What started out as a quick visit to my doctor to see why I had a post-op fever turned into a five-day sojourn in the hospital with a diagnosis of acute kidney failure. On the morning of the fifth day, I waited impatiently for the vampire cart (the lab cart and tech) to show up and draw my blood.
Finally, two hours after my usual blood draw time, I asked the charge nurse why my blood hadn’t been drawn yet (it’s not easy for me to ask questions—but my high motivation to get released overpowered my natural timidity). Evidently, the physicians had forgotten to put in orders for my blood draw, so I had to wait for everything to travel up and down the chain of command before the lab tech would arrive. By the time I had eaten my breakfast and walked two miles I figured the next knock on the door would be the lab tech.
Someone tapped quietly on my hospital room door. At last!
“Nutrition services!” a timid voice called out.
“Come on in,” I invited, disappointed that I would be discussing lunch instead of leaving.
A young nutritional assistant (code name for the nice person who takes your meal orders in the hospital) entered and stood before me. Her right toes rubbed nervously against her left foot. “I’m Dana. Today for lunch we have cottage cheese and peaches,” she paused and looked expectantly at me for approval. When she saw my grimace, she rushed on, “or you could have the grilled ham and cheese sandwich!”
I held back a snort of laughter and instead asked, “What else might you have for a vegetarian?”
She consulted her iPad and said, “We could do a Gardenburger.”
“Let’s do that,” I said, inwardly groaning at the thought of my third Gardenburger in five days—but anything beats a plate of cottage cheese with peaches! After we negotiated the remaining details of my lunch, she left and I pondered again the changes in hospitals since the last time I spent any time in one (which was in 2002—as a caregiver and not a patient).
For one, the food has improved greatly. I had whole-wheat French toast for breakfast, and the best slice of vegetarian pizza I’ve had in northern Arizona (barring the creamy jalapeño fiesta pizza I make at home).
A second improvement is the overall friendliness of hospital staff. People take the time to introduce themselves (for the most part—sometimes they forget). This small detail goes a long way in helping a patient feel like a person and not just another duty. During shift changes, my nurse would usually come around and introduce me to my next nurse. In addition, a handy-dandy white board hangs in every room where someone writes the names of all the important people who’ll be working with me each shift. I like that.
Nurses, patient care technicians and doctors do all of the charting on computers nowadays—which, while it may have been a pain to learn the computer system, sure makes it easier for the care team to understand the whole picture of a patient’s progress.
On the other hand—hospital gowns have not improved in the last thirteen years. They come in the same striped with speckled patterns of blues and greens that don’t match the standard one size fits none pants (but believe me, after parading around for an entire day without hospital pants, I did a victory dance when they offered me pants to go along with my ill-fitting open backed gown. It’s not that the gown is too small and gapes in the back—its just that there’s no possible combination of ties that will prevent a draft of air from flowing over my back—the gown has enough fabric to wrap around me more than once).
By the time Pedro made the ninety-mile drive to see me for the day, the internist had stopped by (“Oh, you’re the lady who’s been booking around the hallways!”) and said it looked likely that I’d get out. Twenty minutes later the nephrologist stopped by and issued my discharge orders. When Pedro arrived, I had already ditched my hospital gown in favor of real clothes.
After the nurse went over the discharge instructions I looked at her and asked, “Am I free to go?”
She grinned back, “You’re free to go!”
“I don’t have to wait around for transport or anything?” (Based on my previous experiences in hospitals after the birth of our daughters and Pedro’s time in hospitals, it seemed like no matter how healthy a person felt they had to get wheeled to the hospital entrance).
She raised an eyebrow, “You walk faster than half the people that work here. I don’t think we need to wheel you out!”
With that, I practically skipped down the hallway clutching my beautiful bouquet of flowers whilst Pedro lugged my backpack over his good shoulder. We garnered a few strange looks—and I’m sure people wondered why the injured guy carried the heavy burden (I’m not supposed to lift anything heaver than 10 pounds for another month) and the healthy-looking lady carried nothing more than flowers.
We passed the food cart on the way out and I giggled in glee—it will be awhile before I eat another Gardenburger! Pedro took me out to the restaurant with amazing flan instead.
So, if you find yourself stuck in the hospital, here are a few tips for making your sojourn easier:
1. Bring your sense of humor. Hospitals need to be invasive and intrusive—the staff needs to keep track of what comes in and what goes out in order to make sure everything works. I dubbed myself Queen P.
2. Walk. For me, walking got progressively easier as I recovered from my initial surgery and my kidneys started functioning better. I started out walking for ten minutes at a time and eventually built up to half an hour walks. The doctors and nurses kept telling me that they wished all their patients walked.
3. Ask. I’m not the kind of person who loves to have others wait on me. But it’s ok to use the call button when you need something—such as a fresh pitcher of water or the ‘hat’ in the toilet emptied (the nurses need to chart your intake and outtake).
4. Family can stay. It’s usually ok to have a family member spend the night in the room with you. Pedro spent two nights with me—and his company made the days less tedious. He also encouraged me to keep on walking, helped me discover the garden courtyard where I could find some fresh air, and entertained me by taking ridiculous selfies with me.
5. Secret stashes and contraband food. I had no appetite the first three days in the hospital, but the nurses assured me that if I didn’t like what was on the menu they could bring me something I did like—they have secret stashes of beverages, popsicles, ice cream, crackers and Jell-O—and they can order things from the kitchen at any time. When Pedro told me about the marvelous flan that he’d found at a local Mexican restaurant, we asked if he could bring me a piece. Since I didn’t have diet restrictions, he got the green light to bring it in (make sure you check with the nursing staff first, though—you wouldn’t want to impede your progress by eating something not on the approved list).
Everyone who works in hospitals inspires me—from the friendly ladies that cleaned my room to the nurses who took the time to get to know me as a person. I salute everyone in the medical profession for your dedication to helping people get better. Your job matters and I can’t thank you enough for all that you do day in and day out.
Have you had any encounters with an inspiring person or profession lately?
Inspire Me Monday Instructions
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Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).
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