Back in July, I spent eight days in a hospital, and while this definitely wasn’t my longest stay in a hospital, it was my first hospital stay as an adult. While I was there, I had very little to do other than lay in a hospital bed, observe my surroundings, and think. I’ve never been much for TV, and the pain medicine made it almost impossible to read. I eventually started a list of all the weird thoughts that occurred to me with the promise that I would write about it all when I was back home and no longer hitting a button to ask strangers for drugs and assistance going to the bathroom.
Today is that day.
Nurses and nursing assistants are almost criminally underpaid. Doctors swoop in at all hours, talk with patients, and scribble a series of orders on a piece of paper. Those orders are actually carried out by the nurses and nursing assistants. On a ward where nearly all the patients are just out of surgery, almost everything a patient does requires direct intervention by some combination of nurses or nursing assistants. On a particularly bad day, the Intensive Care unit was full, and patients started being routed to the floor I was on. I watched the nursing staff suddenly caring for twice the number of patients, and they were somehow still pleasant to each of us. And in spite of all of that, in conversations with the nursing team, most of them told me about their second and third jobs. In my book, nurses are right up there with teachers on my personal holy-shit-these-people-need-higher-pay index.
Having a catheter is like being one of those dolls that you feed a bottle and then squeeze to make pee come shooting out. This feeling rings especially true because every person in scrubs was more than a little obsessed with filling me with fluid—by both mouth and IV drip. Seriously, they just stacked cups of ice water up in front of me like a 21-year-old at a bar. I kept waiting for them to start chanting, “Chug, chug chug!”
Dilaudid is a hell of a drug. I’ve always been really wary of drugs. (Thanks, Nancy Reagan.) So much so that, when I first came out of surgery, I tried to avoid pain medicine out of fear of chemical dependency. When I didn’t stay up on my pain meds, on two occasions, the pain forced the nurses to give me stronger medicine. When I had my gallbladder attack, I was amazed at the speed with which morphine just completely made all pain go away. Dilaudid was on another level entirely. Ten seconds after it went in my IV, the bottom of the floor fell away, and I was flying around the room. One one occasion, I actually giggled myself awake and then told Allyson that I was thinking about panda bears. After that occasion and a stern talking to by my doctor, I dutifully took my pain medicine.
Dozens of men have now seen me naked, and that was made possible by the aforementioned drugs. Before going into the hospital, I could count the amount of men who had ever seen me naked on one hand—and most of them were from the era when I needed my diaper changed. I’ve almost always insisted on having doctors who are women. I’m the lady who tells the insurance company to only recommend women for referrals. Funny thing about teaching hospitals though: Every doctor walks into the room with 5-6 younger doctors, and most of those doctors seem to be men. (Thanks, patriarchy.) The combination of breezy hospital gowns, drugs that make you both hot and slightly high, and the need for routine post-surgical exams made modesty nearly impossible. At least no one tried to stuff dollar bills in my gown.
Medicine is a lot like working in IT. Doctors are the developers in this analogy, and they are conveniently separated into front-end developers (plastic surgeons), back-end developers (internists), and full-stack developers (general practitioners). The nursing team is the understaffed and overworked help desk/service desk. Physical and occupational therapists are the business analysts, who roll in to help end-users actually use what the doctors/devs have cooked up. Patient advocates and social workers? They’re totally the business relations team.
The steady progress of science has made the impossible possible. Back in 1988 and 1989, I spent most of my life in a hospital. (Tearing your own thumb off tends to lead to long medical stays. Go figure.) The difference that nearly thirty years has made in medicine and patient care was nothing short of staggering. With a combination of bar codes and an RFID chip, every staff member knew who I was and what my requirements and restrictions were. Most patients I saw were in and out in just a handful of days. Thanks to the efforts of researchers, we routinely cure conditions that would have been incurable death sentences just twenty years ago. In the days immediately after surgery, I routinely gushed about this to everyone who would listen, much to their amusement.