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.

Friendship and a 5K

This morning I woke up early and ran my fourth 5K! My friend Jen and I ran together. It was her first.

And I think it was my favorite one thus far.

Because neither of us cared about our time or being competitive.

We were just doing something to be healthy and to hang out together.

Plus, it’s sponsored by Guardian Angel Services, an organization both of us care about. We’re both in social work.

Jen and I have been friends since freshman year of high school– 1995. That’s 20 years! Holy cow.

The event was called Angels Against Abuse, and before we ran there was a speaker. She talked about how she found the strength to leave her ex-husband, the man who was “the father of my children.”  She repeated that last phrase emphatically– and I got it. Wouldn’t that be the primary arrow aimed at any woman trying to move on and escape an abusive relationship? Aren’t women always pressured to forgive all because they are expected to sacrifice not just her happiness, but her own well-being and safety in the name of keeping the family together? She said she knew if she didn’t leave, one day he would kill her. The most incisive moments for me was when she read excerpts of the love letters he would write her after the abuse. The promises, the begging, the hope he would spark that he really did want to treat her better. Her belief that *she* was the one who could heal him– he’d had a rough life.

She credited her counselor with helping her manufacture courage to start her own life with her children– safely. That counselor was her advocate at each court date, all the way until the divorce was finalized.

Afterward, they hugged. I was definitely tearing up.

And subsequently, the race stated.

There were times she needed to slow down and walk, and there were times that I did. And both of us are happy to comply and wait until the other was ready to run again. We’d talk a little.

And she was always positive, always fun!

It was equal. And both of us suggested running again to the other and encouraged each other to keep going.

We were also laughing because we got hit with not just substantial wind resistance, but rain!!

It was really coming at us! Luckily I had a hoodie from the event, but I was soaked. My toes were squishy in my shoes.

I joked that we were “hardcore” runners now! I I felt like such a bad ass.

Crossing the finish line was such an achievement!! I’ve never had to deal with so much weather in a run.

I did see my time at the end,  but didn’t make particular note of it.

Then we grabbed some refreshments and snacks, thanked each other for a great race,and went our separate ways.

Neither cared about how we ranked. We had achieved our goal!

And now it was time to go home and enjoy it.

In two weeks we have another 5K, in Chicago. Cannot wait!!

Sixty Compressions : Re-certified

At my new job, I’m going through training.

It includes CPR amongst several other relevant categories for my position. In several different scenarios where someone may lose breath or consciousness, or become wounded.

But this  training really struck me. I’ve done it several times, as a pre-school teacher and a social work staff. Years ago.

But this time, we really got into details.

We had to assemble our own practice mannequins, for one. I felt more competent, being so involved in the process.

I learned that the current standard for adults is 30 chest compressions, followed by two breaths–twice. So, sixty.

That you have to press down a full two inches, hard enough to make an impact. That you may crack a rib or hear otherwise unpleasant sounds– and that you just keep going until someone else arrives to relieve you, the person responds, the AED arrives, or EMT’s.

It’s a huge responsibility.

But I was proud to be taking it on.

This time I had to put together a mannequin head with a cardboard frame which connected to a plastic tube, and a soft plastic bag threaded through the tube to mimic lungs. I put a t-shirt over the frame to make it look more real.

I could feel the bag collapse and inflate. When I tipped the mannequin head back and blew air inside, I could see the “chest” rise. I could tilt back the chin.

The details.

I was intimidated to begin, but gained confidence as we continued the practice.

As I knelt next to my mannequin prop, and positioned my hands atop it, I felt the pressure on the bottom hand. Doing this correctly actually hurt me a little bit. I took off my mother’s ring (which I never do.) My watch and bracelet.

I noticed that just sitting on my knees and leaning over in order to do this, I was a little uncomfortable. It was a little harder to expel my own breath in that position, and I really had to exhale with gusto.

I used to be a casual smoker, and have since quit. I never bought my own pack– I’d just bum one occasionally. Now my lungs are fine.  I realized that if I was a current smoker, I would not be able to do the breathing part correctly. I would be winded myself.

It hit me then how imperative it is to be healthy not just for own health, but to serve others as well.

But my amateur lungs worked hard enough that that “chest” still rose with each breath.

I have the power to save a life. Wow.

We all counted aloud, quickly. We joked that it’s to the rhythm of “Stayin’ Alive!”

As for me, I just stuck with counting.

Then we each did our testing individually with the instructors. We all passed.

I was proud that I didn’t need any prompting to remember.

I was able to ensure the safety of the scene, ask for help, assign someone to call 9-1-1 and grab an AED, and complete my 60 compressions and two breaths quickly, on the first try.

I’m proud to have a job that entails this knowledge and trains me for it.

I’ve never had to use my training. But if needed, I now am aware how to respond:

“I know CPR. Can I help you?”

On Learning to Fall, and Get Back Up: Self-Defense, Week Six Wrap-Up

This is class is enforcing to me that while I can defend myself, my core identity has not changed.

I’m a non-violent person. Learning combat skills does not change that.

It would never occur to me to throw something or hit someone first in anger.

I’d rather use my brains than my fists. And I’m realizing it’s NOT because I’m small.

It’s because I’m smart.

What I’m learning in this class is that it doesn’t feel good to be hit, or to hit someone else. I don’t like it. So really, this class is about teaching me more skills to avoid needing to defend myself from violence.

I’m with Mr. Miyagi. Don’t fight unless it’s your last resort. Unless your life is threatened.
But this week, we worked more on learning how to fall safely.

In the first few weeks of class, I was afraid to fall. I was worried about my head or neck getting hurt.

But now we’re learning how to fall correctly- to PROTECT AGAINST injury.

How to tuck your chin and protect your neck from injury if pushed.

And how to get up right away.

And I pop right back up. I’m quick and agile.

Is there a more valuable life skill?

I don’t believe so.

Resilience is about knowing no matter who or what knocks you down, you will rise. You will try again.

You will keep going. You determine your own worth and hold YOURSELF up.

I’m becoming a calmer person. I’m laughing more. I’m expecting less of others.

Because I feel less fear, my energy is changing. I love it.

A Moment Too Real: A Woman Who Needed Help

Recently, I was outside enjoying a hot dog and a strawberry shake at a local ice cream joint.

It was beautiful outside– warm enough for shorts. I had planned to do some writing in my journal.

And then life broke into the narrative– something too real.

A woman ran up to me at my table in the parking lot, desperate. She was wearing large, dark sweats in the heat.

“CAN I USE YOUR PHONE? I JUST NEED TO CALL MY HOUSE, CAN I JUST MAKE A CALL?”

Her volume matched her fear.

Wary, I didn’t know what to do. I was worried she might be on drugs– was this just a ploy?

There were three teenage girls who had been chattering at the table next to me. They went silent and watched my reaction.

I looked at the woman with concern but wasn’t sure how to answer.

“Please,” she begged. ” I JUST GOT AWAY FROM MY HUSBAND. I need to make sure my SON is alright.”

She was such a mess, there was such pain on her face. I knew she was telling the truth.

“Let’s go inside and see if they’ll let you call,” I said. “I’ll go with you.”

She didn’t seem to believe me, but headed toward the doors anyway.

She was still very loud– I didn’t want her to scare the woman behind the counter. She started to rave again, but I made eye contact with the woman and asked calmly if she could use the phone. The cashier consented and brought the phone over to a side booth.

The woman climbed in the booth and dialed, gripping the phone. She was kneeling, facing the phone.

“He’s not answering,” she said. Tears. I saw the bruises on her face- slight, but still there.

I asked her if she wanted a ride to the police station– no.

Then I suggested another local place– she asked what it was.

“They have counselors,” I said. “They can help you decide what to do.” I told her the location– about five minutes drive.

She nodded and went with me to my car. I cleared my junk out of the front seat, turned off my music.

I asked her name, and introduced myself. I will call her Jane., to shield her identity.

As we drove, I told her, “I’m glad you got away.”

She was frozen in thought. As we neared our destination, she talked a little bit more– frantically.

We pulled up and I parked. We walked in and I buzzed the secretary.

I explained that Jane needed to speak to someone in Groundwork (the domestic violence program.)

The woman nodded and buzzed us in.

Luckily, there was a counselor available immediately.

Jane sat down and I got her a paper cup of cold water. She was so agitated she didn’t even touch it.

Minutes later, a counselor appeared and they left together.

I had no idea how long they would be gone, what I should do next.

Within 10 minutes, Jane re-emerged– thoughtful. She finally drank the water in one gulp.

We left together– I was scared. Did she need a ride home? Now what did I do?

On the steps outside she said that she just needed to take a walk for a little while.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “I’ll come back here but I need to think first.”

It was clear she wanted no further assistance from me– she wanted to handle this on her own. Proud.

“Thank you,” she said.

“You’ll be in my prayers, Jane,” I said. She walked away, deeply concentrating.

I went back to my car– and saw the big statue of the Blessed Mother adjacent to the building, over to the left.

Image

She was high up, watching from a ledge in a stone wall. How many broken women and families had prayed to her?

There was a wooden bench in front of it– I knelt and asked The Blessed Mother to protect Jane and her family. She’s been in my thoughts. I hope she is safe– that she will find the encouragement there through staff that is needed to protect her family.

I’m sharing this story because I hope that you will include this woman and her family in your prayers as well. God was watching out for us both. I’m glad that I was able to help, and that I knew where to take her. I

I wonder, how many people did she have to ask before me? How many people didn’t want to get involved?

That day I had been thinking about things that frustrated me– bills, things I need to clean up at home. And then God reminded me that my problems are very small compared to this woman.

All Jane wants is a safe place, the opportunity to save herself and her son. She is making one of the most important decisions of her life, no doubt. I can’t imagine how scared she must feel. NO one, woman or man, should have to deal with such questions.

But they do, every day.

Art vs. Writing : Guilt in 24 Hours

Reflecting on my foray into the art world 24 hours ago, a few things have hit me.

I will always be a writer first. How telling is it that after a few hours of practicing, I want to go home and blog about it?

I retract my statement that words are finite and images are abstract. I had it backwards.

Images are concrete, words give us much more freedom. They are both vital forms of art, and powerful in different ways.

Maybe what draws me to try art is that there’s a safety in being a beginner. It feels as if I can just enjoy it, since it’s impossible to attach the same performance standards I do with my writing. However, it’s also frustrating because being a beginner means that I don’t have good control over the tools I’m using yet, so they will need to be replaced faster. I don’t have the basic skills to convey the images in my mind. And I don’t think in images– I think in words and phrases. Also, to learn what I need will require quite an investment. I would need books to study, since I can’t afford any classes. The materials are costly and don’t last long.

Whereas I have most of the knowledge I need to write– and the materials are relatively cheap and last substantially longer.

It can take a lifetime to learn these art skills– and most never do. Let’s face it, any revered artist usually struggles with a lot of harsh self-criticism even when they are making a living off their craft.

Artists are never satisfied. That’s why they keep creating– to outdo themselves, or redeem.

I feel as if I cheated on Writing.

Did I leave it only for a moment to learn where my heart lies? Is art just a fling, or can it compliment my relationship with Writing?

I can’t ever imagine leaving Writing for art.

I will tell you the answer when I know.