Twenty Hours After Surgery….

Following currently acceptable medical practice, after a serious surgery I was tossed out of the hospital just twenty hours after being wheeled out of the operating room. This was what I got for being a cooperative patient. (And to that, let me just say: Never Again.)

Overjoyed for a reason to have the catheter removed, I’d gotten up to walk the corridors with the nurse’s help, willingly choosing the “long route”, pushing my IV beside me, just twelve hours after the operation. Pleased to have the IV taken out of my aching hand, I’d cooperatively  slogged down water like the beverage was the latest trendy invention.  I trotted myself to the restroom multiple times (to the horror of the night tech, who hadn’t explained that I wasn’t permitted to do this on my own, without accompaniment).  I ate a small dinner and a big breakfast.  Everything that I was asked to do by the hospital staff, I did, in fact, do.  And my reward for this was to “get” to go home, pain prescription in hand, the following day, to endure possibly the worst night of my life. Undermedicated for pain; unable to walk up the stairwell to sleep in my own bed; barely able to rise from my couch to stumble to the bathroom, I felt as if every inch of my body had been beaten with baseball bats.

Let there be no mistake: hospitals are not fun places. IV alarms ring constantly.  Just when one has fallen into a sound sleep at last, in wheels the night tech, waking the patient to check vitals or administer a dose of some med or another.  People laugh, talk, argue and rush in corridors.  Noisy carts are pushed through halls.  Janitorial staff pop by to empty trashcans.  The sounds of people crying—or crying out in pain—filter through the walls.  One is poked, prodded, examined and stuck with needles.  Tape is pulled from sensitive parts of the body, leaving behind welts and rashes.  Responding to other, more urgent emergencies, no one answers the call bell.

But there are also advantages to lying in that hospital bed, not the least of which is the bed itself, which is adjustable and can be arranged into the best position for the comfort of the individual occupying it or trying to clamber in and out of it. Toilets are only a few steps away—not up a staircase or across the house—and showers are the walk-in variety.  Pain medications can be given by injection or IV, without waiting for the oral med to finally dissolve and work its way into the bloodstream.  But, most important of all, is the opportunity to ask someone knowledgeable, “Is this normal?  Should I be experiencing this?  Will this last?  Has something gone wrong?”

But, as mentioned, the cooperative patient is launched homeward as quickly as possible, to a place where there are no adjustable beds, where bathrooms are a long walk away and the only shower or bed may be up a flight of steps, where pain medications are oral, and where relatives and friends who’ve come to help are just as clueless as the patient. Preparing to leave the hospital that morning, I could not help but laugh when, as I fumbled to button my blouse, the nurse asked, “Do you have help at home?”  I am a divorced woman; I’ve lived alone for years. I wondered for a moment what she would have done had I answered, “No.”

Fortunately for me, family and friends stepped up to the plate, so that for the first two days and nights following surgery I was never left alone for a minute. I ignored the post-operative paperwork which stated that I was not to climb stairs for two weeks after my surgery and clambered, slowly and laboriously, up the stairwell to my shower on just my second day home.  That would certainly have been easier had I still been hospitalized, but the question, “Do you have a ground-floor bathroom?” was definitely never broached.

I suspect now that those unasked or belatedly asked questions were intentional. Negative answers would have meant red tape—a battle with the insurance company to cover another day, or even two, to ensure a safe recovery.  Medical staff are weary of the fight, and so cave to reality rather than the responsibility of protecting patients’ post-surgical health. Out of sight, out of mind, and the well-meant lie is uttered, “You’ll be more comfortable in your own home”.

There may be no place like home, but for the recovering patient, that just isn’t quite true. But the insurance companies and the almighty dollar, rather than common sense and medical safety, rule recovery in the modern health environment.

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