When you were admitted to my facility I was literally heading out of the door to go home and relax for the evening. I probably planned to have some dinner, read and maybe if I was lucky I’d have a good beer to round out the night. But on my way out I was flagged down by a nurse saying that you wanted to drink regular, thin water. Actually, the nurse said that you were demanding and yelling about it. At this point, I had no idea who you were; I had no idea we even had any new admissions. So, I put down my bag and made my day a little longer to see what the buzz was about. I know this isn’t your fault; you probably had little control over what time your transfer took place, and even if you did, I was probably the last person on your mind, but probably not even that. There’s a good chance it didn’t register with you that you’d be seeing someone like me. I don’t mind, and since I like my job and I care about your well-being I came straight to your room without even looking at your chart, something I almost never do, to have a little chat.
As I came into your room I noticed right away that you had a trach. I introduced myself and explained my role as the person who works with swallowing and diet modifications, among other things. Without an acknowledgement of who I was, you began to curse and yell at me that you wanted water and that your previous speech pathologist at the other facility let you have ice chips and water. Not that I expected anything less; you’ve been through a lot, I’m sure, and you’re just trying to advocate for yourself. I get it. And I actually believe everything you told me, but being diligent with my duties and to ultimately look out for your well-being I needed to look through your medical chart to get a better sense of your history and to see if there was any information to clear up this misunderstanding.
After you made your needs known to me, I checked your chart. Your transfer order stated that you should have honey thickened liquids. I found no notes from your previous speech pathologist and no other indication that you were allowed water and ice chips. I also learned you had a PEG and some other conditions that put you at risk for swallowing difficulties. Not to mention you have a trach which adds another level of potential problems. Believe it or not, I still believed what you said about about drinking water and having ice chips but that doesn’t mean I can just change your diet.
I came back to your room to tell you what I learned, but before I could explain what this information meant, you flipped out at me, continued to curse at me and demanded that you be allowed to have thin liquids. Obviously you knew where I was going with this conversation. Between your outbursts, I did my best to explain that even though you may have had thin liquids at your last hospital, you came here with a honey thick liquid restriction and that I couldn’t find anything in your chart that indicated you were able to drink thin liquids safely, that is, drinking thin liquids without it entering your lungs. I couldn’t even find a single note about thin liquid trials with your previous speech pathologist. I don’t blame you for how you felt, nor did I get upset about it. Even though I work with dysphagic patients every day, I still can not fathom what it would be like to not drink what I like, on top of that, having a stranger tell me what I can and can not drink. That would totally suck. I once even tried to drink the stuff we give you. Its gross, and I couldn’t imagine drinking that stuff with every meal. That would also totally suck. I could see you were upset because you kept swearing at me. You really do have some foul language! I still don’t blame you, because your situation is awful and I can imagine myself acting very much in the same way. So, as a last ditch effort I called your last hospital but could not get a hold of anybody in the speech department or anyone in nursing who could clarify what your diet was. So honey thickened liquid remained your diet for at least that night.
You see, I did everything I could to determine if thin liquids were safe for you. I do care; I empathize with you, because I do not envy what are going through. But I have to make my decisions not based on entirely what you want, but based on the data I have about you. I believe you when you say you had water and ice at the last hospital, but I have no way to verify that. I don’t have the tools at my immediate disposal to determine if you can drink water without it going into your lungs. You came to my building with a honey thick liquid restriction and that will remain until I can verify that you are safe for thin liquids, whether it be a report from your previous speech pathologist or passing a video swallow eval. This isn’t because I’m a jerk, even though you might think I am-its because I actually do care and I don’t want to make a careless decision that could land you back in the hospital with pneumonia. Pneumonia will undoubtably prolong your course of hospitalization and it will add quite a bit of money to your bill. Not to mention that aspiration pneumonia is life-threatening. You could die if I mindlessly changed you to thin liquids. That is simply a risk I won’t make. Not just for you, but for any of my patients.
You seem like a good person and I do look forward to working with you. I look forward to hopefully getting rid of that nasty honey thick restriction and seeing the happiness and relief on your face when you hear the good news. I want you to avoid getting sucked into the blackhole of health care, bouncing between hospitals and skilled nursing facilities for preventable issues. Instead, I want to see you go home healthy and fit so you can live a happy life. I hope that you realize I’m not some dolt, but someone that does genuinely care about your health.
Your Speech Pathologist,
(This post originally appeared on slowdog)
Adam Slota M.A., CCC-SLP is a speech pathologist working in long term care and long term acute care settings, primarily with tracheostomy and ventilator dependent patients. He is also the author of the blog slowdog where he writes about various topics in speech pathology and beer, among other frisky and/or mundane missives.