They always say the day you stop learning is the day you die. Well, I?m not dead, but I sure did get to do a lot more learning than I wanted to lately.
Being the wise and kindly person that I am, I used to consider myself an expert on visiting people in the hospital. All it took was becoming the visitee instead of the visitor to really open my eyes.
It started innocently (if painfully) enough. The chest pains got worse and I couldn?t breathe. We headed to the doctor, and I was quickly swept into the maelstrom of intensive care.
The poking, the prodding, the constant repetitive questions were disorienting enough. I felt fortunate to have friendly ambulance personnel who were content to joke with me and act like nothing was wrong.
I was convinced everyone was overreacting, but they sure were efficient about it and left no room for disagreement.
Sure enough, I ended up in ICU in the big city. More poking and prodding ensued, accompanied by running commentaries carried out with the detached certainty that, in addition to my original problems, I must also be either deaf or incapable of panicking. I was neither.
Still, I managed to glean some useful experience that I?ll share with you in hopes that it might assist you in future hospital visits.
The most important things in your life become God, your spouse, your doctors and your nurses. You are completely at their mercy. Good solid prayer and honesty will work with the first three, but cross a nurse and may God have mercy on your soul. They can make your life in the big house a somewhat pleasant experience or a living torment.
Luckily, my spouse provided me with chocolate and the nurses were open to bribery. You?re on your own with the techs that insist on doing chest X-rays at 5 a.m. sharp, or the lab guy who just has to have that blood sample before you can eat your breakfast.
So there you are, laying in bed, a constant victim of a constant influx of strange technicians, new shift nurses, and consulting doctors?I think I had five before I left, but I lost count?who all want to examine you like you?re a prize heifer at auction.
Time loses all meaning. Meals come early or late, sometimes left untouched until the last tech has his or her sample. You know it?s getting bad when you actually look forward to the meds. And there are always more pills, transfusions, serums and injections to try.
Then in comes your unannounced visitor. Thanks to all the exams and consultations and medication adjustments, you haven?t had your lunch yet, let alone the opportunity for personal grooming.
You might have gotten an hour or two of solid sleep last night, and you might be just about to nod off…and here they are. Someone who is convinced that the combination of their cheerful visage, maybe a little prayer, holding your hand or patting your back and visiting is going to make you feel tons better.
Not having been raised in a barn, you wrench your eyes open, prop your greasy head up on the pillow and paste on a smile that probably looks like you copied it from a horror movie. We must be polite, after all.
Then comes the touching. After being poked and prodded all morning, the last thing you want is one more person touching you or invading your space. I personally got to the point where, if Sean Connery himself had wanted to give me a hug, I would have thrown a bowl of cold, congealed oatmeal at him
You see, talking to a patient requires more work on their part than you might think. Sometimes the meds mess with what they hear or say, and make staying lucid and coherent a very tiring challenge.
Sometimes your target is being prepped for, or just recovering from, a procedure. You should not be there unless you have been invited. Period.
So, with this in mind, the best thing to do is to call ahead. The person can tell you that today isn?t a good day, or what time they will likely be at their best. If they turn you down, don?t get upset. It simply means they want to preserve their dignity and that your well wishes and prayers haven?t gone unnoticed.
Leave a card or some flowers if you think they need reminding?or more good chocolate to bribe the nurses. If you do call to support them, do so. They don?t want to hear how your neighbor has this exact same thing or how your grandchild is inferior to theirs.
If you are allowed into the inner sanctum, remember a few things. Let the patient initiate contact. Unless they reach for you, leave them alone. Let them take the lead. If they?re getting tired, they might be too polite to mention it to you. Keep it short and sweet. If they start fading out of the conversation, say your goodbyes and let them rest.
Be prepared for some quirkiness that wasn?t there before. Some words and thoughts might come out strange. Take it in stride.
Above all else, remember that the person in that bed over there is still a person. Respect that person just like you would if they were standing upright looking you in the eye. Treating them with dignity helps them heal. And that?s the point, right?