Opinion: Caring for the caregiver in the emergency department

In an emergency department exam room, sometimes the most distressed person is the caregiver, not the patient.

Mrs. G has been in the emergency department for hours. An exhaustive workup didn’t find any serious cause for her weakness, the reason her daughter Rosa (not her real name) brought her in. I tell them that Mrs. G seems to be a bit dehydrated and, after we give her some intravenous fluids, she can go home. Mrs. G’s eyes light up. Her daughter’s go blank. Rosa dabs at a tear rolling down her cheek.  I sense that she expected, maybe even hoped, that her mother would need to stay in the hospital, even just for the night.

A brick of paperwork that Rosa gave me when they arrived chronicles what has become of Mrs. G’s life — enduring the unforgiving fates of congestive heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, mild kidney failure, osteoporosis, depression, and early dementia. It also details her last hospital admission for pneumonia, a long stay that left

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