Growing up in Hingham, Massachusetts we had it all. Hingham resembled a Norman Rockwell painting with its lush forests that lead to a historic downtown nestled up against the harbor. It was a safe place to grow up where the only trouble was when the boys would skip school and play on the rope swing at the duck pond. No one locked their doors. You knew where everyone was hanging out because that’s where all the bikes were parked. Nothing ever seemed to go wrong in that sleepy, little town.
Two bothers grew up together playing in the woods of Hingham, MA. One brother became the hockey star at a local private high school, who was the popular kid that everyone wanted to hang with. The other a smart, social outcast who had trouble trying to figure out where he fit in. Both would take different paths in life. Both would end up in the hospital for different reasons. Both would have dramatically different patient experiences that would shape who they are today. This is the story of the hockey star.
Revered among athletic circles and a popular kid at all the parties, the little brother had the world in his hands in high school. Upon graduation, he elected to go for a year of preparatory school to bulk up and prepare for division one college scholarships. That is when tragedy first struck. He took a wrong step running in football practice and shattered his knee.
As a result of the injury, the division one scholarships never came. Though his dreams of playing division one hockey were over, he got accepted to play hockey for a division two school. Soon thereafter the school jumped up to division one. The brother then suffered a series of damaging concussions forcing him out of hockey.
A couple years later, the brother returned to play pickup hockey with his friends. During this pickup game, he injured his shoulder so bad he needed surgery. He said neither the shattered knee, nor the multiple concussions hurt as bad as this pain. It was during this hospitalization that he found Oxycontin.
This began his downward spiral into the world of opioids. Watching him go through prescription pill addiction to eventually heroin was tough on everyone. We were all watching this boy with such promise have his dreams derailed by injuries and addicted to the medicine to fight the pain his dreams caused. We went from cheering on the sidelines, to fearing that we’d get a phone call that no family wants to receive.
Now he is in recovery and all of us can breathe a sigh of relief. However, now he suffers from severe panic attacks and anxiety. He was recently hospitalized as result of his panic attacks and was complaining of chest pain. During that hospitalization, he told the nurses that he couldn’t have pain medicine. The next nurse came on shift and tried to give him morphine per protocol even though he refused and identified himself as a recovering addict.
In case you haven’t guessed, this is my little brother.
He wanted to talk to me about his last hospitalization and about how each hospitalization throughout his life was different. When he was in the hospital as an athlete, everyone was kind, positive and attentive. When he went in as an addict, the staff’s demeanor would change as soon as they read his chart.
“There’s an epidemic out there,” he said to me. “It’s like they’ve all given up.”
And when he was in the hospital during his recovery, he felt he was still treated like an addict leaving him to question whether or not anyone in the healthcare system believed he could turn it around. Just as there is a drug epidemic in our country, there is an epidemic of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue happens when overworked clinical staff, burdened by higher case loads and more stringent documentation standards, rely more on the electronic medical record than on the person in front of them.
Think back to the hospitalizations you or a loved one may have had. Do you feel that clinical staff was treating the person or the problem? Do you believe that every patient is treated equally? As a patient you do have a voice. Remember to fill out your patient satisfaction survey mailed to you after your hospital stay. Your feedback can help make the patient experience in the hospital a better place for all, even my little brother.
Michael “Skinny” Cavallo is a well-known singer in and around the Boston area. Today he sings songs of recovery or about his battles with addiction. Check out his music at:
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