Sunday, May 1, 2011

Suffering is optional

Sculpture by Mike Roig

I have been a lucky person, very healthy. The first time I spent overnight in a hospital was when I was 44 years old - and that was for a flesh-wound, not the malfunctioning of my human machinery.

Yes, even when my son was born, 10 years before that, they sent me home the same day.

So I am not used to hospitals, or ERs, or critical care.

Oh, I admit as I've grown older can't deny evidence of my aging body. I've had those recommended tests to probe my innards or mash my parts. And I've had the occasional out-patient procedure I don't like to talk about.

But in general my personal experience with health care has been limited.

That may be changing.

Earlier this week I visited my family practice doctor because my tummy-ache was not improving. She referred me to our network's Emergency Room for a CAT scan to check for appendicitis. I drove myself there, walked in, and spent the next couple of hours lying on a gurney in the hall waiting my turn in the tube. They gave me some pink goo to drink that would illuminate my guts for the machine.

Fortunately I had brought a couple of books. One was a history of 19th Century Colonial rule in the Belgian Congo. The other was a novel.

Time is elastic in the ER. If they say the doctor will be with you in "five minutes," you can bet it will be fifteen. You don't even get mad if it's a half hour. Maybe you ask someone after an hour.

So I read. It seemed a little awful to read about the horrific cruelties King Leopold's men inflicted on the Congolese people while watching the comings and goings of EMTs and patients of all kinds, so I turned to the novel.

It was a cynical tale of a misogynist artist-wannabe sellout living in the outer boroughs of Manhattan, pontificating about the shallowness of modern culture and the growing gap between rich and poor. After the first thirty pages I went back to King Leopold.

I figured it would be less depressing.

By the time the doctor came to tell me the results of the scan, it was already past 6:00 pm and [The Man I Love] had arrived.

I was glad he was with me to hear the diagnosis. I don't have appendicitis, but I do have another gastro-intestinal problem.

They decided to check me into the hospital for a bombardment of antibiotics and observation, for a couple of days. I can't eat anything or drink even water.

I was a little surprised at the news.

I'm not in serious pain, although oddly, everyone expects me to be, and that frightens me. The doctor actually said, when he approached my gurney in the hall, that after seeing the CAT scan he was surprised to see his patient quietly reading a book.

The doctor explained my condition to [The Man I Love] and me right there in the hall, while we sat on the gurney. He pulled over a monitor, logged in and brought up an image of my torso on the screen, cross-cut like a Damien Hurst cow, or perhaps a delicatessen head-cheese. As he moved down from my upper to my lower torso, each slice of the head-cheese had a different assortment of organ meats - liver, stomach, gallbladder, then small intestine and appendix over there, then large intestine, colon and kidneys.

It was so cool to look at I had a hard time connecting the image with my own gurgling gut.

Then it was time to check in to the room, and in the peculiar time-warp of the hospital this took another two hours.

I was alarmed when they stuck me all over with connectors for monitors. A heart monitor? Really? For me? And after six hours without one, why was it so critical they needed to hook up a portable monitor just to gurney me through the halls?

Anyway, my alarm was slightly moderated as I spotted a WiFi repeater high on the wall in the corridor. Oh, good. [The Man I Love] could bring me my laptop, along with my pajamas, clean underwear, and a magazine.

But the first night was uneasy, lying there trussed up with cables and tubes, the pale light filtering beyond the curtain glaring my eyes.

I dozed and woke, read, dozed and woke again. All night long something booped and beeped regularly/irregularly. I thought in my mind how to describe it metaphorically like a heartbeat, until I realized, like a fool, that it was in fact a heartbeat - my own.

Distant toilets flushed, doors opened and latched. Gentle voices of the night nurses spoke Tagalog, Spanish and English. I was frightened by a disturbingly regular sound like an agonized cry down a distant corridor - until I realized it was the gurgle of fluid in a hose. Some one turned on the TV at 3:00 am to watch the Royal Wedding. I was bored, uncomfortable, cranky. I was starting to feel sorry for myself.

I finished "King Leopold's Ghost" by morning. That put it in perspective a little. I wasn't suffering, I was in a safe place, being cared for by people who meant the best for me.

I was all right. I will know more soon. I will be okay.

Thank you for all your concern and good wishes this week. If you know me well, you know I'll be writing more about this.

NOTE: For those wondering about a slight time warp between this and Pink Saturday's post - before I went to the ER, the post was scheduled to publish early Saturday morning. I was out of commission for a couple of days.


CaShThoMa said...

So sorry to hear that you're in the hospital. The observations you make are so "on"; absolutely correct and well said.

On a personal note; I know it can be unsettling to be a patient in a hospital and I wish you the very best and a speedy recovery.

I hope you write more about your experience.

Best wishes and good thoughts.

Susan B said...

So sorry you've had to be hospitalized, but glad to hear you'll be OK. Having been in the hospital three times since I turned 40 (and never before then) I can concur that a hospital is probably the LEAST restful place on earth. I've always been so happy to get home to my own (quiet!) bed.

dea said...

I came back to see how you are doing and am sorry to learn that you're in hospital. Again, thanks for the thoughtful writing and I wish you a fast recovery.

Beverly said...

Girl, I am so glad to find this post. I have had you in my thoughts and prayers.

Behave yourself, and get cured soon. There's no place like home. But, thank God caregivers are there when we need them.

Susan Hasbrouck said...

Well, shoot! All my best, Aunt Snow. -Susan

Arabella said...

Darn, I came by to wish you a belated Happy Pink Saturday to find you're in the hospital. I'm so sorry to hear this; however am glad you are in a safe place where you will be taken care of. You'll be in my thoughts & prayers!

M. Bouffant said...

Well, thank goodness it is gastro-intestinal & not a zillion other horrid possibilities, slight comfort though that may be to the sufferer.

And I hope it won't require adjustment of diet & drinking habits.

I've been in hospital overnight a few times. (First time at four for a tonsillectomy: Ice cream & telebision!) Take my advice: Enjoy the lying-down time.

And let us know which hospital it was, 'cause if I have to go again, I won't go unless there's WiFi!

M. Bouffant said...

Bad wk. in the blog-o-sphere!

May these schaden your freude, or at least cheer you that it could be worse.

Gilly said...

Oh I do hope you will be OK soon. Hospitals can be such worrying places, especially at night.

Now take a really funny book with you, so you can chortle and drown the sounds of the hose!! ;)

jeanne said...

My prayers will be with you and I pray you will have better news very soon.
Blessings, Jeanne

Smut Clyde said...

an image of my torso on the screen, cross-cut like a Damien Hurst cow, or perhaps a delicatessen head-cheese.

Copies on the blog or it didn't happen.

Janet said...

I'm away from the computer for awhile and all hell breaks loose! Hope you're feeling better and are home!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Oh, my! Even hospitalized, you are full of wonderful words and images to make us smile.
"I thought in my mind how to describe it metaphorically like a heartbeat, until I realized, like a fool, that it was in fact a heartbeat - my own." You can certainly blame that one on the fog caused by lack of good sleep and being in a strange place.

Despite your assurances, some of your symptoms sound too familiar to me, and I am worried about you!
I will continue to pray for the return of your good health and for strength to get from where you are now to where you want to be.