Last week I thought I pulled a muscle in my inner thigh at the gym, and then got a virus, because I had a fever of 103*...to make a long story short, I was wrong. I somehow got cellulitis, a skin infection, from my left inner thigh down my calf and over my shin. It was red, swollen, and hot when we went to the emergency room on Sunday; I was admitted for observation and to be on IV antibiotics. The danger is that the infection can go into your bloodstream, which pretty much means you'll die unless you're very lucky. Also, I could have gotten a blood clot, which of course could travel somewhere dangerous. Matt and I both thought that antibiotics would be a dramatic cure-all and I would be home in 24 hours, but in actuality it took 72. And I did not have a good time. I was bored out of my mind, and so I took notes on everything that annoyed me in the hospital, in no particular order. Enjoy!
1. Lights on/all the noise while sleeping: This was HUGE! I basically managed 4 hours of sleep in every 24, which made me headachey and cranky and tired. Hospitals are never quiet. I used to actually fantasize about staying in a hospital when my kids were little, you know, because you have nothing to do and you can do nothing but rest. However, there is constant noise, voices, rolling carts, people screaming, snoring, moaning, people coming in and out of your room to empty wastebaskets or take blood or your temperature or change your IV. My IV drip would make noise if I somehow shut the drip by leaning on it or even breathing funny it seemed, and a different alarm sounded if they didn't change the drip in time. The lights in the hall are bright and the door can't be closed--I haven't needed a light in the hall since I was 6, and I have slept in the dark ever since. I tried to nap in the daytime but really the problem is the same. My first night, there was an announcement of "Code Blue, ICU" about 6 times in a row--but the key is, you have to imagine this said in a singsong voice like a cheerleader, not a typical voice over a loudspeaker. Very distracting and very bizarre. By the time they let me go I was feeling a bit mental.
2. Waking patients up at obscene hours: Seriously. I would finally get to sleep a few hours out of sheer exhaustion, and then, some time between 5 and 6:30 am, the lights would go on right in my eyes and a needle would be inserted into my arm, taking blood. Really? This is what passes for waking someone up? I understand nurses are busy and overworked, and they are doing their jobs and I should be blaming the freaking phlebotamists who order them to take blood that early for their own convenience. But it's difficult not to want to punch someone in the face who is doing that to you! And then when they were finished, my adrenaline was pumping and there was no way to fall back to sleep. Horrible.
3. Food: I know everyone complains about hospital food. This is because they are right to! HELLO-- we are supposed to be recovering and the food is the worst thing I have ever tasted. I admit, I am a cook, a foodie and a bit of a food snob, but really, this was practically inedible and they should be ashamed. It is rich that the menu I had to check off each day for the next day's "food" had a section called "Chef's Choice," because chef is absolutely absurd applied here. Any of my children could make better food--probably my cats and dog could, if they worked together! I truly felt like the world's pickiest 5 year old every time they brought a tray. Incidentally, I also found it annoying that they serve 3 meals in 8-9 hours' time, and the rest of the time you are stuck. Luckily, my family packed me snacks, at my request. (I was not on a restricted diet, unlike my poor roommate, who was on a LIQUID diet...I can only imagine the horror of that!) I asked them to pack me fruit, nuts and some crackers. They brought me Cheezits, caramel corn, dark chocolate covered cashews, a Snickers bar, and 4 apples.....well, I guess that's close. Don't get me started on hospital coffee! Luckily they also always brought coffee from home when they came over. Sunday, when I was admitted from the ER, I was so hungry because I wasn't feeling well so had only eaten a piece of toast that morning. I was hungry enough that I managed to consume the awful dinner...canned asparagus, ugh...but Monday was the worst day by far because somehow, even though I'd been there all day Sunday, they never let me fill out a menu because I wasn't in my room till 10:30 pm, so I had to eat Chef's Choice on Monday rather than pick and choose what I wanted to eat like Tuesday and Wednesday. Maybe they should name a dog food Chef's Choice!
4. Emergency Room: What a lovely experience. Uncomfortable seats, crowded, waiting unless your head is partially hanging off, and so inefficient it was laughable. First I was finally called by the triage nurse. Then we had to wait again, before being called in by the insurance/forms person. I was going to be admitted, but had to wait again..silly me, I thought: now I'm being admitted and will go to my room, but NO, I just was brought to a really uncomfortable stretcher in a cubicle where I waited for NINE hours! Keep in mind, the stretcher was not adjustable, and the back was at about a 40* angle, which is not comfortable for sitting and reading, and not comfortable (to me) for taking a nap. I shared a cubicle with one other stretcher, and had 3 different roommates--I couldn't see them but could hear them. The first was a man having chest pains. I'd seen him in the waiting room and had been worried, but they were just observing him and making sure he was OK. Well, he was very concerned that his cell phone was not getting a signal (mine did and so did Matt's, everywhere in the hospital) and kept asking repeatedly for a phone. When he didn't get one, he left the hospital without permission. With chest pains. The second roommate was a shallow, silly girl in her late teens/early 20s and her friend, who was there because she'd had abdominal surgery for an ovarian cyst and was bleeding too heavily. A very good reason to be there. After listening to many inane conversations, both on their cell phones and between the two girls themselves, they also left without telling anyone! And I think they were leaving because friends were picking them up to buy drugs from someone who wouldn't wait more than an hour--this is what we could glean from their talk. Unbelievable! My final roommate was there because she'd been in a car crash (not her own fault) and her airbags had saved her life. However, they had hurt her chest and her seatbelt cut her hips open. She was in shock and a lot of pain. We listened to her moan as they moved her and examined her, to the police interview, to the doctors, and to her endless retelling of the accident and her wonder what would have happened if her kids had been in the car. She was still there when I was finally brought up to my room at 10:30 pm. I know that she was told she'd have to stay 24 hours for observation, and I hope that she ended up okay. My final thought on the ER is the television they have in the waiting room. It was tuned to TNT, which while we were there showed two made-for-cable movies which featured rape, shootings, unwanted pregnancy, insanity, alcohol, bad language, and adultery. It is not that I personally have a problem with movies like this, or favor censorship, BUT there were a few children in the place, and they all were glued to these movies, wide eyed, with horrified looks on their faces. And none of their parents seemed to even notice it was disturbing them. I really think that they should tune to something a bit more innocuous for the sake of this possibility. I would even have welcomed football, and that's saying something!
5. Hospital Beds: You'd think that beds equipped to move up and down at the back and feet, with controls to affect even the firmness of the mattress, would be comfortable to sleep on. They're not. Also, for some reason, mine would move on its own, which we eventually concluded was to prevent bed sores or maybe to distribute weight evenly when the patient shifts, but I have to say it's creepy, like sleeping in a haunted bed. And pillows that are completely encased in plastic, even when covered with cloth pillowcases are also disturbing. I kept wondering how many bodily fluids had been all over that pillow and mattress in their time. CREEPY!
6. IV Drips: The entire point of my stay was to give me IV antibiotics, which were, of course, given through a line. The line has a pump which gave me 100ml of fluids and antibiotics per hour--each bag lasted 10 hours. However. The first line they put in was in the regular crook of the elbow, which was where I expected it to go--only, if I bent my arm, it would often stop the drip and the machine would beep. Even if I straightened it. Even if I begged the machine to stop. It would simply beep till the nurse came to reset it. Nurses are busy....I often had to endure the beeping for quite an annoying while. Finally my nurse was tired of this (because you don't realize how hard it is to keep your arm straight all the time till you're supposed to DO it!) and so she took out my line and reinserted it at the top of my wrist. This did almost eliminate the annoying beeps. However, I could feel it more in my wrist, sort of wriggling around, which was awful. And they used a huge swath of tape to hold it in place, which I can tell you was rather unpleasant when they took it off this afternoon. Also, when they allowed me to walk around the halls because I was so bored of sitting (and I was pretty much the only ambulatory patient on the ward, so I think they enjoyed my lively nature. Or at least I am pretending that) my machine was, of course, the one that squeaked and squealed its way around. I called it my GPS for the staff--they knew I wasn't staging a jailbreak, at least, because they could hear me walking. Finally, my nurse said that she'd take the line out of my port (which stopped my medicine, but I guess she found it worth it!) when I wanted to walk....
7. Asking to use the bathroom: When the whole IV pole thing was new to me, I rang for the nurse when I had to use the bathroom. It had to be unplugged, and I figured I wasn't supposed to touch any equipment. So I rang, and then I had to wait anywhere from minutes to over half an hour, depending on how busy things were for someone to come in and find out what I wanted. Eventually, sensing that my need for the bathroom was probably pretty unimportant to them--though this does not diminish the staff's happiness that at least they had me for one patient who could get to and from the bathroom unassisted, did not need to be cleaned up, and (ew) did not need her output measured or (gulp) weighed upon completion--I took to yanking the plug from the wall myself, walking to and from the bathroom to do what I needed to do, and plugging it back in myself before getting into bed again. After all, I reasoned, I am a mom of 4 who's used to being in charge most of the time, and I have been using electrical outlets for a number of years now without accident. Nobody ever said a word to me about doing it, so I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn't a bad little patient.
8. Showering: When I felt better and really wanted to take a shower, which was on Monday evening, I asked my nurse about it. She said it had to be on my chart for me to have a shower. HUH? I have no open wound, I am not restricted in my diet, they let me walk around unassisted...but I need permission to take a shower? However, I am a pleaser, so I was quiet till the next morning when my doctor checked me. I asked him if I could take a shower. He said, "I don't see why not--you seem pretty lively to me!" But then when I told my nurse he'd said it was fine, he hadn't written it on the chart. I was sure I'd have to wait till the next day, which was really making me grossed out, but I guessed she sensed my disgust because she actually hunted him down and less than an hour later I was taking what ended up being one of the best showers of my life. Except for the part where my port had to be wrapped (more tape!) so it would stay dry. That part was not so lovely.
9. Modesty: One of my least favorite things about childbirth, in retrospect, was that anyone around could see. I was naked, sweating, grunting, screaming, and I didn't care who could see me--I thought about it afterwards and shuddered, but at the time I could have cared less. However, this stay was different because it was not the extreme pain of childbirth, so I had time to think about how I had to sit around in underwear and a shirt and allow anyone and everyone to see up my inner thigh, basically sitting around with my legs open any time someone ordered me to. I don't consider myself a prude, but I don't really love that.
10. Lack of WiFi: Really? REALLY? It's 2011, people, get with the program! I could have written this very long blog post in all my copious boredom, but I couldn't get online. And yes, I am one of the last 25 people in this country who doesn't have a smartphone, so I couldn't get around it that way. I had to revert to the Dark Ages of just TV/books/puzzles and my cell phone for entertainment. Except texting doesn't count. Even if my fingers were falling off.
11. TV costs $7 per day: Again, I have to say really?? This is not per room, either, but per TV. I figure they easily make 5K a day just from television. As if it weren't already on. What am I, an idiot? But you have no choice because there is nothing. To. Do. So you pay the stupid money, and then if you're like me, you want to stick a fork in your eye because there's nothing good on anyway, and you always DVR everything and haven't sat through commercials since you were 10 years old and VCRs were invented, so what the hell is this anyway? And the remote is horrible because you have to scroll through the channels, there are no numbers to press. And sometimes the buttons don't work, so if you go past a channel you wanted and the down arrow won't work, you have to go through the entire 75 channels AGAIN to get back, making you want an ice pick to poke through your brain instead of just that fork through your eye. However, I made myself feel better by insulting the woman who made me pay for the TV, by venting to my friend on the phone while I paid her. My words were "Can you believe I have to pay $7 a day for TV that is already here whether or not I pay? Because apparently a hundred bucks for a Tylenol isn't enough of a profit. But NO, we don't need any health care reform in this country!" She said, "It's not my policy, I'm just doing my job." So, meanly, I said that it didn't matter because it's still the stupidest thing ever. And I meant it, so there.
12. Boredom: All those times I wanted time to myself, to do whatever I wanted? Well, clearly I meant what I wanted to do at home. Or on a Bermuda cruise. Or in NYC or Paris or Tuscany or a spa or Yosemite National Park or at a beach house or in Crete or Sydney or, or, or! NOT on a hospital bed tethered to an IV drip. In fact, I got so bored I went through my phone, and for every contact I changed my ringtone for calls AND texts to different tones for every person. I also changed the color patterns of the lights that flash for a call or text. From each person. Not that I would know that THIS light pattern means THAT person, or THAT ringtone means THIS person; in fact, I'm sure it's going to get as confusing as hell. But still. If you're in my phone, you're special. Another thing I did in desperate boredom? I watched a bunch of videos on the Patient Education Channel, channel 94. Some of their best? "Total Knee Replacement," "Atrial Fibrilation," "Bacterial Pneumonia," "Bone Fractures & Sprains," and my favorite, "Guided Visualization."
13. Roommates: I was actually in two patient rooms, the one they put me in at first, and then, for the last 24 hours I had to move next door because the first room had a handicapped bathroom and a patient came in who would need it. Since I was the much more ambulatory one, I had to move. I actually moved while talking on the phone. My first roommate, Carol, was a lovely older woman recovering from surgery for diverticulitis. She and I would talk, watch the same shows sometimes, and she kept the curtains between us open when she didn't need privacy so I could also see out the windows. Her husband was a hoot and would stay for hours, and he always offered to get me cookies when he went to get them for himself. My second roommate was in much more serious shape--I'm not sure what was wrong but I did hear she'd been in for over 3 weeks. She was from India, did not speak English, and her daughter stayed all the time including overnight. She snored with a hideous wet sound, slept almost all the time, wore a diaper...well. Let's just say that a private room would have been a beautiful thing.
14. Decor: Beige walls, no pictures hanging in the rooms, drab linoleum, mauve curtains around the beds, cheesy looking "wood" furniture and closets and shelves, ugly dorm-type easy chairs for visitors... let's just say the mauve made me think of Miami Vice 80s, and everything was just ugly and leave it at that. Plus, I sort of resented that in both my rooms I was the ambulatory patient, the bored climbing-the-walls patient, and yet both times I was next to the door rather than the window. When the middle curtains were pulled I had no natural light and no view--and in my second room that was all the time. It was hideous. I also didn't have enough furniture for guests or to put my flowers and gifts and books and puzzles on. When I went walking this morning so I could see the snow storm, I found a glass tunnel walkway that had several beds along the side--they had signs indicating they were being thrown out due to the fact that controls were broken. This hallway was the most peaceful place I'd seen in the hospital, very light with all the windows, bright because of the blinding snow, quiet because it was near offices rather than patient rooms and nurses' stations...I briefly thought about taking a nap on one of those beds, finally with some peace and quiet, but didn't because I knew they'd probably send dogs after me.
15. Germs: Since I am picky about sleeping, I asked if I could have a pillow from home, but my nurse said that if I did, I'd have to throw it away rather than bring it home, because hospitals are such nasty, filthy places. She told me a few horror stories about cellulitis and other awful diseases. I told Matt to forget about bringing me a pillow, and I was very happy that at least I was being pumped full of antibiotics, so I was probably safe. Gross.
16. Nurses who scare me: My first night in the hospital, very late, as I was wondering how I was going to go to sleep in all the light and noise, I drowsed off but was awakened by a nurse's voice, very scared, shrieking, "Oh my God, LISA?!?" I was thinking, wow, if a nurse sounds like that, it has to be pretty bad! My head was full of horrible things that could be happening to someone just feet from where I was, and I hoped I wouldn't see blood and guts or stray body parts. Then Lisa came to see what was wrong, and when she laughed and said, "It's only a spider!" I simply could not believe it. Not that I am much of a spider fan, but I think that if you're a nurse you must have a pretty strong stomach.
This tuned very long, but I have to finish with the story of how I was discharged. This morning we had over a foot of snow, and I was despondent because I was certain that, even though we only live 5 blocks from the hospital, they would never let me go today. The thought of another day and a half and another night in this place was making me kind of crazy. I was tired, I had a headache, I missed my family, I was bored senseless, I was tired of the food...and then at 9:15, Matt called to say good morning and see how I was, and I couldn't help it. I started to cry. I managed to pull myself together to talk to the kids, but when I hung up, I started really crying. Sobbing. The tech who was helping my roommate immediately tried to make me feel better, which made me cry harder. Then my doctor happened to come in, and he saw me crying--and got that deer-in-the-headlights look that men get when they see women cry. He asked what was wrong, and I lost it. "I just want to go h-h-home!" I sobbed. "I can't sleep, the food is horrible, I have a headache, I'm so bored, and I m-m-miss my family!" He didn't even look at my leg before he said, "You can go home today. We'll put you on strong antibiotic pills and you'll go home." This is the same doctor who said to me after yesterday's exam that I'd "enjoy spending the snow storm with them, it'll be fun!" and when I tried to say that I would not enjoy that, I wanted to go home, just said jovially, "Well, too bad--you're staying!"
He was as good as his word, and though I'd dreaded discharge, thinking that it would probably end up taking till 8pm to get out, it actually moved pretty quickly on a hospital scale--I was wheeled out by 1:15 pm. WHY didn't I think of crying the day before??