Hospitals Are Not Hotels
I really plan to stay out of hospitals.
People who work there stick needles in you at all hours, ask embarrassing questions, and object when you refuse to tell them about private bodily functions. When, several years ago, a life-threatening allergic reaction sent me to the emergency room and I ended up in intensive care, a girl, not more than fourteen or fifteen, came into my room and asked if I had had a bowel movement.
Like I was going to tell her.
My people do not discuss things like that.
Sleep was impossible for a variety of reasons. The nurse dimmed my room lights, and partially closed the door to keep out the glow from the hallway, but the patient down the hall coughing his lungs out, the ambient sounds of the staff making rounds, and the unintelligible whispered conversations were not sleep inducing.
And at five or six in the morning, the needles came.
This all started because my doctor, usually a man of some restraint, told me I had high blood pressure, and prescribed a pill I had to take every day. It didn’t take long for my body to point out, in no uncertain terms, that it didn’t like me messing with its chemistry.
I went into anaphylactic shock.
Within moments of entering the ER, my throat was cut.
In any place but a hospital, this would be a felony, subject to the laws of assault. Apparently, as I was too puffy for the usual intubation (breathing tube shoved down my throat), I underwent an emergency tracheotomy.
I had no say in this activity, as I was unconscious and, according to my wife, turning a beautiful shade of purple. But, considering my tongue had enlarged enormously and was protruding from my mouth like a slab of beef, I would not have objected.
Three days later, I woke up in a bed surrounded by men and women in white coats. As I had a hole in my throat which made intelligent conversation impossible, I was unable to do much more than stare at the group.
Finally, one of the physicians put his thumb over the trach and I could squeak out a reply to their questions. They wondered, the doctor explained later, if the lack of oxygen for several minutes had turned my brain to mush. Apparently, they were satisfied because they trooped out as a body and I wasn’t further bothered.
My primary doctor, who had been on vacation when I succumbed to his medicine, returned and took over my care. Gone were the unnecessary tests, pokes and prods. My General was in charge.
It took several days before the swelling went away, and I began to look like my old self.
When I had progressed to the point of walking, assisted, in the hallway, two delightful young women from Physical Therapy arrived to give me a hand.
Since they both were about five feet tall, and I’m six foot six, I feared I would flatten them if I toppled over. As a testimony to their survival instincts, they agreed that a friend of mine, who’s nearly as big as me, could come along for the first few strolls. The wisdom of their decision soon became evident, for my legs had turned to over-cooked pasta.
Soon, the Respiratory Therapist taught me how to eat again (apple sauce was never so tasty). Then the doctor removed the tube keeping the gap in my throat open, and I was back to breathing like a normal human.
Home I went with instructions for my wife on the care and cleaning of my open wound. My windpipe (trachea) heals from the inside first, we were told, but the slice in my outer layers of tissue would take longer.
What was my takeaway from this experience?
A hospital is a place of practical necessity, and I thanked the doctors and staff for their skill. It’s what kept me alive, and returned me to this world.
My wife and I went back a month later with gifts for some of the 136 people who had helped me get well. I gave the doctor who performed the tracheotomy a Swedish filleting knife. I thought it was appropriate.
As caring as everyone was, I do not recommend spending time in a hospital unless it’s an absolute necessity.
But being unable to breath is as good a reason as any for a visit.