Patry wrote a provocative post about her recent hospital stay today. As usual, I read through it with admiration for her compassionate outlook on life and people, and the clear and focused way in which she tells a story. And, as usual, she got me thinking. The nurse’s aide who treated her so poorly probably had been abusing patients for years. Patry didn’t complain, feeling too much compassion for the aide’s weary face and look of despair. What would I have done? Probably the same thing Patry did, I suppose, although perhaps not out of the kind of deep love that is Patry’s hallmark . More likely because I’d have blamed myself. If she’s treating me badly, I probably did something. That’s my line of thinking, usually.
I remembered back to my own experiences with health care:
A scheduled ultrasound for a baby that died in the womb. I had a rare form of mishaped uterus. I’ll never forget the technician’s smile of delight as she saw me: “Oh, YOU’RE the bicornuate uterus,” she exclaimed. “We’ve never had a real one of those before.” Excuse me? I am not my uterus. And my baby is dead.
My daughter’s birth, induced because of high blood pressure and protein in the urine. That night, I started to lose the 40+ pounds of water I had gained over the course of the pregnancy. I woke needing to pee. I felt as though I’d drunk three gallons of water, and I needed it out NOW! I hit the call button. And hit it. And hit it. Because I was still attached to an IV that was plugged into the wall, I couldn’t get to the bathroom. It took 30 minutes or so for a response. By the time the nurse arrived, tears of pain were pouring down my face. I was rocking on the bed, literally seconds away from peeing right then and there. (I didn’t make it to the toilet).
My best friend had a mastectomy for breast cancer, and was then placed in a bed on the maternity ward with a roommate who was breastfeeding her newborn. What kind of cruelty is that?
On the night of my second mastectomy, I was put in a room with an old woman who was dying. She spent the whole night crying “Help me. Heeeeeeeeeeelp meeeeeeeee!” I hit the call button, repeatedly. The nurse ignored it. Finally I got up and went out to the nurse’s station. (I had an IV, but it wasn’t plugged into the wall — unlike the one from my daughter’s birth). She was sitting down, chatting to the other nurses, and totally ignored me. When I finally got her attention and told her about the old woman, she said, “Well, she’s dying. There’s nothing we can do for her.”
Because of various terrible experience with hospitals, my sisters and I refused to leave my mother alone in her hospital room while she was undergoing her various cancer surgeries and treatment. Thank goodness. One night I woke to an odd sound, a kind of gasping and gurgling coming from my mother’s bed. She was choking. She was unable to sit up, because she’d just had a full hysterectomy and in the process the doctors had punctured her bladder, causing a full-scale medical emergency and leading eventually to a staph infection. Because I heard her choking, I was able to get her up, and hit her on the back till the fluid in her lungs moved around and she was able to breathe again. If I hadn’t, would she have suffocated there on the bed? She told me she was blacking out because she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t get up, and she couldn’t hit the call button. If she had, would the nurse have come anyway?
I’ve had good experiences in hospitals. I’ve had loving, compassionate nurses and doctors. But the bad experiences are endemic enough that if a friend or relative of mine is ever hospitalized again, I’ll do everything I can to be physically present in the room, even if it means spending the night on a slippery, uncomfortable foldout chair.