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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mister Hello

A little over a year ago, I spent a few days in the hospital with a bad case of vertigo. If you're unfamiliar with vertigo, it's a dizziness and sometimes vomiting problem that happens when the balancing mechanisms in your ears go a bit kerflooey. Actually, there are other causes as well, but this was what happened in my case. Now, I know that sounds like something that's just an inconvenience or irritation, but that is not necessarily the case. I woke up one morning and tried to lift my head about an inch off of the pillow. Suddenly everything was whirling madly and I was ready to lose the breakfast I had not yet eaten. As the day went on, in spite of trying to take motion sickness pills, I was not improving, so I actually asked to be taken to the hospital. I am not a person who likes to stay in the hospital. Heck, I have to be incredibly sick just to go to the doctor for non-routine visits. So when I asked to be taken there, everyone knew I was in pretty bad shape.

Hospitals are a world unto themselves. Time seems to run differently when you're staying there. Of course, the fact that you are so ill that you can't take care of yourself changes your perceptions of things, but I still think that hospital time just seems different, more drawn-out. The first time I was hospitalized was when I was diagnosed with lupus. I was in a cardiac care unit and scared because I had never been that sick before. The next time I was in the hospital was just weeks later, and it was about a twenty-four hour visit. I was pretty scared that time too, because I was in for a chemotherapy treatment. The objective was to impair my immune system, which is a normally undesirable side-effect of chemotherapy. In my case, the idea was to stop my runaway immune system from completely destroying my kidneys. Incidentally, it did work.

These visits gave me a glimpse of what it is like to be in a hospital, surrounded by other people who are dealing with illnesses and pains and fears. I think that the fact that I was so scared the first two times made me a little less aware of what was going on around me, although it could be because I asked for sleeping pills every night during my first hospitalization. They helped me to blot out the lights and activity and cries of pain in the night, and get some much-needed rest. 

When I was in the hospital a year ago last December, though, I think I was a bit relieved to be in a place where people could do things to make me well. I had also put in some time visiting hospital rooms and pre-and post-surgery areas with Trent, so it was less intimidating for me. I was hooked up to an IV to fix my dehydration, and they were kind enough to try and dope me up with anti-nausea medications. For the first couple of nights, I was unable to get my body into a position where I could even see a television, so I asked for my door to be left partway open both day and night. There is activity at all hours in a hospital, and hearing it through my open door made the nights less lonely. And when the door was closed, the silence was almost deafening. It could make the nighttime hours seem to last forever.

I grew accustomed to the sounds and behaviors of my neighboring patients. Down the hall to the left of my room was a woman who experienced something that happens to almost everyone who is sick, whether with a cold or something hospital-worthy. The pain, fever, sickness, or whatever ails you, always seems to get worse at night. If you don't believe me, reread this when you have your next bad cold and cough a lot during the day, but almost uncontrollably at night. I rest my case. For this lady, it was pain. And her reaction was never to ring for a nurse and politely ask for more drugs, please. She just began moaning, and progressed to yelling louder and louder until someone came to find out whether she was being murdered in her hospital bed. If I could have shaken my head without vomiting, I would have done so. Pressing the call button is so simple. And you really don't want to get the people who take care of you irritated. They may just take their sweet time because they can't stand the sight of you. Just conjecture, mind you. All of the nurses and aides that took care of me were veritable angels of mercy.

The patient that I found most intriguing, and the one that made me feel the most sympathy for the nurses and aides, was the gentleman I thought of as Mister Hello. He was in the opposite direction from Hollering Hannah, and simply refused to use his call button. It would be a lovely, peaceful time on the floor, and Mister Hello would need something. He would call out, in his loudest voice, "Hello! Hello! Hello!" This would go on for several minutes, as nursing staff are very busy people. Someone would call out and ask him what he needed, and he would holler back that he needed to shave, for example. The aide would come in and explain to him how to use his call button, and then help him with shaving. A little bit later, there would be another chorus of hellos from his room because he needed to go to the bathroom. Invariably, he would wait until the need was immediately urgent, and then not use his call button. When the aide would finally have a chance to get to his room, they would find that because he waited so long to ask for help, he had urinated all over his bed. This happened more than once a day, mind you. I began to understand why the staff appreciated patients who thought more proactively.

I hope I am not coming across as judgemental. I don't know those other people, nor do I know what they were going through. Being sick enough to be in the hospital is a very unpleasant thing. But it's good to be a partner to the health care professionals that are working to make you better. Like everyone else, they can only be in one place at a time. I hope that I don't have to go to the hospital again for many, many years. And I hope that if I do, I remember not to be a Hollering Hannah or a Mister Hello. I'll try to just be Katrina. And get well as soon as possible!