Friday, July 30, 2010

Recovery Ward

In the hospital, time quickly lost all meaning. I had a clock and a window to mark the passing of hours and days, but hospitals run around the clock.

Sleep was only possible in short, sporadic increments, because something was always going on. Thanks to my passing-out episode, the doctors decided to conduct numerous tests to eliminate the possibility that I had suffered a stroke, heart attack or embolism. This meant that someone came in frequently to take my blood pressure, pulse and temperature, and I had to give blood samples daily. Before long, I had track marks all over both arms.

However, the nurse presented me with the World’s Third-Greatest Invention. First is fire. Second is the wheel. Third is the bedside urinal. There was a bathroom in my room, but it might as well have been in orbit around Saturn. I never saw the inside of it.

Once the nurse removed my catheter, I was given instructions to drink water as often as I could. I quickly became adept at using the urinal, except for the times that I was strapped in to the mechanical leg benders. Then it was like trying to shoot a target from a moving horse.

Every couple of hours, a nurse would come in and pick up the urinal. She’d swish it around and hold it up to the light to check the color, clarity and quantity like a sommelier, and then she’d empty it for me. I kept thinking how funny it would be if she were to say something like, “Hmm. You had fun in college, didn’t you?”

I have to say that the nurses were all smart, cheerful, and professional, and they’d materialize within seconds to attend to my every need when I pressed the Call button. Whenever the shift changed, the duty nurse would come in with his or her replacement and introduce them, which was nice touch.

Meals were delivered to my bed, and they were all of uniform quality. Not good, not bad, but you wouldn’t want to have to eat it every day. Fortunately, I didn’t have much of an appetite.

My only genuine criticism of hospital operations was that physical therapy was kind of basic and haphazard. I was strapped in to the mechanical leg benders every day for six hours at a stretch, which is just too long. Also, once every day (never at the same time of day), two physical therapists would hoist me onto the walker for a short, excruciating shuffle. The biggest problem was that no attempt was made to coordinate the strenuous activities with doses of pain medication. Sometimes I was properly medicated; other times I was not.

I was in the hospital for five days. By the fifth day, I could walk with assistance up and down the hospital corridor on the walker, which seemed like astonishing progress. I was eager to begin a genuine physical therapy program, so we discussed the two options with the hospital social worker. One option was Home Health Care, where a nurse and a physical therapist provide services to the patient at home. The other option was Inpatient Rehab, where the patient is given a bed, meals and other services in addition to nursing and physical therapy. We chose Inpatient Rehab, because at that point, caring for me would be a huge effort for my wife, especially if it involved moving me.

We chose wrong, as you’ll see in my next post.

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