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Rude Awakenings: Don’t Expect to Sleep in a Hospital

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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

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About James Wynne

  • Mouhahaha ain’t that the goddamn truth. As a frequent flyer at my local hospital I can tell when they repainted the surgery room.

    No sleep for you. That is so true. Or you go in for a small surgery, nothing life threatning but you stay the night or 2 or 3 and they stick you in a room with a stage-5 about to kick the can, wheezing and moaning in the agony of impending death. No matter how patient and compassionate you are, at one point, putting a pillow over her face seems like a good idea to put both of you out of misery.

    They should put people in such suffering with other dying folks. It was torture. Not, not getting to sleep but having to listen to someone slowly and paifully dying. I’m sure it doesnt compare to the sufferer, but its hard on the system.

    And hospitals prime directive is to strip you of your dignity. Like getting sugery where you are taped naked on a table and all of a sudden in come 25 students to take notes. Had the doctor asked for my permission I might have said yes, but since it was imposed on me and they wouldn’t cooperate, it cost them some repairs to some expensive scanning device (I have a class A (as in Alpha male) temper.)

    Anyway, great article to which I relate all so well. I got hospital stories that could go on and on…

  • Nancy

    Both the article & the comments are painfully true. I’ve come to the conclusion that people survive and recover in spite of doctors & hospitals, not because of them!

  • Jeliel-
    your observation,

    And hospitals prime directive is to strip you of your dignity.

    is absolutely true. If you have to stay in a hosptital, even overnight, leave your dignity at home because you’re not going to be allowed to bring it into the hospital with you when you get there.

  • Jim, that’s so true. Once a nurse was comming in as I was changing and I told her “Do you mind?” as in get the f* out of here. She tells me “Oh please, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before”. I extended my palms to grab her breasts and said “Can I grab your breasts”, she lunges away, covering her breasts. I end with “Oh Please, it’s nothing I haven’t done before” smircking at her has I finished getting dressed.

    Never saw the nurse again for my stay LOL 😀 I’m no prude, but I still appreciate privacy a great deal. But we’re just meat to them, not human beings, just steak on an assembly line.

  • If it’s possible to be happy while hospitalized, it’s only possible if you’re on good terms with the nurses. Be good to them and they’ll be good to you. They are overworked and have to see and do things on a daily basis that most of us can’t imagine. It’s no surprise that they get a little impatient (pun intended) with people who are concerned with being seen with their pants off when they just got finished being shat upon by a morbidly obsese (and perhaps dead) person while trying to help him out of the bed.
    God bless the nurses.

  • Yeah but aren’t we all? This is where I can’t bring myself to care. I know all this overworked stuff but I believe in civility, niceties and so forth, makes everything bareable.

    As a 9 year veteran of the corporate helpdesk world I know what I’m talking about (since you brought the issue of being “shit on” (whether literaly or figuratively))

    No matter how bad things get, I always keep it cool. Some nurses can get downright nasty, threatning and dehumanising. With emphasis on dehumanising. Where does a person need to be treated more humanely than in a hospital? I don’t tolerate smart-asses very well. It’s all cool with friends, but not when threatening me with restraints. Treat me like a human being and I won’t act like a caged animal. People tend to rise to the expectations set upon them. It’s all about balance.

  • Jeliel, I can only surmise that your behavior brought out a no-nonsense attitude from your nurses. Or perhaps it’s that you’ve had to endure the benefits of socialized medicine (as in, you get what you pay for). Not having been present during your experiences, it’s all speculation.

    As a nurse, I pride myself in maintaining patient dignity at all times. Knock before entering, strategically placed blankets and towels during cleaning/bathing, and keeping patient information private are all components of maintaining dignity.

    Any nurse who is rude to a patient or who fails to preserve privacy should be reported.

    As a patient, most recently last month, and before that in July, I’ve had nothing but fantastic care from caring and professional men and women.

  • Joanie,

    I’m with you. God bless the nurses. The prime reason that they’re waking people up all the time is that there aren’t enough of them, they have too many people to take care, and not enough time to do it. That there aren’t a lot more cranky and disagreeable ones is amazing to me.

  • Actually we dont get what we pay for. But the system used to work till those freaking liberals decided to slowly kill UNIVERSAL healthcare. The word socialised is always used to dissuade. But universal healthcare works, as in even the poor get healthcare, as long as the government funds it properly.

    I remember waking from anesthesia once, feeling like I was drowning, choking, not breathing. All the nurse did was look at me and said “Oh look who’s awake” while I was in shock from being alergic to demerol (sp?) I’m turning blue and she’s making jokes at my expense.

    I’ve had good experiences and some down right funny ones. But the bad has been really bad. And I’m not throwing all the nurses in one basket either.

  • W.Y.

    Great read!