Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hospitals - Another World

Whenever I have to spend time in a hospital, I remember how strange it is.  It isn't part of  "the real world" (whatever that is). Unless your bed is placed just so and someone leaves the privacy curtains open, you don't know what time it is; the clocks there are for the staff's convenience, not yours, and they don't let you wear a watch.  Also, unless you're very lucky in your bed placement, you don't have a window available; all the light is artificial light, and I couldn't turn mine on or off.  Casinos are the other place where clocks and windows aren't common; and that's just such a strange comparison that it makes me shake my head.

You have very little control in a hospital.  I learned this time that you can actually refuse a drug.  A couple of my normal prescriptions say twice a day when a later verbal agreement with the doctor has reduced it to once, and they were OK with that; but they always tried to give me the second dose.  And of course, if you have an IV, you get whatever it's delivering.  They're acutely careful about drug allergies, but other allergies don't get much attention. I'm allergic to the adhesive on the paper tape they use, and I have half a dozen rectangular, itchy rashes where I had things taped to me while I was unconscious.  And of course, there's the "hospital gown," a total symbol of subservience!

You certainly have no control over roommates.  I was lucky this round, my "worst" roommate was the woman who snored like a sawmill and spent endless hours on the phone.  (She got phone calls for a day and a half after she was discharged.)  But in previous stays I've had roommates who:
  • Complained constantly and loudly to everyone in earshot about the awful treatment she was getting, including to the largest collection of visiting relatives I've ever seen, all of whom stood around for hours and encouraged her to rant and threaten to sue.  The staff eventually gave her a private room, I think because her relatives were causing traffic problems.
  • Went totally off the rails and tried to remove an IV stent embedded in her neck.  Older woman, concluded that the nursing staff were all dope dealers and were trying to kill us.  She then tried to remove the stent herself - I was terrified her jugular vein would come out with it.  I've never pressed a call button with such energy!  The nurses removed her to another room.
  • Threw a world-class, CAT-5 temper tantrum.  This was during my stay over Thanksgiving week in 2005, when the hospital was (shall we say) understaffed; call buttons were answered in maybe 15 minutes if you were lucky.  This older woman of Middle Eastern extraction (I met her son) was screaming, cursing in multiple languages, throwing things at people, throwing food and food trays on the floor, because she wasn't getting the response she thought she deserved.  I asked the charge nurse if one of us could be moved to another room and thank God, they moved her.
My roommates this time were much less, um, startling. In fact, they were all quite nice.  But it is very odd to talk to someone through a privacy curtain all day and then discover that she thought you were someone else.  I was moved into the 3 bed room at 6 AM, and she thought I was the woman who'd been there the day before!  I finally saw this woman's face on the second day, shortly before she went home.

Hospitals aren't silent, even in the middle of the night. Your IV pump (or your neighbor's), clicks steadily away.  I told one nurse it was an "irregular" noise and she said no, it's very regular; and I explained that it wasn't musically regular.  And I had another personal pump, since my surgery carried the risk of deep vein thrombosis - they put velcro wrappers on my calves which massaged them alternately with air pressure, around the clock. I got used to it, but at first, I'd be just dozing off,  no one else in the room, and something would start rubbing my calf.  It woke me up.  And when it finishes a cycle, it expels the air with a sigh that sounds just like a person.  The first night, I kept thinking it was me sighing and it actually affected my breathing (I was pretty stoned).

The hospital bed wasn't too bad, but the pillows were terrible.  The hospital bought pillowcases that were too small for the pillows, so nice puffy looking pillows, rammed with effort into the cases, became rock-like lumps, impossible to sleep comfortably on.  I understand why they run things that way; but frankly the less time I spend in the hospital, the happier I am. 


  1. My stepfather went through three long "back operation" episodes during the 1950's. In those days, you stayed in the hospital for a long time. They thought nothing of having a spinal operation procedure followed for three or four weeks of in-patient recovery. I think his was at what was known as Franklin Hospital, in San Francisco. In each instance, of course, Mom and I visited him there. There were usually three or four beds to a room, and he and his co-occupants would become "great friends" in their mutual conditions. They were usually working-class men with heart or skeletal problems. It all seemed awkward and uncomfortable to me (as a young boy). But I realized that my stepfather actually enjoyed it. Despite the great expense these recoveries took, and the separation, and the pain, he gloried in being "helpless" and freed from the responsibility of making a living and facing that chore at home. Being sick was something he actually craved, as I came to understand. It was pitiable, but it made some kind of sense. The exaggerated expectations he'd been handed in adolescence he could never live up to, and spent most of the rest of his life running away from.

    Some chronically ill people seem to crave this dependency, and spend a lot of time under treatment. Not hypochondriacs, exactly, but people who like to be waited on and watched over.

    For my part, I distrust doctors and nurses, and want to spend as little time under their authority as possible.

  2. heh, and I was already wanting to avoid hospitals.

    Hope your recovery is going well.