George and Gertrude Dingwell of Harwinton, Conn., have been making road trips with motorhomes since 1977. This March, they snuck away to Florida in their Winnebago.
But passing through Delaware on their way home, Gertrude had a stroke. The couple ended up having an unplanned, monthlong stay at Christiana Hospital.
From the time of Gertrude’s arrival until her discharge May 24, Christiana Care provided electricity and water for the RV, which served as home for George and their poodle Tobias as Gertrude recovered. This year, Mother’s Day fell on Gertrude’s birthday, and four generations of their family gathered in her hospital room, bringing a banner and cards.
George is effusive about the respect and compassion the staff has shown, embodiments of The Christiana Care Way. A nurse, for example, took time to explain to him why they were going to give his wife a certain medication and how it might affect her. The same was true of every procedure the staff undertook.
One afternoon, Rick Gerard, a security constable, knocked on the door of the RV and asked George if he’d like to join him and his family for a home-cooked meal. George was happy to oblige. They spent four hours sharing good food and conversation.
“It just made an adverse situation of my wife’s health into a pleasant situation for me,” George said.
Diane C. Bohner, M.D., FACP, medical director of Patient and Family Centered Care and Resource Management at Christiana Care, called the staff’s flurry of assistance “extraordinary.”
“And,” she added, “it is exactly what you would want to have done if it was your family member. The Christiana Care Way is not only taking care of the patient, but also taking care of the patient’s family. And they treated him, even though he was from Connecticut, as if he was one of their neighbors. They figured a creative way to assist him while he and his wife were going through this particular traumatic period of their life. They did what they thought they needed to do for him without having a second thought about it.”
Teresa Celano, assistant to Christiana Care’s chief operating officer Gary Ferguson, got involved when two members of the X-ray staff asked for the administration’s help. Celano provided meal vouchers and ensured the public safety and maintenance departments were aware of the RV so they could share their water supply.
“When something like this happens,” Celano said, “it is difficult enough, but when you are hundreds of miles from home with no family support, it can be overwhelming.”
On Gertrude’s birthday, Chanel Etty, the charge nurse, ordered a birthday cake. Gertrude wasn’t able to eat cake – she had been without solid food for 24 days – but Etty gave her icing “so she could have a little taste of sweetness.”
During Gertrude’s fourth week of recovery, she began eating soft foods. Soon thereafter, doctors removed her tracheostomy tube. Five weeks after the Dingwells made their unscheduled stop, Gertrude no longer needed a feeding tube.
Meanwhile, she reached milestones essential to returning to her usual way of life, such as walking up and down stairs.
Jill D. Aaron, a radiologic technologist, said that even on days when Gertrude’s condition was touch-and-go, her husband would be walking the hallways, smiling, asking staffers how they were doing.
Though the Dingwells aren’t sure when they’ll embark on their next road trip, they intend to stop at Christiana Care when they pass through Delaware.
“I came into town a stranger, passing through,” he said. “I have met so many people here, that when I leave, I feel like I’m going to leave a lot of friends behind.”