Folks, I have something important to say. I’m going to keep the flowery language and gentle guiding you are used to from me to a minimum because what I have to talk about is so obvious and yet so overlooked that perhaps keeping it simple will help.
Put a blanket on your patient and make sure they are warm.
Yes, that obvious. Yet attendants (not providers because provision indicates you care for your patient) don’t wrap up their already ill or injured patients.
Earlier in the week at work I already dropped off my patient in the emergency room and I was walking out to meet my partner and help clean the truck when I saw two EMTs bundled in job shirts, hats, and winter coats standing with a patient waiting on for the charge nurse to acknowledge them. Their patient appeared moist and febrile, fresh from the nursing home. All this patient was wearing was a hospital gown, hospital socks, and a stretchy sheet wrapped around his legs. No blanket or other covering, nothing covering his head, totally exposed to the arctic chill. I bet his attendants weren’t very cold under all their layers of clothing they wore to stay warm while outside with him.
When I was a new EMT I was fortunate to have excellent providers as examples who showed me what caring for a sick person requires. That includes using what some might perceive as “creature comfort” such as a blanket or head covering. It’s not just a modesty issue or about keeping warm, there are physiological repercussions to exposing an already compromised patient to the cold. For example, heart failure patients with pulmonary edema can “flash” when they inhale the cold air making a bad situation worse. Asthmatic and other respiratory patients may also have their symptoms exacerbated from cold exposure. Nursing home and other patients used to being indoors in a high heat environment can suffer hypothermic shock and agitate any medical issues they may be having at the time.
Some simple things to remember:
- If you are cold, so are they.
- Prep your carrying devices and stretcher with extra blankets and towels for patient use in frigid weather.
- Have respiratory patients cover their nose and mouth before going out into the cold, coach them if they feel they cannot breathe because of the extra layers.
- You can also use a patient’s own hat, scarf, and coat. Most families are more than happy to find it for you to use in addition to blankets you have provided.
This is one basic thing all providers can do to make their patient feel comfortable and have an improved patient outcome in the long run. It’s not something that requires a new certification, extra training hours, or extra money in the budget, but it does reflect what kind of provider you are and the level of care you provide.