My Hospital Stay: Top Five Takeaways
Yes, the last blog post I did was about my hospital phobia. Yes, there’s some irony in me actually ending up in the hospital so quickly after that. And once I realized that I was not actually going to die in the immediate future, I could even appreciate the irony. Fortunately, after the first couple of hours, I was uncomfortable but not in pain. And now that I’m safely at home and fully recovered, I want to share some takeaways.
The Five Worst Things that Happened and What I Learned:
Worst thing #5: Spending 8 hours sitting on a stretcher in the ER hallway waiting for a bed. Stretchers are not comfortable, and it’s just odd to have my doctor and a little crew of residents “examine me” in the hall.
What I learned: Sitting on a stretcher in the ER hallway sucked, but it was interesting and I got to see what the ER was like – at least in that particular 8 hour stretch. It was reassuring. Everyone was masked practically all the time. The staff were kind and helpful. I didn’t overhear anybody talking trash about patients. I had time (lots of time) to develop trust in the staff.
Worst thing #4: Losing my autonomy. I didn’t know what was going to happen, when it would happen, or what it would be like. Everything was on the hospital’s schedule. Honestly, I got real cranky about it.
What I learned: Not having control sucks. But really, it can’t be any other way. Once, someone took my vitals and said, in the kindest tones possible, “Thanks for letting me do that.” Ever a smart ass, I popped back, “Wait – what?? It was optional?” It took her a minute to laugh, but I was amused enough for both of us.. And you know, if I were in control – well, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on TV. It probably wouldn’t work out that well. Plus, there’s a nurse shortage, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and everyone was doing the best they could. It became a great opportunity to practice finding my zen. The magic of “MyChart” helped too. I could log on to the site and see my test results, what doctor visits to expect, and even the tests that were scheduled. I got to feel some semblance of self-determination
Worst Thing #3: Not being able to eat anything for a day and a half. I got hungry. I think they might have shorted me on the IV fluids a bit. I mean, maybe not. But I got hungry. And more cranky. When I heard myself whine, “But the doctor saaaaid he was leaving orders for liquids…” I was a bit appalled to realize I sounded just like my grandkids. Or, um, some privileged white woman who’s used to having things her own way. Damn. That’s not my favorite self-image.
What I learned: Every time I thought, “Omg, I’m starving!” the grandmother in me would respond, “How many days can a person live without food?” My daughter learned this valuable fact from some video when she was about 6, and quoted it often as a child. So we both laugh when I say this to my grandkids, and they groan as they say, “21 days,” and I often add, “So you are not actually going to starve, are you?” But I had to laugh at myself every time I thought, “How many days does it take…?” I wanted to groan too. Definitely more opportunity for zen.
Worst Thing #2: Eating the yellow jello. I don’t even like jello, I just ate it because I was excited about food. Then I was taken to an imaging thing where they asked me what I’d eaten – and just because of the stupid yellow jello, (which I don’t even like) they had to postpone the test for a few hours. I fumed. Why was the frigging jello even on my tray?!! I was so outraged and indignant. Now, understand that I have really good self-control. So me being super angry inside might look like annoyance from the outside. But in my mind, I was like the Red Queen in Alice and Wonderland. I wanted to yell, “Off with their heads!”
What I learned: The radiologist and imaging techs apologized profusely, although it wasn’t their fault. I reminded myself that they didn’t make up the rule, and whoever put the jello on my tray didn’t know it would be a problem. I thought, “It would have been better if this hadn’t happened, but it’s probably not the end of the world if I have to wait.” And I sighed. But you see it again, right? That belief that I shouldn’t be inconvenienced. That I should be comfortable and things should go the way I want them to. It was another great opportunity to find my zen. Although. I’ll probably never eat the stupid jello again.
Worst Thing #1 Walking out of my hospital room post discharge, with my daughter, Julia, having decided not to wait for the wheelchair, we passed a small group of residents who began to exclaim, “You’re bleeding! You’re bleeding! Go back to your room!!” I suddenly realized that my IV site was bleeding profusely, and I was leaving a trail of blood in my wake.
What I learned: Julia and I went back to my room and grabbed a towel to soak up the blood. We waited, thinking the doctors were going to send someone to us. But no. We just sat there, in the room that was no longer really mine, while I hoped I didn’t bleed out. Finally, we realized this was not helpful and pushed the call button. Julia said, “Ok, so the doctors don’t really care if you’re bleeding, as long as you do it in your room.” Right? And we both started giggling. The nurse who responded was a tall Black man who said, “What? What happened here?” to which Julia said, “I know, we’re just up here causing a disturbance in your hospital, making a big mess!” and we all cracked up. Turns out that the shot they gave me a couple of hours earlier (in my stomach!) was a blood thinner. So when they removed the IV… yeah. Lots of blood. Cleaned up and with a new, thicker pad of gauze taped on my arm, I waited for the wheelchair this time. (So THIS is why they want to wheel you out.) But Julia and I are still laughing about the gaggle of doctors in the hallway. “Go back to your room,” may be a new forever catch phrase in the family.
This might have been a different story if I’d been in pain, groggy on pain pills, or in there longer than a day and a half. My context is “already super lucky.” Even so, feeling cranky and demanding and angry wasn’t wrong, of course I felt that way. I was just being human, like every one else. It did put a big hole in my delusion of being this totally laid-back, calm and collected person. And that’s ok.
My mother used to say, “We spend the first two years of our life learning that the world revolves around us, and the rest of our lives learning that it doesn’t.” I’m glad I’ve had years of practice at that, or I might actually have been stomping my feet and screaming “Off with their Heads!!” It sure helped me understand how easy it is to get caught up in feeling rage about being cheated, deprived, neglected and overlooked. Even when that’s not actually what’s happening.
Knowing how easy it is to be enraged, my anxiety starts rising. What does this mean for our country? Omg, all those white nationalists out there… this is awful… how can things ever get better?
Then I remember. THIS is why I want everyone to learn mindfulness and emotion regulation, to learn that our thoughts aren’t necessarily facts, and that all feelings are valid but we don’t have to act on them. I don’t have to fix the world, but I need to tend to my own corner of it – starting with myself!