In Hospice: To Bed or Not To Bed?

hospital beds

The rational reasons for using a hospital bed make a long, persuasive list. But you don’t care . . .

Who would want one?

Does anyone really like ‘em?

They have cranks and levers, wobbly wheels, and are cumbersome to move or adjust. Newer models are often complex, with silent electric motors, links for computer cables, and (though pricey) lightweight metal alloy frames.

But who seeks to be horizontal in a hospital bed of any kind? Not for overnight, and certainly not for the remainder of your life. Whenever the hospice clinical staff discusses current patients, it’s nearly inevitable that at least one patient has recently balked at shifting to a hospital bed. I view the hospital bed as one of the intimidating symbols of hospice care. Of course, it’s more than a symbol once it arrives at your home.

Wouldn’t you refuse?

We like love our bed in our bedroom. It’s a sanctuary. Don’t all the health care experts tout the value of a good night’s sleep? Whether retired, in a part-time job, or with a stressful career (along with raising kids, volunteering, and don’t forget yard and house work), doesn’t everyone desire to sleep every day? Do the personal math: we’re on a mattress more than we eat, work, play, exercise, procrastinate, shovel snow, mow a lawn, or take a vacation. Hey, for some, a little sleep is as close as they’ll get to a vacation for long stretches of time. Work is demanding. Families are demanding. At least let me escape into my cozy bed!

We make love on the bed.

We snack on the bed.

We shoo away or invite pets onto the bed.

600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets cover our king-size bed, and by gosh, we’ve earned that luxury! The quilt great-grandma made highlights our bed, a reminder of family history. (Bonus: it’s toasty warm!) So, please don’t tell me to get a hospital bed. Don’t steal away my freedom suggesting I use a hard-as-concrete mattress with its metal-bars-like-a-jail-on-the-side rented hospital bed. It does more than ruin the décor; it reminds me that my life is ruined.

Not me. No way. Not now. Not ever.

But the hospice nurse suggested it. The doctor advised it. The social worker encouraged it. The chaplain, bless her warmhearted soul, is willing to pray with you about accepting the wheeled beast into your living room.

But all those hospice professionals are idiots. How can you abandon the bed where you’ve slept for decades? Where your children were conceived? Where you once watched Jay Leno or Johnny Carson for years? Where the stack of mystery novels is conveniently positioned?

The rented bed is not just an irritant; it’s a death knell in the form of a lousy, lumpy mattress.

The hospice nurse, who you actually like and respect, will tell you the hospital bed may be better for you. He or she will mention there’s more support for your whole body. Different sleeping or resting positions can be easily achieved. And those metal bars on the side? Well, be honest, on some nights, you’re so restless you might fall off of the edge. Don’t let gravity and your home’s unforgiving floor become your enemies. The same nice nurse will gently inform you that a hospital bed makes it safer for your caregivers to care for you. They won’t have to lean over and risk twisted backs to bathe or feed you. They can access you from either side. It’s important to make sure you are in different positions and shifting a hospice patient—whether they are 90 or 290 pounds—is easier on a hospital bed.

The rational reasons for using a hospital bed make a long, persuasive list.

But you don’t care.

You won’t abandon your bed, recliner, or sofa. You will sleep where you want regardless of whether or not it’s good for you.

You are stubborn.

You have your pride.

You are a smart square in a world of inconsiderate round holes.

Let’s strike a deal. (And remember, as a hospice patient with certain medical equipment covered by Medicare, the bed will be cheap or free.)

The deal? Try the bed for one night. Okay, maybe even two or three days and nights.

Give it the old test drive. Why not add items to and around the stupid bed so that it’s a worthwhile experiment? How about pleasant lighting, access to your favorite reading, a secure spot for the TV’s remote, a nice candle, a favorite pillow, options for playing your choice of music. Be creative! Let your caregiver help you build a nice “nest” for resting.

Okay, fine, don’t. Be stubborn. After all, you plan to have It’s My Way or the Highway carved on your gravestone.

Is a hospital bed a symbol of the end? Sure, it can be viewed as that. It may be one of the last things you can refuse (No way!) to show you are still in control. And, since we’re being so darn honest, isn’t one reason for suggesting a hospital bed about making the caregiver’s job easier? (Gotcha! It’s about them, not you!)

Please, consider the bed. Also, please consider if any bed battle is more about the “sheets” on the top instead of the big “mattress” of other more serious concerns below the surface. Do we:

  • Scorn a bed rather than talk about your dread of dying?
  • Belittle a bed’s value because you’re frustrated by your unfair illness?
  • Rage at the bed instead of God, loved ones, or the hospice staff?
  • Reject a bed than reconcile with a family member?
  • Or maybe your particular concern is . . .

What is truly important right now?

Do you want to fight over a bed, or to spend the best possible time with your loved ones?

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

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