During this last hospitalization, in the midst of being so ill and so weak, there were many indignities I suffered and things I had to do that I could not imagine doing without total embarrassment. This included having the NG tube inserted, which on the first unsuccessful try caused me to choke and had to be pulled and tried again. I got sick in front of my friend Deb and my son Alex, not to mention nursing staff, more than once, in a basin while in bed, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Because the NG tube was attached to a suction tube at the wall of my room, every time I had to use the bathroom I had to call the nurse to unhook the attachment so I could go to the bathroom and a number of times the contents of the tube spilled on me and I had to be stripped of the hospital gown and redressed by the nurse or nurses’s aide, and washed down by them (although I helped when I could). If the nurse or aide was too slow, which happened a couple of times, I actually soiled the bed to my complete and utter dismay (and continued dismay-I almost did not list this one). By Friday, when my blood counts dropped precipitously because of internal bleeding, I was too weak to go to the bathroom and had to use a bedpan with the assistance of the nurse or aide. This was a scenario I never, ever, could have imagined in the past because I am strong physically, and years of yoga have made me very flexible, but I had no choice and was grateful for the help. On Friday, when I was sent down for another CT scan and was too weak to transfer from the bed, I became one of those patients that had to be lifted onto the table by my sheets. My bladder had to be catheterized once in bed by one my doctors while the nurse and aide looked on and they measured what came out. I felt like an infant who could not survive without adult help. Sitting here today, it is hard for me to even write about these things because under normal circumstances I would be so embarrassed by what happened and what help I needed. At the time, however, I had no choice, and was grateful for the kind nurses and aides who did not blink an eye and who brushed off my apologies every time I needed them to help me with basic human functions. They told me over and over again that this is the easiest part of their job, and that my attitude, and gratefulness to them, made them happy to help. Every time I apologized, they told me to stop.
Despite this, I concluded that while my body suffered indignities, that did not touch who I am as a person. My self, my spirit, my essence, remained the same throughout. Yes, I am independent and do not like being vulnerable. Yes, I felt totally vulnerable and dependent. Yes, I hated feeling that way. Yes, I felt not just like an infant, but also sometimes like a 90 year old sick person and not a vibrant human being. But, who I am was not changed by these things. In some ways, I almost became an observer of the fact that my body was not functioning well, that I could not do anything about it right now, and that I had to accept that fact. I also thought a lot about my mom, and her illnesses the last six years of her life, where every time she was hospitalized, she needed this type of help. I became more sympathetic to her and what she went through having now been in the position of needing the same help. Of course, she was much older and had many illnesses, but the indignities are the same. What I tried to do was to show how grateful I was to the nurses and aides who helped me, to thank them every chance I could get, and to be grateful each time I could go back to doing things on my own. As soon as I felt well enough, I also tried to push myself, walking down the hall, going to the waiting room to visit with friends and family who came to see me instead of just sitting in my bed, and, when I felt like it, simply crying over the frustration and pain when I needed to cry. I asked for help when I needed it, and when I did not, I did it on my own. I stopped asking for pain medication as soon as my pain was bearable, knowing that I needed to wean off the medication. When my friend, Daniella, came to visit on Sunday, one week after I had been hospitalized, we discussed this, and she observed that of course the indignities were to my body, which had nothing to do with my real self. Hence, the title of this post.
The second conclusion, and one I came to as a result of my first hospitalization a few months ago as well, is that nurses and nurses aides truly can be angels in disguise and are the most important people to recovery. They are the hardest working people I observed in the hospital. Good nurses and aides make all the difference, and can act proactively to help you recover and to coordinate your care from the doctors. Three of my nurses, observing what was going on with me, actively called my doctors, made suggestions and helped get me out of the hospital sooner than I think it would have happened without their help. The nurses and aides never stopped. Their care, their grace and their calm, brought a calm and peace to me. Their interest in my well-being was not forced. Not only did they provide nursing care, and bodily care, and even hugged me for emotional care, but they spent time just visiting with me. I asked about their lives. They asked about mine. They genuinely cared. I remember when I left Karmanos, the nurses who had cared for me, and not just the one on duty that day, came to my room to say goodbye, wish me the best, say they did not want to see me as a patient again, but that I should visit next time I was downtown. They meant it. At Beaumont, Jenni, who was my nurse for three of my last days there, cheered with me when the NG tube was pulled on Tuesday, when my diet quickly went from liquids to an unrestricted one, and she helped make sure that decisions were made Wednesday morning by the doctors so that I knew, early on, whether I could go home. Autumn and Michele were totally proactive with my doctors, calling them to suggest treatments, and to let them know what was going on with me. While you may read on Facebook or other social media tributes to the unsung nurses and aides ad be told to appreciate them, until you have experienced the care of a good nurse and aide, you do not fully take in how hard they work, how important is their job, and how much they can help direct the care of a patient. A proactive nurse can recognize when treatment should change, and calls the doctors to push for that. Nurses and aides are the lifeblood of care in the hospital. This is not to say that every nurse or aide I had were all as dedicated, but the majority were clearly dedicated to what they did and dedicated to their patients. This is not to downplay the importance of having good doctors, and doctors who communicate well with you. Nurses and aides, however, are the ones with day to day and 24 hour responsibility for their patients and who are observing you 24 hours a day.
I hope never to be in the position to suffer the bodily indignities I suffered this time around and I hope not to have to go back to the hospital, but I know there are no guarantees. If I end up in the hospital again, however, I know that no matter what, my spirit will not change no matter how dependent I physically become on care. I am me, whether I can stride into a room, do headstands in yoga, or have to nap constantly because of exhaustion. While I prefer the yoga, striding, healthy me, the weak, ill me does not change who I am as a person.