I haven’t been a hospital patient since I was in grade school. I remember the nurses dressed in white uniforms with pillbox hats looking like Jackie Kennedy’s bridesmaids. They were visions of purity, supplying drugs and sponge baths. Immaculate angels in white— the appropriate color to wear when blood and body fluids are only a squirt away.
IV Bottles, syringes and thermometers were made of glass. When the Good Humor person of medicine came bearing a cylinder filled with toxic mercury, you had to make sure you didn’t bite down. Also, pray they didn’t tell you to roll on your side. “No sneaking in the back door. That’s a no glass insertion zone, Nurse Ratched!”
Surgical procedures, medical technology and patient care has progressed far from what I remembered as a six-year-old. Hospital stays are as brief as possible. They throw you out of bed hours after surgery. When I had my appendix taking out, I was in-patient until my stitches could be removed. I was there so long I had my address changed. Surgeons now sew you up internally where the stitches dissolve and super glue the incision. It’s the McDonald’s of surgery— over one billion stitched.
Faced with Triple Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery (CABG = pronounced cabbage), I was prepared for a medical sleepover. Being admitted to the hospital is like going to prison. You’re tagged, your belongings get shoved into a plastic bag, and you’re given a uniform– a standard hospital gown. The lovely garment, designed by Florence Nightingale in 1862.
Utilitarian at best, this plain frock provides a minimal level of privacy. Whether you’re having a tonsillectomy or an appendectomy, everyone will see your ass. The open back design makes you a flasher when you saunter down the hallway. If I asked nicely, they gave me a second gown to put on backwards to cover the rear. Does this make sense?
I was a super hero with a cape. “Captain CABG, faster than a sloth on Ambien, able to walk from his room to the nurse’s station in 30 minutes!” Watch out world, I’m a coronary marvel.
They can perform robotic and microscopic surgeries, yet no one has come up with a better hospital gown. Has anyone working in medical couture heard of Velcro? Just a couple of well-placed pieces and the gown will stay closed. Also, update the fabrics and colors. Nightingale’s drape patterns weren’t attractive in the 1800’s.
Preop was a breeze. A couple questions from a nurse, an IV line started and a quick visit from the anesthesiologist. Then fun with my easy access gown. They had to manscape my chest for surgery. Pull on the snaps, whip it open and get out the razor. Why should I be concerned with modesty? In an hour they’ll be opening my chest. I think that qualifies as a full frontal.
I’ve never been into recreational drugs, but I fully support a morphine drip. As a chaser to surgery, that’s the way to go. When I woke up, I had more lines and tubes coming out of me than a power station. The surgeon could have been holding my heart in his hand and I wouldn’t have cared. I was floating between reality and a marshmallow cloud. Later, I found out the cloud was the air mattress on my bed.
High-tech beds are now the standard. They have mattresses that inflate, adjust to the body, and move into all kinds of positions. My first night in Intensive Care the bed moved more than I did. Welcome to Aladdin’s magic carpet with turbulence.
Before surgery, I Googled everything I could find about open heart surgery. (Hint to the novice— don’t do that!) I wanted to find out if I was officially considered a vampire, while hooked to the bypass machine. Technically, my heart’s stopped but I’m still alive. Shouldn’t I be considered undead? Also, do I stop aging while I’m in limbo? If so, I could be several hours younger. I never got any answers. Only a smirk from the anesthesiologist and a psych evaluation.
Too much information is not always power. I had expectations about protocols and recovery that weren’t my experience. The morning after surgery was not what I imagined. From my internet reading, I thought I’d get up and sit in a chair for a bit. Instead, I was raised out of bed, at 7 AM, like Frankenstein. A physical therapist was waiting to take me on a hike down the hall.
I had chest tubes, a catheter, a blood pressure cuff and a heart monitor attached to me. “Okay!” I could casually stroll with half the room’s equipment dragging behind me. Just don’t step on a tube. RED ALERT! A malfunction has just occurred in Intensive Care— man down!
I was petrified. Only hours had passed since my chest had been opened and then wired shut. I hadn’t even looked at the incision. Maybe, in a few months I’ll take a peek. For now, I’m good. Just put me in a chair. They’re getting it all wrong.
How do you tell a nurse she needs to Google CABG aftercare? I knew not to argue with the professionals who had my heart and blood pressure monitors in their control. So, what if my heart popped out of my chest like the creature in Alien, I was in ICU, they’d just jam it back in.
My care in Cardiac ICU was great, but being in a teaching hospital, there’s an open-door policy for any intern, resident, doctor or inquiring maintenance worker. Random people with white coats wander in and want to perform an exam. I was groped, fondled and squeezed more times than if I spent a weekend at Harvey Weinstein’s house. It was Hospital Grindr and everyone wanted a quickie.
Constant monitoring means— no privacy. I had to use a plastic urinal bottle since a leisurely stroll to the bathroom wasn’t an option. I hate peeing in a bottle. It brings back memories of long car trips and my Mom saying, “You’re father’s not pulling over, just use the bottle and don’t you dare spill it.”
Trying to maneuver a urinal bottle in bed, hooked to machines, covered in blankets and hampered by chest tube bulbs hanging at crotch level, was like the trailer for a disaster movie. The word urinal and spill shouldn’t be in the same sentence. Unfortunately, sometimes the syntax requires it.
In comparison to my whole situation, this was a drop in the bucket. To avoid splash mountain, I stuck the handle of the urinal over the sidebar on the bed. I reached for a couple of tissues but my tray table was sinking to the floor. What had I done to lower the table? Wait! The table wasn’t moving. I was floating toward the ceiling.
OMG! After making it through surgery, and inedible hospital food, a urinal incident was going to take me out? I was literally pissed on and pissed off. This was it? My soul was floating like a Chinese spy balloon. There were no alarms going off or codes being called.
There ought to be celestial angels singing, or a couple of cherubs playing harps. I’d never died before, so I wasn’t exactly sure what performers were involved. “I’d like Donna Summer to sing Last Dance as I cross over.” I requested to heaven’s DJ. But, there weren’t 125 beats per minute, only 72. I couldn’t get the dance floor pumping; it was my heart still pounding.
I looked over my shoulder at the monitors. I hadn’t flatlined. My soul wasn’t rising toward the great beyond— the bed was. I would soon be against the ceiling like Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel. I did a quick survey of my surroundings. Like Nancy Drew, I discovered The Curse of the Dangerous Urinal. The weight of the plastic bottle had pushed against a button that raised the bed. Grabbing the bottle stopped me from being lifted into another atmosphere.
The nurse rushed in and did a double take. My bed was halfway to the ceiling and I was grasping my urinal like I’d just been caught with the crown jewels. She immediately started laughing. “I’ve never had a patient do this before,” she chuckled. “Gurl! I don’t know how I did it either but prepare yourself this is only my second day here.” There had to be chatter in the nurse’s lounge, the next day, about the guy who can’t control his urinal or his bed.
ICU doesn’t have full bathrooms in the rooms. After the second day, I prayed to the God’s of soap to let me shower. This was a plea for the medical staff to transfer me to the Cardiac Care floor. “Release me from my captivity. Remove these cords and cables and let me frolic in the lightly scented bubbles that will free me from the funk of 2,880 minutes!” Yes, I’m dramatic, but it worked.
I was transported to my own room with a full bath, recessed lighting, flat screen tv and a view of the Ben Franklin Bridge. My room was the Hilton of hospitals. There was even room service. Which is an attempt to make hospital food seem classy. It’s like dressing Bigfoot up in a gown and passing him or her off as the prom queen. It just doesn’t work. The pink chiffon isn’t hiding anything.
I begged to be led to a shower. The nurse gave me towels and told me to take it slow. After heart surgery, you tire very quickly and routine tasks become a workout— like bathing, climbing stairs, dressing, or listening to anything from Justin Bieber.
I dropped my gown, which was now second nature. My chest incision was finally exposed. It was time to look. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. Although, I still felt like Humpty Dumpty— fragile and glued back together. There was an incision on my leg next to my knee where they harvested veins from my calf. With an endoscope they remove a vein like pulling scarves out a clown’s pocket.
Thank god for general anesthesia. During surgery, I was harvested, sawed open, hooked to a life-support machine and grafted. As an added bonus they should have inserted a bionic eye as a parting gift. After all, they have the technology.
The shower was an alcove in the bathroom. Nothing fancy, just the shower head and a chair. Not a medical shower chair, but a banquet chair. I suppose they must have just remodeled the cafeteria and had spares to go around.
I turned on the water, sat down and leaned back. It was a scene from Frankenstein meets Flashdance. What a feeling! Truly a heavenly experience. Refreshed and non-offensive, I could take a ten step stroll down the hall, on the road to recovery with my refurbished heart.
Sleep is important for the body to renew itself. The hospital is one place where you’ll never sleep unless you have a morphine drip— as noted earlier. The nurses constantly asked if I had a good night’s rest? “I would if you didn’t have an aversion to letting me sleep.” Was my reply.
How could I sleep when they were in my room every two hours to check my blood pressure and give me medication. They drew blood for labs at four in the morning. At the crack of dawn, they wheeled a machine into the room and made me get out of bed to be weighed. I was there all day, they couldn’t work in daylight? It felt like the Transylvania Hospital where the staff only works until the sun rises. That would explain all the blood tests.
The ultimate aim for the doctors is to get you back in your home environment so your bed is available for the next CABG patch kid. Before I could be released, the goal was to have a bowel movement. Anesthesia and medications are constipating so it’s pretty much a mission impossible. I was backed up like traffic on a Minnesota interstate during a blizzard.
Nothing seemed like it would break the damn. I drank Metamucil, Citrucel, and took various pills. A witch doctor was sent in to beat me with a shrunken head and scare the crap out of me. It didn’t work. I was frustrated at being constipated. I wanted to deliver a stool sample just like a conscientious carpenter. I’d really sunk to basics, when my only wish was to hear a PLOP in the toilet.
Thankfully, a friend recommended nature’s laxative— prunes. Operation Prune was underway. She made a special trip to the hospital and gifted me a bag of the little marvels. I scarfed down prunes like Marie Antionette eating cake. I even ordered prune juice for breakfast. Which, by the way, looks like coffee, has the consistency of motor oil and isn’t thirst quenching.
I now contained a fuel load that would send the space shuttle into another galaxy. My stomach started rumbling like Mount St. Helens. I proudly reported to the nurse that I was passing gas in preparation for lift off. Hopefully, it’s the only time I will think farting is an accomplishment. After an hour and a half in the bathroom, I reported success and the need for new plumbing in the bathroom.
After a thunderous round of applause and a ticker tape parade around the ninth floor, my release paperwork was completed. My parole was granted after a five-day stint. I was unhooked, unplugged and unhinged. It was scary leaving the safety of the hospital. But, I had a great caregiver and a bed where I could sleep without getting up to balance on a scale.
Leaving the hospital, I was presented with a stuffed bear that I could hug for chest protection, and a mug with the hospital logo. I guess in today’s health care system that’s looked at as a fair trade. After $138,000.00 worth of services, I’d received a stuffed animal and a plastic cup. How’s that for a heart stopper?