Patty Dower, 78, had been out shopping with her husband one day in late May when she began to feel pain in her abdomen. They headed for home right away. “By the time I got home, I could hardly walk, the pain was so bad,” she said. “Within an hour, I was going into shock. It was awful. I thought I was dying.”
An ambulance brought her to Christiana Hospital’s Emergency Department, where tests showed internal bleeding from a burst blood vessel. She was admitted for care and spent a week in the hospital’s Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) unit.
“My daughter and husband were with me because we were scared to death, and I was still in so much pain,’’ she said. But on the ACE unit, she said, “I tell you, I was just enveloped with love and understanding. They knew what they were doing. They kept saying ‘you’re going to be OK.’”
Dower returned in July to help celebrate the Christiana Hospital ACE unit’s 10th anniversary. “When I was asked to share my experience as a patient, I was honored to do so,’’ she said, offering her thanks to the gathering of about 50 past and present nurses, nurse managers, volunteers and representatives of other departments.
“My caregivers were skilled and compassionate, working together as a team,’’ she said. “I felt like they were taking care of their own grandmother. I felt like I was going to be OK.’’
Patients on the ACE unit often have special needs, and it takes a special, dedicated staff to provide the best care for them, said Linda Sydnor, ANP, BC, CNS, an adult nurse practitioner and geriatric clinical nurse specialist.
“We sometimes underestimate the power of a kind word or gesture, a good listener, a tender touch or just a silent, supportive presence,” Sydnor said. “The ACE unit staff offers outstanding clinical expertise in geriatrics, but their passion for caring for this population cannot be overestimated.”
The ACE units at both Christiana Hospital and Wilmington Hospital are a model of care for older patients, said Virginia Collier, M.D., MACP, the Hugh R. Sharp Jr. chair of Medicine at Christiana Care. “You live The Christiana Care Way,’’ she said to the staff gathered for the event. “You are partners in patients’ health care. You are respectful, and you certainly are expert. Our community is really fortunate to have all the people here.’’
In its first decade, the Christiana Hospital ACE unit has cared for 20,000 patients, said Patricia M. Curtin, M.D., FACP, CMD, chief of Geriatric Medicine and medical director of the ACE unit. “That’s a lot of lives to touch,’’ she said. “We look forward to our next decade of serving our senior patients.’’
Delaware seniors will be grateful, Dower said. A unit specifically geared to the needs of patients 70 and older is important because “we are slower, and our needs are different,’’ she said. The ACE unit staff “just know how to take care of you. They have to want to be there, which means everything.”
Even her family benefitted from special care, Dower said. Staff made them feel welcome, comfortable and kept them fully informed throughout her hospitalization. When nurses learned that her husband of 60 years, George, would have his 79th birthday during her stay, they took action.
“We had planned a big party for him, but had to cancel it because I was in the hospital,’’ Dower said. “But one of the nurses surprised my husband when he was in to see me with a piece of cake. And everyone came in and sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ He cried, and so did we.
“That was going the extra mile to be compassionate, not only to me but to my family,’’ she said. “I call them ‘my angels.'”