I am currently recovering from surgery I had a few weeks ago. While I won’t bore you with the details of the affliction that occasioned the subcutaneous intrusion, I will say that it isn’t the first time I’ve been cut, and in fact I’ve been cut so many times now that I consider myself an expert in the general area of inpatient surgical procedures. As a public service for those who are facing their first experience with surgery and a hospital stay, I thought I would offer a few tips that might make the experience less stressful.
Don’t go into the hospital thinking that it will be a restful experience. Hospitals are full of people whose job it is to keep you awake. No one is ever allowed to sleep in a hospital except hospital employees, who must sleep in the hospital because they’re never allowed to go home.
Hospital employees have secret devices that tell them when any patient in the building has fallen asleep and as soon as you drift off, no matter what time of day it is, someone will come in and wake you up. They’ll do this under the guise of performing some sort of necessary treatment or service, whether the treatment or service is actually necessary or not. One time I had just fallen into a sound and much-needed sleep when a nurse shook me said that it was time to take a sleeping pill, and I’m not kidding.
If it’s not a nurse, a phlebotomist, or some kind of technician waking you up (or making sure you don’t go to sleep in the first place), it will be a housekeeping person who believes that he or she can change your bedding while you’re still in the bed.
You might be awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a nurse-assistant strapping a blood pressure cuff on your arm, then go back to sleep and be awakened ten minutes later by the same person, now wanting to take your temperature, having forgotten to do so when she was taking your blood pressure, and not because she’s unable to remember lists of things to do that comprise more than one item, but because hospital employees must be skilled in finding reasons to awaken sick people.
If the hospital staff somehow fails in its mission and allows you to get to sleep, and you’re in a semi-private room, the other patient in the room will be charged with the responsibility of keeping you awake. My favorite experience with a hospital roommate occurred after I had been kept awake all night by the loud, incessant and obnoxious gurgling of a machine that was pumping a viscous brown fluid out of the roommate’s stomach into a glass receptacle on the floor.
Apparently he had some sort of terrible upper-gastrointestinal problem that had been aggravated, if not caused, by excessive consumption of alcohol. Early the next morning a nurse came in and mercifully turned off the gurgle machine, and she was soon followed by the roommate’s physician. I heard him tell the roommate that he (the doctor) was going to let him go home that day, but with an ominous warning: “If you leave here and go out and buy a six-pack and drink it, I guarantee that you’ll be back here within twenty-four hours. Do you understand?” The roommate anxiously agreed. A short time later, he was on the phone giving the good news of his impending discharge to a friend. “I’m going home today,” he said, “but the doctor says I’m probably going to be back here pretty soon.”
If you’re unfortunate enough to be confined in a teaching hospital, you’ll be subjected to the morning rounds of attending and resident physicians and medical students. They roam the floors of the hospital in packs numbering upwards of sixty or seventy individuals, all of whom will try to squeeze into your room at 5:00 a.m.
If a terrible mistake has been made, and you were actually allowed to go to sleep, the horde of roaming doctors and students will set things straight by suddenly pulling the covers off of you and poking you sharply wherever they think the poke will cause you to shout the loudest. The group won’t leave the room until you’ve cried out in pain at least once.
You’ll never have any idea what the group is actually trying to accomplish — other than making you yell–because they speak only in polysyllabic, Latinate medical terminology (for example, physicians are not allowed to use the word “armpit”; they must say “axilla” or risk losing their licenses). When they’re finished speaking in gibberish, poking you, and making you scream, they’ll abruptly leave the room. Then another group will come in 15 minutes later and start the process again because the first group was actually supposed to be poking the patient in the next room.
While I don’t want to make it seem that staying in a hospital isn’t a good idea for people who really need to be there, my own experience has been that if you need to have a fairly routine procedure done, such as an appendectomy, amputation, or some sort of neurosurgery, you’ll probably be better off if you fill yourself full of rotgut liquor and do the surgery yourself.
At least you won’t have to worry about post-operative sleep deprivation