A Few Things I Learned During My Stay in the Hospital
1. Though I was in a “good” hospital, the industry, in all forms, aggressively seeks ways to cut corners for profit. The worst manifestation of these “ethics” include under-staffing. This made for decent-but-frustrated nurses and not enough support staff for patients. I have an anecdote about my 92-year-old roommate that involves her sitting on a commode with her back bare for 45 minutes during the day last Saturday, which is only one miserable example of what I witness (and tried to call attention to). Don’t get me wrong – the staff is quite willing but simply overstretched.
2. Many doctors examined and tested me, including an endocrinologist, neurologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, as well as a doctor who “oversaw” the search for a diagnosis. The ultimate lesson I learned is an old adage, “One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.” I advocated for myself, made sure records and results were reported to each, scheduled tests, etc, but still, I seemed to be of no interest when my results proved nothing noteworthy to each single doc. One neurologist jokingly put it best, “Your MRI and neck scan are remarkably unremarkable. We would have liked you to provide us with something of interest.” And they vanished into the ether.
3. The ultimate lesson to be gleaned from number two is that getting old must be very scary with this health care industry “looking” after you. I met with much resistance when advocating for myself. The preferred patient involvement is none. Zilch. Passivity. Unquestioning. Gratitude wasn’t even expected.
I had four roommates throughout my stay (one at a time), all who were over the age of 70. Their doctors came in and spoke with each, on average, for about thirty seconds. The last one was a retired nurse. I imagined she would at least, out of respect as a fellow practitioner in the field, be treated more considerately by her primary physician. In fact, she received the worst attention I witnessed. Her doctor left after a fifteen second ramble spoken well below her hearing level, and she told me how scared and confused she was. She explained that in his office he tells more dirty jokes than dealing with her health. She explained that she would prefer to go home and die with her family than to die in the hospital after a visit like that. She was, not so incidentally, an intelligent woman who had immigrated from Denmark in her twenties and spent her life attending others. She just happens to be “old” and a little hard of hearing.
Many of the elderly were infantilized by the docs while the nurses and PCAs tried desperately to make up for those dismissals. For health care providers, it must get very depressing to be stretched thin by duties while trying to attend to the human and emotional needs of each patient — and ultimately to find that you simply don’t have time to do so.
4. My worst experience with a doctor during my stay was with the endocrinologist on my first night of admission. I greeted him with, “Yay, the man of the hour!” because my doctor and an ER doc suggested that my symptoms may very well be caused by a hormonal issue. He responded, “I really don’t know why I’ve been referred to you.” Though he was looking at my chart, I explained my recent six-week bout, included all symptoms, and told him of my doc’s imminent referral to his branch of medicine. Again, he countered, “Well, I don’t know what question I’m supposed to be answering.” I couldn’t believe the blatant resistance. I asked, “Why do you think my doctor would believe my symptoms to be hormonal in origin?” Instead of actually analyzing my symptoms and speculating how they could relate, the bastard argued, “I really can’t imagine why another doctor reaches the conclusions she does. I can’t get into her head.” “Doctor, it sounds like you’re really not interested in helping me.” At that, he mumbled something about running a blood test to check my cortisol levels as he walked away. Literally. No exaggeration. I never saw him again. His resident popped in on the last day as I was packing to leave, much to my amazement. He was nice but powerless. After hearing of my disdain for his supervisor, he assumed I would not want to see the man again as an outpatient. He laughed as words like “prick” and “worst bedside manner” and “needs another profession” bubbled up from the depths.
5. A person really figures out and finds out who their friends are while whiling away the hours in a bed for days on end. Many thanks to those of you who called, visited, sent love and concern, covered my classes, helped find people to cover my classes, and just everyone I heard from. You’ve left an imprint and made the hours go by much more positively than imagined.
6. The Michael Moore film, Sicko, uses a few extreme cases to illustrate some of the health care industry’s problems. There are many more less dramatic revelations to be exposed that I have not touched on but got a glimpse of during my first-ever patient tenure in a hospital. I can’t begin to imagine the toll the system takes on those who don’t have money and can’t get top-shelf care.
7. I have the best gynecologist in the world. My issues are not gyn-related at all, and yet, one day during my hospital stay I received a phone call, “This is Diane from Dr. Gomes’ office. Do you have a few minutes to speak with Dr. Gomes?” “Um, yes…” He got on the phone during his business hours, asked to hear and listened thoroughly to my six-week history. He then asked specific questions about what precipitated what, how that symptom manifested at this or that point, etc. In other words, he listened. He then advised me to aggressively advocate for certain tests, to be careful if something I was being told didn’t sound right, etc.
This is a man who, during office visits, sits in his office with you — beyond the scope of simply doing an exam — and talks with you about your well-being and uses other words like “holistic” and “systemic health”. He does not sell unnecessary procedures and, just incredibly, spends time with each patient. I’ve never waited to see him when I arrive on time for an appointment, he has tons of support staff, he invests in advanced equipment (I was one of the first to get a three-D sonogram of my uterus), and most importantly, he does not seem in a hurry to rush a soul out of his office. He answers questions and isn’t running a gynecological-mill to fund his third or fourth house or to get back to another round on the most exclusive golf course in Long Island. Perhaps he seems too good to be true, but to date, he keeps proving himself angelic-like, above and beyond the call of duty. Looking for a gyn? Go to Dr. John Gomes.
6. While staying on the cardiac ward, one can only sneak cell phone pics in the bathroom as cellular waves are banned due to cardiac machines and their frequencies. I was careful and only got the one below off. Enjoy!
By the way, my Baltimore pal, Aimee Darrow, has a much more “rewarding” post about her recent hospital stay over on Caffeine Diary, and Geof Huth has a much scarier or graphic account over at dpap: visualizing poetics.