Care, Competency and Consent: What Four Nights in the Hospital Taught Me

Thursday night I was admitted to the hospital and this morning I awoke in my own bed.

It’s been a long time since I was in the hospital that long. I had a lot of feelings about it. At first I felt anxiety and boredom, along with mild annoyance. I had stuff to do. The bed had no back support and was intermittently moving around thanks to new technology to prevent bed sores. After two days I felt like a “sick person,” and didn’t like it.

But on a deep level, I felt secure. I had done my research and chosen doctors affiliated with this hospital after seeking recommendations from local family members. I had established relationships with these doctors and my relevant specialists came to see me. This hospital was close to home, part of a large network, but a smaller branch. It had an excellent reputation and my aunt had recommended it. I knew that I was safe there. And that helped me to relax.

A major reason why I preferred this hospital was rooted in something practical: all the phlebotomists and nurses were competent and respectful about getting lab work done. They found a vein quickly and often without pain. They didn’t argue when I told them to use my hands, not my arm. Staff at other hospitals I had visited for lab work and tests struggled, needed multiple sticks and often had to change staff to someone more skilled. When an IV was needed and I consented to them using my arm for a bigger needle, it was difficult for them. The staff that this hospital were all excellent with such a delicate but ordinary routine– and to me that’s vital.

When you’re hospitalized, it’s easy to let your fear and pain, if you’re afflicted with it, consume you.  Luckily this time I had no pain. Discomfort, yes. But not pain. Regardless it’s to easy to detach from the immediacy of your care and let others take the reigns– if they are competent and you trust them. If you’re able to think on that level, which many are not because they are too sick. My Dad has been there at every hospital stay, and most of my doctor visits. And that was needed, because he was the calming presence who reassured me to trust my doctors and that it was important to make decisions and get things fixed rather than avoid them. He was there to squeeze my hand when I needed blood work or IV’s that caused me to breathe deep because my veins are collapsed and scarred in many places. He helped me pay. In the past I would look to him to help me understand the most important information and usually go with his advice.

But I was younger then. So was my Dad.  Now he’s 76 and I’m 38. He falls asleep in his chair more often. He doesn’t chat as much. I don’t need to ask him as much and we share companionable silences. I have done a lot without his help and done it successfully. Without realizing it, I did absorb his analytical nature and ability to cut through the bullshit and find out what needs answering by the doctors and hospital staff. I taught myself to have a list of questions ready along with suggestions. I have spent much of my life in a hospital setting and handle it better than most. I realized it was up to me to help myself heal and actively participate in my care and recovery.

And I realized something  wonderful: I am a competent woman even when I feel uncertain and stressed. My Dad visited me every day, but was only present once when my doctors were visiting me. That first night. He stayed till 12:30 a.m., making sure there was a plan and I was safe.

So I asked all the important questions to learn about my diagnosis and options. I called and texted my friends and relatives to learn if anyone in our family had my symptoms. I asked my friends if they had ever dealt with something similar. I Googled away to educate myself as best I could. I questioned the nurses about updates and the next step in my treatment.

And I became a strong advocate on my own behalf. I realized at one point I no longer needed input from anyone else, even the doctors. I had made decisions. Obviously every doctor is prepared to make the ultimate decision when necessary and to negotiate aggressively for treatments families may want to avoid because of risk, price, or an inability to accept their loved one is sick enough to warrant that level of intervention. But it’s up to us as patients to make sure we understand what’s happening and draw the boundaries about what is an option and what is a hard “no.” We need to know our bodies and what we feel and not hold back when something makes us uncomfortable.

They had goals for my treatment plan and release and they met those goals in the predicted timeframe. They were patient enough to advocate for the least-invasive course of action, rather than the quickest solution. They decided to use meds rather than surgery and wait it out an extra couple of days to let me heal, and that was reassuring to me. They explained why I wasn’t a good candidate for that surgery and that it was an option but more likely a short-term fix that would bear addressing again in the future. I agreed with them and we proceeded with success. But the whole way through, they cared about my safety and consent.

At 4 a.m. when I was being woken up for blood work, they were kind and did not rush me. Every time, I was asked if it was okay. Most times they knew to use my hand, so a note must have been in my chart. I woke up just enough to move my arm for their access and then luckily fell back asleep instantly.

Once my symptoms were gone for a satisfactory amount of time and my lab work had returned to healthy stable levels for more than 8 hours, I was released quickly. They didn’t drag the paperwork out. I felt exuberant and 200 percent better.

I was grateful. During those four nights I had no responsibility other than seeing to my immediate needs: going to the bathroom, ordering my meals from food service and eating them, and answering questions about what was bothering me and what was working. I asked for a fresh hospital gown, to have a nurse wrap my IV so I could shower, to have another glass of water or more blankets. I brushed my teeth and washed my hair. Otherwise I received the IVs ordered and relaxed. I took my meds when they were brought to me on a schedule. I was able to text and call my family and friends, and receive visitors.

I slept when I needed and watched TV when I wanted. I got to catch up on some re-runs of the original “Roseanne,” which delighted me. I watched the Grammys Sunday night and squealed about each gown and musical performance.

Now I am healthier and comfortable with renewed energy.

I had been telling one of the nurses who I interacted with the most about Lady Gaga’s Grammy win for “Shallow” from her soundtrack contributions to “A Star is Born.” I told him that he NEEDED to watch this song and that it would *CLEAN UP at the Oscars. He hadn’t seen the movie yet but agreed she and Bradley Cooper have insane chemistry and they should just get together already! As he was wheeling me out to exit, my Dad went to get the car. I had declined a wheelchair but it’s just a service they provide to help your transition and show you that last bit of care as you leave. So I allowed myself to accept it.

My nurse surprised me by finding “Shallow,” on his phone and playing it close to my ear. He didn’t tell me, he just let me notice it, which is interesting because my left ear is my deaf ear and it’s a surprise I didn’t miss it.

“Tell me something, girl….” The song was close enough that I heard it.

“Are you happy in this modern world?”

It was so unexpected and considerate. It even seemed a bit romantic. I just enjoyed the moment– that my favorite song for more than six months was being played for me by someone. A stranger, really.  A female trainee nurse was there also so I didn’t comment or flirt, but if I hadn’t already been sitting down I might have swooned or asked him to dance with me.

Maybe that moment was a little gesture from God, reminding me that he’s paying attention to this girl. To keep believing and that the Next Good Thing in my life will be happening soon.

Regardless, not a bad last moment to remember in that hospital. I may be single this Valentine’s Day, but I’ll remember that song and that bearded male nurse and smile on February 14.

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A Soul on Fire! Singing, Sushi and Running

This was a great week for me– I gotta tell you!

Yesterday morning on the way to work I was listening to Christian radio and heard the perfect song– “Soul on Fire,” by Third Day. Even better, the lyrics talk about RUNNING!

I felt like God was telling me, “Keep it up, kiddo!” That’s the song I’ll be thinking of as I run.

It was a bit chilly tonight but I put on a stocking cap and a hoodie and I was good to go.

I took two days off running this week, Thursday and Saturday, to give my feet a break. Eleise and I kept to our schedule of three runs, and tonight I did .96 by myself without stopping! I checked my phone at the end of the block and then kept going till I hit 1 mile! And then I walked a bit, and ran to finish my goal of 1.75 miles– I made it 1.81 by the time I got home.

I’m getting mindful of what I’m eating, as well. I had a good lunch with my Dad today after Mass, and later tonight I passed on cheesecake and coffee.

Wednesday night was our choir’s last rehearsal of the summer! I had such a good time and will miss them for the next few months! Our choir director, David, ran threw several songs so that I could get up to speed and they could review. Rehearsals are laid-back and equal parts fun and music education.

The best part of our rehearsals is always at the end, when we stand in a circle, hold hands, and pray for whomever we feel called to with our intentions, be it out loud or just in our hearts. I specifically asked if we could get all of us together after Mass today and take a few quick pictures of us looking all spiffy in our choir robes! This is also the last week we’re wearing them– they’ll be taken to get cleaned and we’ll resume them when it cools off. Although I’ll miss the pride of wearing one, I do admit it’ll be a nice reprieve in the coming heat!

The whole choir (those I’ve met, some are currently not singing right now) wasn’t quite there today, but we got most of the group who have regularly been at rehearsals since I joined. I asked a tall gentleman to take pictures of us and he did! He was kind enough to take several, and I found two I really liked. We are diverse, happy, and coming together to share our joy in the Lord! I was so proud to post it today on Facebook.

And as for the sushi, I declared last night Date Night for myself and my book and went out for sushi! Why not? I got a lot done this week! I wanted to celebrate. I put on a cute outfit, a bit of perfume, and brought a book with me. Between the meal and the words, I had a great time.

Today is just one of those days that I feel grateful, motivated, and healthy.

I’m ready for June!!

Cinderella’s New Shoes

Today I felt like Cinderella.

But it was better than going to a ball in some fragile glass slippers.

And way better than trying to impress some prince.

Today, I bought my own magic shoes. No time limit!

I decided to invest in a new pair of running shoes, buying from an excellent store specializing in just that.

The store staff asked me to walk, and he watched my feet. Then he analyzed the way I walk and said he’d return with shoes meeting my needs and we’d proceed by process of elimination.

My feet were also measured–it’d been so long since I did that!

He must have returned with 10 different boxes.

I tried them all, and then asked to see Adidas. I assumed I’d leave with my go-to brand.

But in the end, I chose Nike.

I love the way they fit–plenty of room in the toe box, still snug in the heel. Great arch inside.

And they LOOK wicked! Plus, I was happily surprised how affordable they were. Less than I expected to pay.

I got a couple of other things to make my runs easier– a little stretchy belt pouch for my keys/phone. A book about getting started for beginners.

As I was ringing up, the cashier smiled and said, “You’ll be successful.” Why don’t ALL cashiers just close sales that way?? Positive reinforcement like that would work on me every time.

Hell, maybe I’LL start using that at work. I’m in sales.

But the best part was when I got home and laced ’em up for the first time.

I just meant to go on a quick run, but it ended up being a long walk.

I started in my neighborhood and kept going.

I ended up walking 4.1 miles– double what I’d run at one stretch this week.

I tried to download the Nike Running app my running partner is using, but apparently my IOS is outdated. So I estimated by plugging in the address with Google maps instead. Not a bad improvisation!

So I didn’t run, but I did break those shoes in.

And while I was walking, I didn’t feel worried about anything.

I just felt free. Hopeful.

Grateful.

This is the beginning of something new and good in my life, I can feel it.

It’s not about finding a prince, or a fairy godmother.

It’s about learning to run in my own– safe, durable– shoes.

It’s about writing my own ending and pushing myself to grow.

“The Year of Faith” Ends, but Mine Continues

I caught a late Mass tonight.

I’m lucky to live in a very Catholic town, where I can choose which time to go.

And I’m lucky that right now, I have the luxury of going to Mass. For many years, I didn’t– I always ended up having to work. And I have to say, I think missing it did effect me. It’s been a gift to have Sundays off for the last several months, so that I could go.

I think that’s helped me to grow in faith more than anything. I understand why it’s a day of “rest.”

My faith has been tested a lot this year, and I’ve doubted more than ever. But doubt is a normal part of your faith journey, as are moments of despair. Those are called “dark nights of the soul,” and hopefully they bring us closer to God if we turn to prayer.

By admitting that other traditions are valid, I’m not invalidating Catholicism. I’m merely acknowledging that there is more than one path for us to walk in the light.

As a Christian friend of mine once said, “God doesn’t mind which house you visit him in.”

I’ve personally visited him in several houses– attending services in different denominations.

But the one that always brings me the most peace is a Catholic Mass.

Tonight, there were two families seated behind me. One was a mother with three young children, and behind her, a father with two kids? I think two. I could hear the littlest girl, maybe about 3, chattering away and playing with books. It reminded me of myself– I used to be very hyper in Mass. My parents had a challenge! But her mother was patient with her– never scolding. At one point I glanced behind and she was holding the girl in her arms, upside down, nuzzling her face. The girl was laughing with joy. And I was glad for her, glad that she has a mother that embraces her spirit rather than tries to quiet her down out of embarrassment. During peace, I shook hands with most of them. A blonde girl with her father in the second pew behind me had on a bracelet that said, “Trust.”

I had a wonderful feeling of peace, of joy.

I don’t know if the decisions I make are “right,” or not. But all I can do is make them in good faith, pray for strength, and keep walking.

Trust. The foundation for everything we need, and every hopeful interaction and decision.

This year I’ve let God into my heart in a way I never dared previously– and I’ve learned more than I ever have previously. I’ve learned to let go, to forgive, to humble myself, and to love myself and others unconditionally. To ask for, and accept, help. To give it, without being asked.

I’ve still got a long way to go.

But I’m grateful to have this chance, and even the challenges.

I’m grateful for this blog. I’m grateful for my family.

To those who have been devoted, and tho those who support me and give space when needed.

I’m grateful for self-awareness.

I’m just grateful, every day.

And that, I think, is the true gift of faith.