Hospital Thoughts

A Greco-Buddhist statue, one of the first repr...
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It’s been a nerve-wracking few days.

The sweetie needed some tests, and one of them involved a CAT scan with a dye injection. (Looks like he’s OK, thank heaven — only a kidney stone. I shouldn’t say only, as everyone who’s had one or knows someone who has says it is excruciating.)

I’m the one who’s usually lying on the gurney/MRI platform/X-ray table. We’ve been back and forth to our small local community hospital so many times in the past decade — thankfully, for nothing serious — we’re on a first-name basis with the doctor who works the overnight shift at the ER. On one of our last visits, he asked: “So, whose turn is it now?”

It was my turn, then, with a fever of almost 104 and a spot on my lung so dark and ominous he drew the curtain and said it might be lung cancer. The sweetie, a photographer by trade, asked to see the films, as he can read negatives with the skill of a radiologist, even if he doesn’t know what he’s looking at.

It turned out to be only pneumonia, but it still meant three days on an IV, sharing a room with a 95-year-old who startled awake at midnight, sat on the edge of my bed and tried to pull out her tubes. I coughed, as one does with that disease, so hard my body ached from exhaustion; I wrote an essay about it for The New York Times.

This time it was my turn to watch the phlebotomist wheel in her cart and overhear her explaining to him how his body would react to the contrast dye. I kept him company as long as I could. In our 11 years together, I’d never seen him lying flat inside a diagnostic machine, grateful for this and shocked at the sight.

I sat and waited, staring at the lavender wall trim and burgundy cupboards and a cheerful British print on the opposite wall, aware for the first time how soothing it all was and how much I needed it to be so.

My last ER visit was January 2009, the beginning of a five-month odyssey to figure out my painful/arthritic/inflamed left hip — I was in so much pain I could barely walk and I do remember admiring the handsome design of our shiny new ER.

When I’m scared, and I admit to not loving going anywhere near that hospital by now (three orthopedic surgeries since 2000, a hip replacement my next, and more than five times to the ER, for everything from a broken finger to a mild concussion the sweetie incurred in a biking mishap) I do not want to be soothed or distracted by television. Old copies of People don’t do it for me either.

The sweetie, a devout Buddhist, did a lot of deep breathing to stay calm.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time around hospitals, thanks to my mother’s various illnesses, which included a mastectomy and a brain tumor (both of which, 10 years apart) she survived. I’ve seen her in hospitals from London to Sechelt, BC, and have learned to make medical staff crazy when necessary with my direct questions and insistence on information.

We’re glad we have a good hospital nearby, deeply grateful for good health insurance and generally good health, and knowing we can get there within a 10-minute drive.

Wish we didn’t know it quite so well!

Why You Need Backup When Talking To Doctors

Rob looks like a doctor...
Image by juhansonin via Flickr

It’s been a fun year so far for me: X-rays, MRIs, steroids, a cane, even a walker. My left hip is a mess, and a surgeon wants me to replace it, now.

While I have been resisting, the bone has gotten damaged, so next month (right after vacation) I’ll start a drug to repair it, putting me on crutches for three months. No more softball this season.

There have been many days I feel overwhelmed by it all. I need backup.

The sweetie has — as anyone living with, and caring for, someone with chronic illness or injury knows — put up with a lot. I walk like a drunken sailor and awaken many nights at 3:00 a.m. with pain. So he decided to take my health into his hands and, while I’m a continent away on vacation visiting family and friends, called my doc, a man often ferocious and intimidating.

But my guy is, too when necessary; we have a meeting for all three of us in two weeks.

The sweetie wondered if he’d overstepped his bounds. I was surprised the doctor spoke to him, but I am relieved and grateful as hell that I now have backup, someone else in the room while the multi-syllabic words pour forth.

When you’re sick or injured and in pain and scared, it’s damn hard to hear clearly and remember everything. I got the news about the latest hip  issue while standing alone in the baggage claim area of Vancouver airport. I was shocked, overwhelmed, tried not to cry in public. (When I learned that my Mom [now fine] needed neurosurgery for a brain tumor, I was standing in an Ohio field with 3,000 shooters behind me in competition. Bad news shows up everywhere.)

This week, it was my turn — as my Mom’s only child, albeit living on the opposite side of North America and in another country — to advocate for her. We went to see her internist so I could find out what she’s doing for my Mom (or not.)

My Mom lives in Canada, and it’s a different game; doctors are busy and some tests and procedures harder to get or get quickly. You can’t push Canadian doctors as hard as Americans because there’s no profit motive driving them to behave better, or avoid a lawsuit.

It was an interesting meeting — it could not have lasted more than 15 minutes. It was tough to cover that much territory so quickly. It went as well as one could hope, but there’s much left to do and to follow up.

Have you acted as someone’s medical advocate? Or had one?

Did it help?