Here’s the second part of my medical odyssey! You can read the first part — The Lead Up — here.
So when we last left our heroine, she was back in the ER with a diagnosis of pneumonia and two pulmonary embolisms waiting to be admitted to the hospital. What will happen next? Dun-dun-DUUUNNNNN….
I have never been in the hospital before. No, that’s not true. I was in the hospital to have my tonsils taken out when I was four years old. But other than a distinct memory of not liking shots in the bum, crying to my mother on the phone (in the 70s, they didn’t allow parents to stay in the hospital with their children) and thinking I would impress the anaesthesiologist with my mad counting-backwards skillz when he put the gas mask over my face, I don’t really remember what it was like being in the hospital. One of the first things I discovered on this go-around: a lot of time passes from when they tell you that you are being admitted to when you are actually admitted.
Drew and I showed up at the ER between 8:30 and 9 at night on February 28th. I wasn’t admitted and put into a room until 3:30 in the morning on February 29th. I certainly am not complaining about the hospital; I’m sure that’s just how long these things take. I’m simply pointing out that both Drew and I were pretty exhausted by the end of the night … err … the beginning of the morning. Whatever!
I ended up staying in the hospital for just over three weeks and a lot of that time — most of that time — is a blur. I’m not entirely sure what happened when so I am going to break things down into the rooms I was in rather than specific days — although I will specify dates when I have them. The nice thing about me having updated all this on Facebook is that it gives me a means to look back and structure what happened.
Room 319 North
February 29 – March 6/7
So at 3:30a on Tuesday, February 29th (Leap Day!), I was admitted to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and put in room 319. This was a monitored floor which means I had those round, sticky things placed at various places on my chest. You know what I am talking about — those things that are connected to wires that are connected to a monitor that keeps track of heart rate and all that. I was monitored every moment of every day; if anything weird happened, sirens would go off and people would spring into action! Okay, maybe there were no sirens but shit would definitely beep and the nurses would look in on me.
I had been looking forward to getting settled into my room because I was so tired; I couldn’t wait to just close my eyes and sleep. Except, once there, I couldn’t. Even with the painkillers, even with the head of my bed raised to its most upright position, I hurt. Additionally, there were beeps, boops and other assorted noises. There were lights that I couldn’t shut off. There were nurses who came in and out of my room to check things. I got no sleep that night. Nor did I get sleep the night after (especially when it took the night nurse THREE HOURS from the time I asked for my pain medication to when she administered it; yeah, thanks). Nor did I get any sleep during the day. I was amazed by my utter failure to notice the state of my health prior to landing in the hospital. How could I have not noticed how sick I was? How could I have not been aware of how much pain I was in? How could I have gone from NO BIG DEAL to absolute agony? It was as if being in the hospital finally gave me permission to recognize that this was, in fact, a BIG DEAL and allowed me to stop being strong.
In addition to not being able to sleep, I was unable to eat. The sight and smell of food made me nauseous; when I tried to eat, I would immediately throw up. Sometimes, I didn’t even need to eat in order to empty the contents of my stomach (or lack of contents when all I would heave up was bile). By Thursday, I was nearly hallucinating from exhaustion and a migraine took hold due to my lack of sleep and eating. Normally when I have a migraine, I take an Imitrex nose spray but the hospital pharmacy didn’t have that. My doctor offered me Imitrex pills or an Imitrex shot — despite my fear of needles, I went with the latter since I knew a pill would most likely do nothing (I just seem to have a high resistance to pills in general). This involved getting a shot in my belly which was .. not fun but not horrible. I was already getting blood thinner shots in my belly twice a day so what was one more? The migraine cleared up and that night, I was finally able to sleep. A bit.
Only a bit? Yes. During my entire three week hospital stay, I did not once sleep through the entire night. That’s because the task of healing a person does not take a break just because it’s nighttime. For example: I was receiving breathing treatments every four hours which meant that at 11p, 3a and 7a, someone would come by to wake me up and have me do this:
*For some reason, this mode of breathing treatment made me throw up so we eventually changed to a mask that went over my nose and mouth. That went much better.
So yeah. There was activity happening during the night that always disrupted my sleep to a certain extent. However, mornings were the busiest time of day.
Between 5 and 6:45a
Someone would come in to draw blood (in the beginning, this would happen several times a day but after the first week, it generally would only happen once in the morning).
Between 6 and 7a
Another person would come by to take an x-ray of my chest (they have portable x-ray machines, did you know that? Never even had to leave my bed!).
The day shift nurses would clock in and whoever was looking after me that day would come around to take my vital signs
After 7a and throughout the morning
A parade of doctors would look in on me shortly after the nurse took my vitals — my main physician (Dr. Chern), my pulmonary doctor (Dr. Patel) and a kidney specialist (can’t remember his name, sorry!)
Breakfast would show up, food that I was SO HUNGRY FOR but could not eat.
Someone from dietary would come by to pick up my menu for the following day
9:30 – 10a
Then someone would come to clean my room followed by another person who would clean me.
The very first morning, I needed to go to the bathroom. I called the nurse because it was my first time getting up and I wanted help with all my cords and IVs and stuff. She pointed out that I hadn’t been given clearance to walk around so I had to use a bedside commode. This is basically a chair with a bucket for a seat.
I really would have preferred to use the actual bathroom with the actual door for some actual privacy but orders (or lack of them) are orders. Just as I got on this thing and started peeing, Dr. Chern arrived.
I was horrified.
Now, obviously I knew that, being a doctor and all, this was nothing she hadn’t seen before. However, this was not something I had ever dealt with; I am a delicate, dainty lady who values her privacy when it comes to these kind of things. So, as you can imagine, I was embarrassed. There was my doctor, chattering away and asking me questions while I was peeing right in front of her. This was the first time I realized: there is no dignity in the hospital.
Let me clarify something though: the staff, they treated me with dignity but I had no personal dignity. That’s not the same as being treated rudely or disrespected. It’s just that there is no way you can hold onto your daintiness, not if you are in the hospital for anything remotely serious. When you are there, you are at your worst and there is no hiding that. You are going to be poked and prodded. Your hair is going to get greasy. Your legs and armpits are going to get hairy. People get very interested in your ability to pass gas and have a bowel movement. No matter how hard you try, there’s no way to be dainty and dignified about any of that.
I received lots of flowers. There were calls, emails and texts of concern and support. Drew came to visit every day. My pal Kate came by as well. Other people wanted to pay a call but .. I just wasn’t up for it. I felt horrible. I looked horrible. I didn’t want people to see me at my weakest so I politely declined. Besides, as far as I was being told, I would only be in the hospital for a few days and it all seemed a bit dramatic to receive visitors for such a short stay. My parents wanted to fly out from Florida but I pointed out that by the time they got here, I’d already be discharged.
At the end of two days, I was told I would be in the hospital for a few days more. After after a few days more, it was extended another couple days. That first week or so, it was just two days on top of two days on top of two days more.
I got better. Marginally. Thanks to the Dilaudid every two hours and the potent antibiotics I was receiving via IV, I was no longer experiencing the agony that I dealt with those first few days. Towards the end of the week, I was even given clearance to take a shower (sooooo nice) and to walk a couple laps of the ward floor. However, I never really got well. I’d have a good day and then a bad day. I dozed off a lot. And then there was the IV infiltration.
I have shitty veins. They are tiny and hard to find. Drawing blood is always an adventure and usually takes several pokes. I seem to have inherited this from my father who has similar difficulties; my mother has veins that pop out into view if you so much as glance her way. Lucky!
Anyway, I was lying around in my hospital bed being sickly when I glanced over at the IV. It was in my right arm, close to — but not actually in — the crook of my elbow. The IV had been in place for a few days which, for most people, wouldn’t be a problem. However, due to the fact that I have the aforementioned shitty veins and that I had been receiving continuous fluids, this was a problem. My arm looked like a python that had swallowed something huge but hadn’t digested it yet.
Basically, my arm had swelled up to scary proportions around my elbow area. IV infiltration is when fluids leak from damaged blood vessels and I was lucky enough to have this happen to me. I called the nurse and asked her if my arm was supposed to do that? No, no it wasn’t. She removed the IV and assured me that the swelling would go down. She also told me that she would be back to insert a new IV in a little bit.
Apparently, she had a very high maintenance patient/family to deal with that day and they were gobbling up all her time and attention. She popped back into my room a few hours later and told me that she would ask one of the other nurses to hook me up with a new IV.
More time passed.
I was getting kind of upset at this point. I had been unhooked from my IV for some time which meant I wasn’t getting fluids or antibiotics. I wasn’t upset at the nurse or the staff; I was just worried and starting to panic. That was the head space I was occupying when the student nurses showed up.
I will say right off the bat: they did a fine job. I will also say that I understand the necessity of them learning how to handle a ‘hard stick’; if they only get to practice on people with good veins, how will they ever learn? However, when you are scared and on the verge of tears already, the last thing you want to hear from the supervising nurse as the student nurse is juuuuuust about to poke you is ‘Are you suuure you want to stick her there?’ I held it together while they were still in the room but I dissolved into sobs the moment they left.
This was a down moment for me, a pity party that I threw for myself. My experience with the student nurses kind of broke the last bit of strength I had left inside me. I felt pitiful and just wanted to go home. I was sick of being sick.
But there was more to come. So much more to come.