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In Praise of the Humble Hospital Bed

I’ve encountered some interesting beliefs in my time as a hospice nurse.  Before making visits or calls, we are expected to at least glance at a ‘basic information’ screen about the patient.  I’ve always been intrigued when I come across an entry that says some variation of, “Do not mention the word hospice in front of patient (and/or) family.”

I can respect this.  I’m more of a “let’s keep it real, yo” kind of person, but I know not everyone is.  So I do my best not to mention the word ‘hospice’ while providing care for these patients, and it’s never been a problem.

But there are some patients that are SO opposed to the entire concept (although they still come on service) that they also refuse any kind of equipment that we offer them to make their lives easier while they are being taken care of at home.

Hospitals have it all, right there – over bed tables (which are nice because they have wheels and can be a tall, easy moveable surface for anything from meals to setting up supplies for a dressing change), bedside commodes (gotta pee, can’t walk, oh!  there’s something we can put next to the bed!  Genius!), and hospital beds.  In fact, the fancy pants hospital beds we had at my job in CCU could translate phrases into like 15 different languages.  We’d just pick one from a list (“are you in pain,” “please hold still,” etc.), choose the language, and the bed would speak the phrase you wanted.  Needed to tell someone “I am your nurse” or ask them to wiggle their toes in Mandarin?  The bed would do that.  It would have been a really helpful feature, but patients often could not hear what the bed was saying.

Anyway, hospital beds, even those that can’t speak 15 languages, are pretty nice things to have when you’re sick.   So part of me was always dismayed when I’d go to a house to see a patient in distress only to find that they were still on the couch or in a regular bed.  Look, I get it.  Having a hospital bed in your house takes up a lot of room.  It basically screams, “Hi! I’m sick and/or dying!”  So for someone who can’t even tolerate hearing the word “hospice,” having such a huge reminder in the room can be distressing.

But when the chips are down and you can’t breathe and you don’t have the strength to sit up?  That bed can be a godsend.  The head can be raised or lowered, the bed itself can be raised so that your loved ones (and visiting nurse! ahem) don’t break their backs bending over to provide care (turning, cleaning, boosting).  The ability to raise the bed is actually pretty important for laypeople who aren’t used to using proper body mechanics when moving patients.  The bed rails can be really useful to use to help get yourself out of bed.

So when I come visit because the patient is having a hard time breathing, and I walk in to see them laying flat on a regular bed, I’m sad that their denial has progressed to causing them actual discomfort.  There’s nothing more I’d love to do than push a button and raise the head of the bed so they can breathe more easily.  There are wedges you can use on regular bed mattresses, and of course there are pillows you can jam behind the patient’s back, but those aren’t always very comfortable and it’s hard to get them in the right position.  Not to mention having to try to get them all back in position every time the patient needs to change position or get out of bed.

So if you find yourself or a loved one needing to be taken care of at home, and your nurse brings up maybe getting a hospital bed, don’t dismiss it immediately.  It can be a real asset for a sick person’s comfort and that of those taking care of them.


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thats the truth! just trying to care for those in regular beds or wheel chairs all day can be very back breaking! They shoud make “nicer looking” hospital beds..

pretty sure we don’t use beds that speak 15 languages in Australia! Pretty much the standard functions here only, bit more for ICU

I couldn’t agree with you more. And how can we do what we do best when the patient and family are in denial? Sometimes I want to shake a family member that says “But if we get a hospital bed, he’ll know he’s really sick”.

I understand that hospital beds are very useful for the people who take care of the patients. Nevertheless, they are extremely uncomfortable for the people who actually lay in those beds. Unfortunately I had to be in a hospital quite a few times. Can’t sleep in them, the mattresses are awful, the pillows never stay where they are supposed to and usually slid to the small of your back, and you need to be holding yourself at all times otherwise you slide down on the bed as well. Or if you manage to fall asleep, sooner or later you’ll bang your head/elbow/knee on the rails. I was never able to sleep while in the hospital, and that made my recovery very slow, especially when I had to be in the hospital more than two days.

For something that gets so much stick hospitals beds really are useful. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of the beds that talk though, maybe its just been too long since I’ve worked on a ward! I’m off to scour YouTube for videos of them ;)

Unfortunately, I have a long personal history with hospital beds. This has to do with me visiting my mother during her numerous illnesses and actually moving into the hospital and staying in a rehab with her twice. No, I did not end up with a hospital bed. However, I changed her bed so many times in the course of her illness, I could say that I have become quite expert at knowing which are the most functional depending on the stage of the person’s illness. Of course, I will never forget that she rented one for the last year or so of her life. I must agree, that when someone rents a hospital bed, it is akin to admitting that if the end is not near, the patient is very sick and needs the bed to function. I also remember quite vividly that after she died, the rental company came to the house, disassembled the bed and loaded it up with the new bedside commode she had barely used and the wheelchair that I could take apart in a flash even though it weighed 45 pounds. I remember crying when the truck pulled away from the driveway, like none of that had ever happened. Was she really ever here? The room was now so vacant and still.
Another recollection is the last bed she had in the coronary care unit. I was told that it was a $30,000 bed and basically did everything but talk. I don’t recall if it rotated, but it must have allowed her to shift her weight since she had so much fluid from 3rd spacing. I have slept in many recliners and can honestly say to my patients that I know exactly what that is like and I usually conclude with, it’s not so bad. The worst part is not ever having to sleep in one again, because your relative is gone and your care taking role is over.

Thank you so much for the read. I get a tad dismayed by the frustration of some of the patients. I am just trying to make their stay better and am always trying to help. I may be on a downer but I doing my best to keep my positive outlook going. I am ready for a compliment if anybody hears me! lol.

Having a hospital bed at home can be a godsend in many cases, not only for the physiological reasons, but also psychologically…we all know that there are way too many patients, especially the older ones, who simply refuse to be admitted to a hospital and allow their health deteriorate at home that’s lacking the proper equipment.

I agree- I think some people go through a denial stage. Personally, I can see why the beds would be such an eyesore but at the same time it brings many accommodating benefits to the table.

That is exactly the simple fact, simply hoping to care for individuals in regular beds, all day can be very back splitting. I think beds should be Comfortable for as.

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  • profileI am Gina. I have been a nurse for 15 years, first in med/surg, then CVICU, inpatient dialysis, CCU and now hospice. This blog is about my experiences as a nurse, and the experiences of others in the healthcare system - patients, nurses, doctors, paramedics. We all have stories!

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