Early last week, Bill and I were happily making plans for our Disneyland trip that was supposed to begin, uh, yesterday. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the happiest place on earth.
In the midst of the planning, I took a detour to the not happiest place on earth — the hospital. Four years ago I had surgery. I will tell you it was a colon resection because that is pertinent to my story. Don’t think about it too much.
Last Monday night I began having abdominal pain and vomiting. After not being any better by Tuesday evening, I determined it wasn’t stomach flu, and had Bill drive me to urgent care to see what could possibly be the problem.
Well, this led to that which led to the other, and before you know it, I was in the hospital with an NG tube sticking out of my nose because I had a partial bowel obstruction caused by scar tissue from the previous colon surgery. Having an NG tube jammed through your nose, down your throat and into your stomach is the polar opposite of the happiest place on earth.
But, I survived, and got home yesterday.
Here are some random thoughts and experiences that I had while having way too much time on my hands, nothing else to think about but the NG tube sticking out of my nose, and under the influence of Dilaudid for four days.
Cast of Funny Characters
The first evening, the number of hospital employees and volunteers who came to see me was almost comical. In fact, it was comical if you factor in the Dilaudid. I had several quality assurance people who asked me the same questions about the kind of care I had been getting thus far. In the 30 minutes I had been in the hospital. Their interviews all ended with the same question….How could we have made this experience exceptional? The answer was easy. DON’T STICK A TUBE INTO MY NOSE, DOWN MY THROAT AND INTO MY STOMACH. Boom. The end.
The last volunteer I saw that first night was a woman with her therapy dog — a Boston Terrier named Rosebud. Remember, Friends, it was probably 9:30 by this time, and the NG tube had been inserted maybe an hour-and-a-half earlier. I like dogs, but I simply had no use for Rosebud that night. It wasn’t Rosebud’s fault. The woman was so clearly sure her dog would bring me joy. “Would you like Rosebud to sit in bed with you?” she asked. And perhaps jump up on you and rip out your nasal tube? “No thank you,” I managed to say through clenched teeth.
The nursing staff was very good, though I had a different nurse each day and night. Some, however were better than others. There was the one, for example, who, when I pointed out to her that my IV had not been reconnected, told me “I don’t really think you need an IV.” Hmmmm. I have no medical background, but the fact that I’m not able to take anything by mouth would make me think that perhaps they would like me on some liquids so I don’t, say, die of dehydration. “Could you maybe check on that?” I asked her. Surprisingly, I did need to be hooked up. I’ll be right back; I have to go get my medical degree.
One time when I rang the bell to be unhooked from my nasal tube pump so I could use the restroom, a night CNA came to my aid. I noticed her nametag said Heaven. “Is your name really Heaven?” I asked her. “Actually, my name is Heaven Lee. My mom read Flowers in the Attic in high school, and she got the name from that book.” I’ve never read Flowers in the Attic, so I can’t comment on if or how that name relates to that particular book, but I will say I found her name enchanting, if somewhat odd.
Young Bianca took me down to Nuclear Medicine one afternoon. On the way back she said to me as she smacked her gum, “I’ll bet it’s awful to have a bowel obstruction.” “It’s not great,” I replied. “Yeah,” she continued, “I worry about myself because I chew a lot of gum and I always swallow it so I’m afraid I’m going to have one some day.” I must admit I didn’t know how to respond to her. She was 20 and has a 24-year-old sister, a 14-year-old brother and a baby brother, 2, and a baby sister, 1. Same parents. (I can find out a lot in a short guerny ride down to Nuclear Medicine. It’s my journalism training.) And Kids, don’t swallow your gum.
Patrick, one of my night nurses, was creepy. He was very quiet and would sneak up on me. I would wake up to him with his head inside my door, watching me sleep, and he would tell me he was checking on me. I believe him, but it was weird nonetheless. I think he might have been living under my bed. If I get to fill out a quality assurance questionnaire, I’m going to suggest that Patrick needs to wear a bell.
Armonda is in housekeeping. As she oh-so-swiftly cleaned my room, she talked nonstop about her life, her kids, the hospital, and her fellow employees. She worked faster than anyone I had ever seen. She is the one who told me my room was a pressurized room, used in the past for TB patients. That explained why every afternoon a man came by and asked if he could close the door for 10 seconds or so to check the pressure. It also explained why my room was strangely down a weird corridor and you had to go through another room before getting into mine.
Saturday night I was watching the Diane Sawyer Sound of Music special and right at the moment they’re talking about Maria’s wedding, a man came in to take blood. Argh. He was dark-skinned and had what sounded to me to be a Caribbean accent. He saw what I was watching, and said he saw the movie as a small boy. “The songs are even more beautiful in French,” he said. “Where are you from?” I asked him. “France,” was his reply. I swear his accent was Caribbean. Anyway, as he drew my blood, he sang Do Re Mi to me in French! It was beautiful and I was no longer mad at him for interrupting Maria’s wedding.
When I was in the hospital four years ago, I was very ill. Despite the fact that I took nothing by mouth for several WEEKS, I never was hungry. This time, probably because I wasn’t nearly as sick, I was ravenously hungry the entire time. But I couldn’t eat until I got the go-ahead from the doctor, and then it had to be in stages. First, he said, small sips of clear liquid, and no, Ms. McLain, gin and tonics don’t count. See if I tolerate it. Next, a clear liquid dinner, including such delights as beef broth and jello. (As an aside, my jello choices were orange or strawberry. I chose orange. But I asked my granddaughter Mylee which one she would choose. She was quiet as she gave it serious thought. Finally she said, “I would choose both, and mix them together.”)
Then a meal featuring solid food. At some point, I was speaking to the head nurse about how soon he thought I could be discharged. “Well, you need to get through the sips, the liquid dinner, the creamy dinner, and the solid dinner.” Whaaaaaaat? This is the first I’d heard about the creamy dinner stage.
Unhappily, the creamy dinner stage did, indeed, appear Saturday evening. I was none too happy about that, but it got worse. The young food service girl brought my breakfast Sunday morning and I’ll be darned if I wasn’t again staring Cream of Mushroom soup right smack in the face. A creamy soup meal. I literally started pounding on my bed and yelling that I WAS REQUIRED TO CONSUME AND TOLERATE SOLID FOOD BEFORE I COULD BE DISCHARGED AND I’D ALREADY HAD MY CREAMY FOOD MEAL. I WANT MY SOLID FOOD. I then took a time out to apologize to the surprised girl, explaining to her that I understood it wasn’t her fault and thanked her for her patience. However, I confess I went back to my agitated ranting. It wasn’t my finest moment. Luckily my nurse appeared on the scene and got me a solid food breakfast.
I tolerated them all fine, and, in fact, ate lunch yesterday in the cafeteria with Bill. But when I got back to my room, in walked the food delivery person with another CREAMY FOOD MEAL. Lordy.
Final Random Thoughts
It was apparently impossible for me, as I did my innumerable walks around the floor day and night, to not look into rooms as I walked by. I assure you it wasn’t some prurient interest. I just did it without thought. As a result, I saw many very ill people very many times, and thanked God each time for my relative good health. My voyeurism frankly made me glad for my odd little pressurized room at the end of the hall where no one other than medical folks or welcomed visitors would have reason to walk. And no oxygen masks dropped down.
The hospital played Brahm’s Lullaby every time a baby was born. Seven babies were born while I was there. I think. The Dilaudid and all……
And speaking of Dilaudid, I can’t believe how willingly they doled out Dilaudid throughout much of my hospitalization. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could have gotten it to the bitter end if I had been interested. I was the one who finally said, “At this point, I am taking Dilaudid because I have a sore throat and a headache. That seems like overkill.” The nurse nodded, and said, “Well, we could downgrade your medication to Morphine.” Sweet Lord. At one point I woke up from a Dilaudidland nap and noticed Teddy Roosevelt’s face in the wood grain of the closet at which I looked. Bye-bye, Dilaudid.
While in the hospital, unrelated to my belly, they discovered I had a urinary tract infection, my kidneys were slightly enlarged, my potassium was low, and my chest had very slight crackling. It makes me wonder what I walk through life with every day.
I’m grateful for my returned health, my family and friends, and the prayers and good wishes I know were sent my way throughout this past week.
Today, I’m back to making Disneyland plans.