I knew something was very wrong when a large nurse grabbed me by the shoulders, forcing me to remain sitting up on the edge of the hospital bed. All I wanted to do was lie back down and pass out, but she wouldn’t let me, telling me in a loud voice to keep my head up and my eyes open. “Look at me and keep breathing,” she said urgently.
This was not supposed to be part of my Thursday. I had gone into Barnes Jewish West County Hospital to have my gall bladder removed after it became inflamed last month. Done laparoscopically, it’s a fairly easy procedure, and I would be released on Friday morning to recover at home.
I didn’t get there until Sunday. In the intervening days, I had two units of blood transfused after my blood pressure and hemoglobin count dropped dangerously low, consumed who-knows-how-many bags of IV liquids, and had given up all hope of modesty under my hospital gown. My doctor said he’d encountered something he hadn’t seen in 43 years of surgery — a gall stone the size of a marble that had ripped almost entirely through the wall of the gall bladder. Another centimeter or two and I’d have suffered peritonitis, another problem I didn’t need.
Eventually, I was moved from the recovery room and checked into a regular hospital bed, happy that they weren’t too busy to give me a room of my own. The nursing staff did their best to keep me medicated and comfortable, but sleep was hard to come by. I’ve heard of people being diagnosed with exhaustion and checking into a hospital, but that’s not the place to get rest. Between the blood tests, vital signs, beeping equipment, conversations in the hall, and delivery of food you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy — you haven’t lived until you’ve been served the all-liquid hospital diet — sleep comes in short fits.
Twice a day, a nurse would help me out of bed and onto my feet so I could go for a walk down the hall, in full Abe Vigoda mode, with one hand on the rolling IV stand and the other around someone’s shoulder for support. Sometimes I’d make the 100-yard round trip in as little as a half-hour.
My family came to visit — my daughter, wife, and mother — and I could tell from the look on their faces how horrible I must have looked on the first day. There’s no more awkward silence than the one created by people visiting a hospital room who can’t think of anything upbeat to say. I knew I had their love and support, but I needed them to offer some distraction from what I was going through, not to sit there and stare at me, looking frightened. Eventually, as they got used to my surroundings and situation, we all lightened up a little. And then I’d fall asleep again.
Now that I’m home, getting healthier by the day and looking forward to getting back to work, the mood is much better. I know that I’m lucky I have good medical providers, and even luckier that I can afford it, thanks to my union’s good health insurance plan. I shudder to think how much more of a nightmare this would be when those bills start rolling in, were circumstances different.