort, reassurance, and care now that her family members are with her”.
The exchange between the ICU head nurse and Dr. Chintana illustrates how being a spokesperson for her Mother; she was also a “supporter” for herself. This intervention softened the suffering of their elderly Mother and Dr. Chintana and her siblings.
Nurses have been messenger angels during Covid-19 by enabling VDO calls, Facetime, writing notes or emails, and even taking photos so that family members and patients would have much needed and healing contact with one another.
I am grateful to Dr. Chintana for sharing this illness narrative that beautifully illustrates how approaching a nursing colleague in a gentle, teaching manner rather than anger and frustration was much more effective and kind. This approach resulted in the desired outcome for all; that is, the nurse collaborated with the family so that they could have contact with their ill Mother.
This illness narrative highlights that the most significant suffering cited by family members during the pandemic was being restricted from visiting ill family members. However, these very restrictive practices by health professionals were based on their facilitating belief that having family members stay home would save lives (Wright & Bell, 2021). But this belief was experienced as a constraining one by ill patients and other family members. The isolation of patients from family members and vice versa created excessive illness suffering.
Covid-19 has reawakened the importance of involving families in healthcare, and that family support is an essential ingredient to illness healing.
At the time of this blog post, Dr. Chintana’s Mother remains in hospital with a sister and brother providing family care in addition to the hospital staff. At the same time, other children returned to their employment in other cities. Fortunately, this much loved elderly Mother has recovered from pneumonia, is no longer receiving oxygen and has progressed to tube feedings and physiotherapy. So the question arises, “what part of the illness healing of this elderly mother is due to family support?”
Wright, L.M. (2017). Suffering and spirituality: The path to illness healing. 4th Floor Press. Available at Amazon.