The Post Surgery Challenge

When I was in the hospital Tuesday for an emergency appendectomy, I found myself wishing over and over that I had thought to bring some wonderful brochures to pass out to everybody involved with my care. They’re called “What should I Say, what should I Do When I Meet a Blind Person?” Why? Because only one person out of about a dozen I encountered hadn’t the vaguest clue how to help me without insulting me. And I’m talking about people in the medical profession. They should know better. In the first place, it should have been noted on my chart that I was totally blind, so I wouldn’t have to explain a dozen times why I needed help in finding the restroom, in signing the forms, or learning where things were in my hospital room. Thus, the PCA assigned to me for my post operative care had no clue that I couldn’t see. We got off on the wrong foot, when she started talking to me in what I interpreted to be a cell phone voice, that is, with no connection to me, like she was making an announcement from the middle of the room. Using my name would have helped. I asked her if she was talking to me, and she answered in a rather snotty tone, “Well, yeah.” When I asked her to show me how to work the TV, she said, “Basically, you just turn it on.” She still didn’t get it that I couldn’t see. When she finally got it, it took the rest of the afternoon and the evening to convince her that I didn’t need her help in the bathroom. She kept trying to push me in and make me turn around and sit down, when all I wanted to do was shut the door, so I could take care of business in there, by myself. I finally got her to let me shut the door, only to discover that she was still in there with me. I had to explain that it was only my eyes that don’t work. I can go to the bathroom on my own. Then I tried to teach her the method of guiding a blind person by letting her hold onto your arm above the elbow. After the bathroom scene, I’m afraid I got a little short with her on the way back to my bed. She tried to steer me by pushing me ahead of her. I told her it makes no sense to put the blind person in front, especially when she’s pushing an IV pole with the other hand. I had even more problems with the overnight PCA, who repeatedly asked my roommate if she needed anything, offered to bring her snacks and coffee, and kept stopping in to check to see if she was all right. This was all fine, except that she totally ignored me. I’d wait til I was sure she was finished administering care to my roommate, and then I’d ask if I could have some help too. If it weren’t for the leg compressors they make you wear to keep blood clots from forming after surgery, and for the fact that I was connected to an IV pole, I would have just waited til the coast was clear and made my way across the room to the bathroom without help. I could have refilled my own water glass, if anybody had been smart enough to show me that they had provided a nifty water jug with a plastic straw attached. Of course, it was across the room, and it didn’t occur to anybody to put it within my reach. So, there I was, pitifully asking for help, when my roommate never had to ask. The night nurse, whose real name is Joe, was the only person who had any common sense and compassion. He actually offered me a cup of tea. I felt like jumping out of bed and throwing my arms around him. He was an absolute angel. He kept asking me if there was anything else he could do to make me more comfortable. Maybe he was making up for the rudeness of the PCA.

What I learned through this nightmare was that no one should ever have to go to the hospital without an advocate. Yes, it might be inconvenient and boring for the friend or relative, but you really need someone to speak up on your behalf when you’re not at the top of your game.

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Appendectomy part one

“911. What’s your emergency?

I’m very sick; I’m blind; I have nobody here to take me to the hospital; and I think it might be appendicitis.”

It was Monday night, and I considered not going to Toastmasters, because I had a bad stomach ache, which caused me to silently pant at times. I made it through the meeting, but as the night wore on, the pain increased, no matter what kind of medicine I tried. At 3:00 Tuesday morning, I made the call, and I wasn’t a bit embarrassed. I knew this would warrant an emergency run to the hospital. I think I was pretty convincing, because as they wheeled me into the ER, I was delicately throwing up into a plastic bag. So much for dramatic entrances. After signing endless forms, being poked 3 or 4 times for a blood draw and the IV, and a cat scan, and about 9 hours of waiting, I was finally in line for the OR. I had to wait my turn, because my situation was urgent, but not emergent, as the appendix had not ruptured, but it was really ugly and had to come out asap. I didn’t mind the wait though. As soon as they gave me an IV with medication for nausea and pain, I was in la la land, drifting in and out of sleep, but only for a few seconds at a time. As soon as I would notice that the hospital sounds were blurring together, and my chin was dropping, in would walk another person to merrily chirp that I had more forms to fill out and that it would be just another few hours to wait. I think I was asked the same questions 6 times that morning. “Are you allergic to any medications? Do you have any other conditions such as heart or lung? What is your date of birth? What medications do you take on a regular basis? Do you have someone here to help you?” Note, these are all important questions, and I get them. But why do they have to ask me the same questions at each level of getting closer to the operating room? Each time, the answers were entered into a computer. Don’t they know how to share? Could there be some unnecessary spending in this sector of the medical process? And, here’s one that puzzled me. Why would I be asked if I ever considered suicide, when I was there for an appendectomy? There must be some significance to this question, since I had to answer it twice. And both times, the answer was no. Was that the wrong answer?

I’ll spare you the details of the surgery, except to say that the administering of the anesthetic sure has changed since I had my C-Sections dumty-dum years ago. One minute, you’re chatting with the nurse, and the next second, it’s all over. Time is a funny thing, when you’re not there for part of it.

The post surgery experience was the most challenging to get through, particularly because of the lack of communication among hospital staff. Not only did they not share my date of birth and all that other stuff, but they also did not share the fact that I am blind. Now you’d think that that kind of information would be noted somewhere, at least on the page that says I’m not going to try to commit suicide. Part two of my journey through my hospital stay will be posted on Friday.