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Column: From Weak to Week

Eight days and seven nights. Not exactly the vacation I was planning. Nevertheless, admitted to the hospital on Friday, August 2nd. Discharged on Friday, August 9th: that was my hospital “staycation.” Though I definitely improved as the post-surgical week went on, the process itself – specifically, nearly four days in S.I.C.U. (Surgical Intensive Care) with round-the-clock monitoring, nursing and doctoring – was hardly restful. In fact, if you read the following prose, you’ll presumably develop an understanding of the cons.

Sleep in the S.I.C.U. is not next to impossible, it is impossible. Though the room is private (there are no other patients sharing your space), the overall environment is public; as the nurse told me, they need to be able to see their patients at all times, just in case something bad (you’ll note I didn’t say unexpected) happens. In addition, the various overhead lighting remaining lit is hardly conducive to sleep, but it’s very conducive to staff responsibilities, which ultimately is the point, I suppose.

Let me attempt to describe for you the difficulties and demands – and discomfort – I experienced during my post-op. treatment, designed no doubt to stabilize my vitals and return me to good health, whatever the cost or inconvenience. For certain it was all about me and all about getting me better – and presumably getting me healthy enough to be transferred to a non-intensive care floor and eventually being discharged from the hospital.

On my right arm, I had an I.V. inserted (connected to an I.V. pump) through which I received clear liquids and miscellaneous other medicines as their respective delivery systems mandated. On my right index finger a plastic clip was taped in place – also connected to a monitor, which measured my oxygen levels. Stuck on my chest were eight electrodes connected by wire to a heart-monitoring device – the size of a cell phone approximately – stuck in my hospital gown’s lone chest pocket; the device itself was likewise connected, by wire, to a monitor adjacent to my hospital bed. Each calf, since I was bed-bound, was wrapped in Velcro, individually connected by wire to a pump hanging off the front of my bed. Every 30 seconds or so – alternating between each calf – the pump “pressured” air into the wraps, and wires inside inflated to stimulate the respective calves, the point of which is to prevent blood clots/pulmonary thrombosis. Not last, and certainly not least, between my legs, I was connected to a catheter (a “foley” as it was called), a necessary evil if ever there was one, itself connected by tube to a repository hanging off the side of my bed.

On my left arm, I was 24/7 connected and wrapped by a blood pressure cup. Every hour on the hour (I checked) I was “pressured” with my readings automatically transmitted to the nurse’s station (one time I unwrapped the cuff and the nurse immediately came by to chastise me for doing so). On my face (in my nose, actually), with cords wrapped around my ears to secure its position, I wore a “nasal cannula,” a plastic tube placed into my nostrils, which provided “high-flow” oxygen constantly. This cannula was likewise connected by tube/hose to a pump adjacent to my bed, about three feet away, like all of these connections. Lastly, and probably mostly, a post-surgical chest tube, 28 centimeters long, had been inserted under my left arm penetrating to my left lung to drain any residual fluid/”infiltrate” from it. This tube was part of a longer tube, maybe four feet in length or so, which deposited fluid draining from that lung into a collection box placed on the floor which enabled the staff to assess its contents. To say this tube and or its placement was painful, awkward and impossible to ignore, especially when attempting to sleep, is to do injustice to the words “painful,” “awkward” and “impossible.”

In summary, I was connected by wire/tube/hose to nine devices/monitors. Yet I persevered. The process wasn’t pretty or planned, but I got out alive and was much improved from when I was admitted. Sleep-deprived for sure, but no longer oxygen-deprived. Obviously, I’m glad to be home, still mindful of the challenges ahead, however.