The Obligatory Hospital Experience

Posted on October 4, 2014

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My first encounter with the less than inspiring reputation that DCH Hospital has for staph infections came as the nurse prepared my i.v. drip preparatory to some “happy juice” and then the anesthetic.

She didn’t use gloves.

And I thought, “I thought everyone used gloves for all procedures?”

When in Honduras this past summer with a group of doctors, nurses, dentists, and other hangers on like me, I thought the nurses and doctors were over the top, everyone carrying little tubes of sanitizers, hanging on to their belts, always easily accessible.

Wash, wash, wash might have been our slogan, like the dwarfs going off to work in the Walt Disney movie, heigh ho, heigh it’s off to work we go, but not before we bath in sanitizers, and so wash, wash, wash, and then work, work, work.

Ah, well, I had a nice time chatting up the gloveless nurse putting a needle into my hand, and I threw my fortunes into God’s good hands for the next three days, not in resignation, like “on my Lord, help me out here, or, better, help me get out of here without being sicker than I am!”

But, instead, I put my faith in the Great Healer.

Now, I wasn’t sick before I went into the hospital for a “one day procedure.” Everything is called a procedure these days BTW. We used to call them examinations or surgeries or operations, but that sounds too serious. So, I went in, with the general innocence of a lamb, thinking I’ll be out in the afternoon.

How gullible and naïve and foolish we can be, even after we turn seventy, and that’s as many years as I will admit to.

I went in on Thursday morning and was still recovering on Monday, having escaped the hospital on Friday. But there was no escape from the catheter, a highly offended bladder that refused to work, and some kidneys that added their offended sensibilities to the insults inflicted on my body as well.

The last time I’d been in the hospital was for a leg I broke in a motorcycle accident about three years ago. As one of my editors in New York commented, “ah, at least a fashionable and macho reason Larry.” I thanked him for his cosmopolitan perspective and cursed the cast on my leg for a month that effectively immobilized me.

Of course, there are no more casts slapped on your leg, or arm, or whatever appendage needs it. That’s like admitting to your children that you grew up before penicillin and birth control pills, not to speak of cell phones, texting, tweets, and, shudder, having to cope in a world of electronic void.

Back in the fall of 1965, on a cold day in the Atlantic off of Little Creek, Virginia, I slipped as I climbed to my battle station on top of the bridge, and came crashing down and of course ended up in sick bay and then ashore to set a broken leg.

A Navy corpsman set the leg, and as I sat on the chair and he started to wrap the warm plaster of Paris around the broken leg, I asked him “Uh, should I hold it this way,” pointing my toe, “or this way, or that way.”

“Anyway you feel comfortable with,” I believe was his answer.

I think that was the moment my total confidence in the medical profession cracked a bit. Or maybe it was when another corpsman, giving me shots a few years earlier as we went down the NROTC shot line, exclaimed, “ooppps.”

“Oopps,” I thought?

“Ah needle didn’t go in exactly right,” he followed up. “I’ll get it right in a moment.”

“No you won’t,” I said, already learning to be an officer and exercise some authority. And I moved down the line to the next guy and asked him to do the shot.

But I digress.

My “procedure” at DCH was to examine and determine what had caused a trace of blood to appear in my urine in a routine FAA exam to renew my pilot’s license. My editor in New York would approve of that. Sexy pilot problem.

I shrugged it off, but mentioned it later in the day to my wife Louise.

Before you know it, Louise had an appointment with my home team doctor, Brian Wilhite, and he had me over to a urologist specialist, Greg Broughton, who sent me to the Radiology Clinic for MARIs, Cat Scans, and then a few weeks later into DCH for a “closer” inspection, like biopsies, cytoscopes pushed into my body through bodily parts I cannot mention in a column, and there I was, with an i.v. and then sleep…..

I awoke with a catheter in the place of pee pee business, thinking, “this only happens to sick people!”

My experience begins to bifurcate here. Sorry, but being around these doctors using doctor language challenges me to rise to my own jargon, meant to be obtuse and obfuscate as much as enlighten.

My body went downhill, but the folks attending me were swell.

As near as I can tell, the kidneys weren’t putting out enough urine after the “procedure” and so it was determined I’d better stay in the hospital overnight, with the catheter coming out of one end of me, and an i.v. still plugged into my hand, with the appropriate rolling contraptions to allow you some limited freedom of movement, like going to the bathroom.

Did I mention that the anesthetic and/or pain medicine in fiendish collusion make you constipated as well?

Until the kidneys, which had been explored with the cytoscope, got in line and started producing, I was stuck in the hospital, moving about that night to get some relief from the pain with my butt flapping in the breeze.

One of the nurses reached around and tied me up as I strolled past her station at some point in the night pushing or dragging along my i.v. and urine collector.

They nurses were all great. In fact, in my discharge package, they all signed it and wished me well. So girls, thanks so much, all of you, Sandra, Darlene, Tasha, Angela, Ruby, Teresa, sp?, Khonda, Ashley, Deanna, Wanda, sp?, and Lolly all in Perioperative Services. You all are angels.

I wish I could say the same thing about discharge instructions I received in a folder that looked like a medium-length medical school lesson on how to take care of yourself.

Especially entertaining are always the possible side effects of various meds. An erection for four hours and going temporarily blind was one of them. Bob Hope’s writers could have knocked out a couple of good one-liners on that one.

By late in the evening, after my wife called and prayed over me, the kidneys listened up and kicked in, and I started to get a flow. But I was in pain. As I look back, I think my bladder was beginning to spasm, my calves were getting cramps and I thought, in a slight panic, if one of those cramps really kicks in, the only relief I can get is to stand up, and how am I going to do that with all these tubes running into me?

A nurse came in to check me around 1:30 a.m. and do the vital sign business.

“Need some more pain medicine?” she asked.

“Yes, that would be nice.”

She checked the chart on the laptop in the corner of the room.

“It doesn’t look like the doctor has prescribed any pain medicine.”

“Oh, I said, ok,” thinking I’ll just swoon away in a paroxysm of pain and it will be all over.

“Let me go check.”

And sure enough, she came back about half an hour later and after badgering their on-call doctor, who apparently called my surgeon, presto, a pain medicine was pushed into my i.v.

Lolly told me this was good stuff. “It’s very popular on the street,” she laughed as she finished turning it on.

Instead of dying in a paroxysm of pain, I nodded off and forgot my problems for a while, thinking “I bet my guys in the jail would like this stuff.” That for another story, another day.

I watched as the clock on the wall in front of me slowly moved through the night. By 4 p.m. I knew the long night was over. I could hear movement in the corridor as people drifted in and prepped for the early surgeries. I would live to see another day.

But it came with its own surprises. First, the catheter had to be removed. That is always fun. I figured taking it out had to be better than putting it in, and, besides, I was asleep when they inserted it.

The girl who pulled it out had the manners of someone working on the assembly line at a slaughterhouse, although I’ve never been in a slaughterhouse that I can remember, nor have I interviewed a lot of slaughterhouse workers.

She pulled that sucker out in a swift move that left me breathless. Phewwww! I’m free, I thought.

Before I was discharged I had to urinate, proving that kidneys and bladder were doing just fine. It was Catch 22 all over again. Let me explain.

To urinate, I had to wait for kidneys to manufacture some urine and then send them to the bladder. So we left in the i.v. and I sat and watched it trickle into me. Then, when I figured I had enough to pee, I gave it a shot, and the pain shot through me like a knife. Wow! Or, I should say, Oww! Nothing came out but pain.

But, remember Catch 22. Yousarian says he’s crazy and wants to get out of the Air Force. The Air Force counters that he just proved that he’s not crazy by wanting to get out of a situation where he’s likely to get killed.

Now, I had to pee to get out of the hospital, but it stung and hurt to pee. What to do? I had to get out!

So I waited another hour or so, watching the eternal i.v. drip, drip, drinking coke or bottled water. And then I ambled into the bathroom, dragging my i.v. pole around, and let the shot of pain through and dropped about 100 bloody ml into the container. That was enough.

I was discharged and headed home, free, free, free.

Later that afternoon I noticed that I couldn’t pee anymore. This is serious business I thought. I read through the medical school instructions, read the labels, took the pain pills, and couldn’t pee.

“Drink lots of liquids,” my wife said. So I did.

The pain and pressure kept increasing down there, to the point that I wondered if I could explode.

When I couldn’t stand it anymore, we headed to the doctor’s office, which by now was Friday afternoon.

Did I really expect to find a doctor in his office on Friday afternoon? Those drugs I was taking were moving me into the hallucinatory world.

But luckily for us, Sandy the nurse was there. Sandy is almost my age, and has a lot of experience. When she got the catheter in again, my bladder gushed like an oil well.

So, I passed Labor Day weekend with a catheter taped to my leg. Sandy put in a much sleeker and more comfortable job than the hospital catheter. I remembered that the world includes a lot of catheterized people and I began to gain a new appreciation for what they live with.

I was still constipated. My wife offered the advice that taking pain pills and anesthesia can “shut down” a lot of your organs, presumably like your bowels which may have simply joined the kidneys and bladder on a sympathetic strike. I’m glad my heart and lungs weren’t involved or noticed these various affronts.

My wife studied nursing at one time and is pretty bossy, so I suspect she could have been an excellent nurse. And our oldest daughter, hers by marriage but one I have long adopted into “my” family, is a plastic surgeon, and a very good one, and so I figured there are some good medical genes in my wife. Maybe she was right.

By Monday morning everything including the balky bowels were functioning again.

This short recollection is far too long for my newspaper column in The Tuscaloosa News which appears regularly on Sunday mornings. Besides, my wife said my allusions to staph infections and mild lapses of clinical and sterile procedures at DCH Regional Hospital would probably earn a suit for me.

Prayers and petitions work by the way.

When I spoke to my wife Thursday night and told her the kidneys were apparently not producing, she prayed an urgent prayer of intercession and healing over me, cast Satan out of my body and life, and we hung up. Within five minutes, or less, I felt a blood clot or something flow down the catheter tube, and the system—kidneys, bladder, etc.—was functioning again. Thank you Lord.

And thank you doctors and nurses at DCH. You are all human just like us, but you bring the added high intelligence, science, good will, and compassion together that is the medical world. I am grateful for this.

My wife says, BTW, that the spasms and cramps in my bladder that accompanied me for two or three days after the procedure were akin to, but not even close, to giving birth pains.

I couldn’t argue, never having given birth, but had to admit, if she was right, that you girls go through a lot. So, you go girls. I certainly couldn’t for a while, and that was bad enough.

Posted in: Journal