Sunday, December 18, 2011

Oh, the Sights, the Sounds, the Smells...

Here I go again--relaying tales of being an impatient in patient. 

In addition to my initial observations, captured here, I offer now the feast of the senses that a hospital stay can bring to you.

The first thing that really strikes me is the SOUNDS.  There are dings, buzzes, beeps, muffled voices, loud voices, confused voices, footfalls, cart wheels, squeaks--too many sounds to be able to convey them in silent print.  We do live in an increasingly noisy world, but a hospital adds new dimensions to the world of noise.  Most of us are accustomed to hearing cell phones.  At least when it's your cell phone, you know how to identify the sound.  In the hospital, the sounds are simply baffling.  Is that beep coming from me?  And should I do something about it.  Most of the sounds trigger a staff reaction--understandably.   We patients are tethered and monitored and an errant sound might mean we are making a concerted break for it.

Next come the sights.  While a hospital is generally a sterile environment--not in the bacterial sense, but in the artistic sense--there is plenty to see in a hospital.  There are, of course, the ubiquitous fluorescent lights.  They are on everywhere...all...the...time.  Day and night.  My bed was closer to the door, so at night, the hall light came pouring in.  I drew the privacy curtain (huh! is that ever mis-named) not so much for privacy but for a bit of light dimming.  At home, I need a dark dark dark room to sleep happily.  There are many other sights--some potentially embarrassing.  Hospital gowns are not made for modesty.  The opening in the back can fly open at the slightest provocation.  Don't even try to keep your clothing on...any care requires some skin exposure.  So, you just learn to bare what you must.

And then there's all that measuring.  Your height, your weight, blood pressure, heart rate,  lung clarity, oxygen level, water intake, urine output.  Oh, yes, you get measured.  The urine part was...interesting.  You place a small plastic contraption inside the toilet seat, and when you have finished, you either put the plastic container on YOUR shelf, or you read and record the amount.  I asked to do the latter--even converting the ounces to milliliters (why oh why didn't the U.S. convert to metric?).  Several times, I went to the bathroom only to find my roommate's container still inside the toilet seat.  

Now we come to taste--which would be food.  Only, don't count on much.  I had checked into the hospital late morning, and--when asked--told staff I didn't need lunch.  BIG MISTAKE.  Supper did not arrive until much later than I expected it.  And by then, my decision to abstain from lunch was working against me.  When supper did arrive, it was a  box lunch.  With a bologna sandwich.  On white bread.  I thought--you have to be kidding.  On a cardiac unit, a high salt, low fiber sandwich.   Oh, yes, along with  applesauce and a pack of Lorna Doone shortbread cookies.  While the remainder of meals improved a tad, I was still mostly hungry.  My roommate even remarked that she had been in another nearby hospital recently, and the food there was much better.  

One more post to go on the fascinating world of hospital care.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hospitals--Not for the Faint Hearted

So, I just returned home last evening from spending three days in the hospital.  Never fear, it was an entirely planned hospital stay--in fact, wedged in between a trip to San Diego to visit our son and daughter-in-law and another upcoming trip to see our daughter and son-in-law.

I am a Type A personality (if such labels still exist).  Patience is NOT one of my virtues, and anything annoying....well, it annoys me.  So, when the doctor announced that my recalcitrant blood pressure, that just would not come down, despite adding new medicines, needed yet another new medicine, he also announced--and you're not going to like this.  What? I asked innocently.  Well, you need to have it administered in the hospital.  All for to monitor my heart rate.  I mentioned a while back that I was rebooted and regained my sinus rhythm.  Premature announcement, as it turned out--even though it was true at the time.  Because, dear readers, I lost my rhythm.  Humph.

New med is designed to bring down BP and to help a heartbeat stay regular.  But, every now and then, it actually causes the heartbeat to go all wonky.  Hence, the need to wear a 24 hour monitor for several days. 

Hang in there with me: I am just getting to the good part.

Hospitals, I have decided, are not places for the faint hearted, especially not if one is NOT really sick.  For three days, I felt a bit as if I had wandered into the set of making of the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Herewith some random observations.

  • Check your modesty and need for privacy at the registration desk.  You will not need it.  You get poked, prodded, pummeled...well, maybe pummeled is a bit of exaggeration.  You have your "vitals" checked endlessly.  Even all through the night.  I would be in a sound sleep, only to hear a chirpy voice saying "Just checking your vitals" as I felt an ear probe measure temp, blood pressure, pulse.  Thank goodness that's where the vitals check stopped.  And privacy?  Nope--with a roommate (which I had) there were family visitors coming in at all times, along with a seemingly endless parade of hospital staff: RNs, nurses' aids, housekeeping, food services, social workers, the occasional chaplain, and -- is it?  It just might be a DOCTOR!  Woo hoo. 
  • Forget efficiency and speed.  Things move at a glacial pace (pre-global warming) in the hospital.  I arrived, as ordered, late morning on Monday.  Not until three, almost four hours later was my medication regimen begun.  And, since it necessitated 48 plus hours of continuous cardiac monitoring, that time made a difference.  It was not until the second day of being in the hospital that someone from the cardiac practice came to see me, and then only because my husband called a number the practice had given us.  When the doctor did arrive, he pointed out to me that "this is a hospital and there are emergencies that we have to deal with; people arriving in the emergency department, with heart attacks, etc."  I meekly accepted it, thinking all the while--that my husband's call was the proverbial squeak that garnered the dollop of grease the doctor's visit represented.
  • If you are interested in a retreat-like pace, slow deliberative moving toward an unknown goal, then the hospital is the place for you...except it's not a silent retreat.  More on that in the next post. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

No Country for Old Men

I have just finished reading Peter Godwin's compelling memoir When A Crocodile Eats the Sun.  Part personal recollection, part political commentary, the book chronicles his father's dying and death.  Along the way, Godwin learns some family secrets and helps reconnect his father to his past.  But, what I found particularly compelling is Godwin's account of the nearly current state of affairs in Zimbabwe, the book's account ending in 2004.

As you no doubt know, I spent some of my growing up years in this country--then called Rhodesia.  I have a very fond memory of a childhood that was not usual by American standards.  When I read Godwin's account, I could travel back in memory to some of the kinds of things he is describing.

As I read along, I found myself cringing more and more, almost to the point of physical revulsion.  How in the name of all things sane can a tyrant such as Mugabe remain in power.  It is tempting, from a distance, to wonder at the inadvertent complicity of the populace in allowing him to remain in power.  Reading Godwin's account disabused me of any such thought.

In detail, he recounts the thoroughly calculating move on Mugabe's part to institute the land reallocation "plan."  So, a country which had been the breadbasket of the continent became a virtual wasteland, unable to grow enough food to feed its own citizens.  So-called war vets (from Zimbabwe's civil war in the 1980s) were rewarded with seized farms which second- and third- (or more) generation white families had successfully farmed.  The fact that many of the war vets were only in their 20s (in the year 2000), thus making them NOT war vets, did not alter Mugabe's cynical plan.  And why did he push the land reallocation?  Because he lost the election, and needed something to divert the populace so he could retain power.

Not only has Zimbabwe's productivity dropped agriculturally, but the life expectancy has also dropped from one of the highest in Africa to one of the the world.  From a life expectancy of mid-60s some 50 years ago, Zimbabwean men now live an average of 37 years, and women 33 years.  Meanwhile, Mugabe will celebrate his 88th  birthday in February, 2012.  As Godwin notes, Mugabe is now on his third lifespan while his country men and women die after barely living a lifespan.

AIDS is part of the reason for this precipitous drop, but so is targeted denial of food supplies.  Mugabe channels food to his supporters and denies his enemies.    It is not too big a stretch to aver that "Zimbabwe is dying" as Bob Herbert wrote in a New York Times editorial in 2009.

I keep thinking about the marvelous William Butler Yeats' poem "Sailing to Byzantium."  This poem has been the inspiration for many interpretations, and has provided book and movie titles--just read through and spot them.

I have a new interpretation.  Zimbabwe is no country for old men.  And if ever there were an aged man--a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick--it is the second president of this country.  And the closing of the poem speaks to that great unknown unknowable--"what is past, or passing, or to come."

No one knows what is to come in Zimbabwe.  My hope and prayer is that this, too, shall pass--and a lovely country will somehow be revived to a state wherein all citizens are valued, where life is cherished and where all old men and women can thrive.

Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.