It’s the Little Things

Rodney Warner
Rodney Warner

This morning I heard a story on NPR about a doctor doing research on sounds and sleeping.  What sounds make a person wake up?  What sounds can a person sleep through?  In the story, NPR’s Rachel Martin interviewed Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center researcher Jeffrey Ellenbogen

ELLENBOGEN: Ah. Look at this. Just slow waves, riding along. And this is sort of a 30-second window and then there’s little buzz of activity at about 10 hertz and then…

MARTIN: Those waves he’s describing, they’re brain waves. And he’s pointing to a computer screen full of them. Ellenbogen’s research is all about sound and how it changes our sleep. And as part of his research, Ellenbogen spends a lot of time here in his sleep lab. But he also spends a lot of time just walking around the hospital.

ELLENBOGEN: The stakes are very high because we are in the intensive care unit.

MARTIN: He’s here in the ICU, not to treat patients but to listen to what he calls the soundscape of this environment. The phones ringing…


MARTIN: …machines beeping.


MARTIN: Sounds he says can undermine one of the key components of healing: sleep.

ELLENBOGEN: The last thing that’s on people’s minds is sleep because it feels kind of like indulgent – we can do without it, you’ll make up for it later. Right now, we have some really major medical issues we need to address.

MARTIN: Do you find yourself having conversations with your colleagues where you’re, you know, proselytizing about the value of sleep?

ELLENBOGEN: Shamelessly, all the time.

Look at the marketing material from any cancer center.  Any mention of the fact how hard they will work to allow you to get a good sleep while you’re a patient? Any mention of the all the resources and time that’s spent to make the hospital food the best it can possibly be?

No, because allowing patients to get quality sleep and eat well are not priorities.  Food for patients is a cost to be cut, not a source of income like an x-ray or a dose of chemo.  Hospital procedures demand that patients be checked, tested, probed, examined 24/7, sleep be damned. If I’m asleep, in no distress, does my blood pressure REALLY need to be checked at 3:00 am?

We’re captives.  How many patients will discharge themselves, against doctor’s orders, because they can’t sleep or the food sucks?

When it comes to cancer treatment, and marketing it, it’s all about technology.  The latest in radiation treatments, scanners, diagnostics, robotic surgery, cancer vaccines.  Any mention of the most basic things that will help you recover, things that are critical to your quality of life when you’re stuck in a hospital, like sleeping or eating?  No, because they’re not priorities and they don’t make money for hospitals.

Isn’t that sad?  The most basic things, that don’t require massive budgets or advanced degrees, just basic concern, common sense and care for a fellow human being can be severely lacking in hospital care.

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