Hospital life: Father’s needs matter

Some children are sick for prolonged periods, warranting the need for at least a parent, guardian or loved one to stay with them in hospital. This provides the much needed companionship, warmth and familiarity that children miss out on by being hospitalised. Hospitals across the country do a lot to support parents when their children are sick in hospital. One of such fantastic support provided is accommodation. By accommodation I don’t necessarily mean providing a place for a parent to stay outside the hospital ward. I also include the acceptance of the fact that at least one parent is allowed to sleep beside their child overnight. Usually hospitals provide beds for at least one parent beside the child on the ward .The bed can be a folding bed or sofa bed depending on what the hospital can afford. This humble boarding “accommodates” the parent right next to their child.

Provisions like these seem like the logical ones for hospitals to make for parents. However, in the past this was not really the case. I was once told by an experienced and retired nurse that in the good old days (over 20 years ago now) parents were only allowed to come into hospitals for visits. As time went on, these visits led to children endlessly longing for their parents. Not long after, the whole visitation arrangements that enabled parents see and interact with their kids by visiting the wards were scrapped. This decision had far reaching effects on the children because they were left feeling sad and abandoned. Thankfully many years later, the decision to allow parents stay overnight with their sick children was made. Now parents can enjoy the privilege of being able to nurse our children back to health alongside the healthcare providers within the hospital environment. Hospitals now allow parents visit their children at anytime with at least one parent expected to stay overnight with the child where possible.

Hospital admissions can be planned and unplanned. In some cases admissions may occur on an emergency basis. Emergency admissions are not pre-planned they usually occur as a result of an unexpected deterioration in the condition of the child being cared for. When this is the case, some hospitals are able to provide emergency accommodation for both parents but not usually including siblings. This mostly happens in the case of children needing intensive care. Otherwise, hospitals customarily provide accommodation for only one parent by their child’s bedside.

Recently we fell into the category of parents needing emergency accommodation as a result of an interesting and somewhat unexpected reason. Otito had outgrown the baby cot provided by the hospital. We certainly could not blame a child who had stayed one whole year in the hospital for growing. As weeks turned into months, we saw this progress but could not really have a formal conversation about a transitional bed for him. There always seemed to be so much going on with his treatment medically which made this type of conversation very secondary.

In the meantime, Otito decided to entertain the doctors with a very disturbing acrobatic display during the last “ward round”. As you can imagine, his doctors were in horror. In an instant, the conversation about a transitional cot for him became began. It was clear that something needed to be done to ensure his safety. Somehow, without realising it, Fred himself had given us the nudge we needed. Something was finally being done to make his sleeping arrangements safer.

By morning, a very large “specialist” cot-bed became our only option. It was humongous in fact the bed looked like a cage. It was a big transparent box-like bed. It was as wide as it was high. His hands could hardly reach the top of this new cot-side. He was definitely safer in this bed and perhaps even too safe. Our joys were short live as in no time, we began to experience some slight technical issues with the new box-bed. We missed the old cot bars because we could not reach him easily in the bed. We also found that the emergency resuscitation kit was difficult to connect to him whilst in the bed, That was how huge the bed was. We also lost the space for the parent bed beside this new cot. Unlike the old baby cot which had sliding sides to carry him in and out, this new cot bed had a large door which opened outwards, needing more room to operate the bed and robbing us of the space in the already small corner, It was agreed that we needed additional accommodation to be provided for us – Otito’s parents.

It would have been a bit straightforward if I was the only parent. Or if I had a female partner. I say this because the only emergency accommodation available was for women. In a place called “the mother’s unit” women were being accommodated. Men were not allowed anywhere near the unit. I had always heard of “the mother’s unit” in the hospital and automatically assumed that there was also a father’s unit. Even though I had never heard it being mentioned, I still assumed that it was because fewer fathers stayed in hospital compared to mothers. Never in my thoughts did I imagine that it had never been mentioned because it did not actually exist!

In 2017 it was highly inconceivable that a provision was being made for women and not for men. In an era of equality. A time when human rights had taken centre stage. Where the adage what is good for the goose is good for the gander was seen being made apparent even when it was irrelevant. Well I found this out rather unceremoniously at the event of Fred’s growth and development.

Considering all the bad news we have had to deal with in the last year, the one positive news that Otito was growing as he should, finally doing what he should naturally do without any help- growing had to be marred by the news that his dad would not stay with him in the hospital simply because there was no provision for a man- a father, to be granted emergency accommodation like the parent of the opposite sex would have enjoyed.

It seemed like a big shame that we had to be forced as a family to make a choice about which parent would stay with Otito. Otito like every other child in the hospital, had the right to have either of his parents beside him at any point in time. The hospital had a duty to provide accommodation for at least one parent. However, they were failing in that duty because of a sexual bias against dads.

We really did not have the strength for another battle. As any parent carer knows sometimes it feels like every single thing has to be obtained by fighting for your child. Things that otherwise happen for most families seldom happen automatically for families with sick children because of the complexity that the needs of their children impose on the healthcare service providers. In an era of “cuts” families of very sick children feel the slash more by way of non-provisions or under provisions. These impact more not just on the children but on the family in general.

Autism impaired Fred’s ability to interpret and understand relationships. He made connections with people very slowly. Unfortunately “people” also included parents. One of the things that helped him forge relationships was routine, repetition  and tons of patience. Any break in one of these three key elements meant that he lost the connection with whatever relationship it was. Sadly, connections that took ages to establish could be lost in as little as a few days without his usual routine. You can imagine how important it was for us as a family to carry on with our routine or risk Fred forgetting his dad. There’s nothing colder than your child treating you like a total stranger due to their ill-health.

We had to make our case clear to the decision-makers about the need to carry on our routine. We also stressed, how important it was for them to keep their promise to us- which was that they would provide accommodation for at least one parent. We encouraged them to disregard or reassess what appeared to be a gender bias in favour of women.

This issue opened our eyes to a wider problem in our country. How hard it must be for single fathers because as a woman, it is hard to see that a lot is done to accommodate your needs. Many baby changing facilities and feeding rooms in public places tend to be situated rather closely to the female toilets. It seems rather archaic that once children are involved, women’s needs tend to be more catered for.

In conclusion, with a calm disposition and effective communication, it is still possible to make a case in favour of fathers. Unfortunately, this can be a slow process. I encourage dads in this category to speak up. The health professionals can only help if you make them see the effects of their policies from your perspective. Here are a few tips to get you started.

1) Understand what you are fighting for. Find out the implications for yourself and perhaps other parents.

2) Request to speak to the nurse in charge of your child’s care.

3) If you do not get a satisfactory outcome, contact PALS- the patient liaison service. They can be found in most hospitals in the U.K.  For those in the U.K.

4) If you live outside the U.K, determine who the decision makers are for example the medical director and write or speak with them.

5) Be patient and calm through the process to ensure you communicate the  points you have raised and not your anger.

So, have you ever been in this situation as a father? How did you approach it? We would like to hear about your experience

Thank you for reading

If you enjoyed reading this, you may also enjoy some other topics we have discussed in this series.

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