24 March 2012

Hospital Give and Take

Generally speaking, I'm a good hospital patient. There is little I require.

Get my nasogastric tube out as soon as possible — those things hurt like hell. I'll happily consume all the Ensure, Jell-O (a little variation please), popsicles, yogurt, pudding, juices, and fresh fruit and veggies you give me — but I'm not going to eat a lot of the over-cooked, steam re-heated, unseasoned, unidentifiable, depressing dreck that arrives under that taupe plastic plate cover a la food services. As soon as you say that I'm allowed to get out of bed, sit in the chair, or walk the halls, I will with diligence — but I'm not going to page my nurse every single time because I know nurses are busy and my family caretakers and I have been through enough surgeries to know how to roll to one side, get up slowly, and shuffle about without injuring anything, falling, or screwing up the various IVs and lead wires. So if I'm in bed asleep or resting, that means I'm worn out — I don't need a pedantic lecture about getting up and moving about and using the inspirometer as much as possible. 

I will take my meds when you give them to me. I will be honest about my need for pain control, and I will  tell you as soon as I notice the pain creeping in rather than wait until I'm a sniveling, pathetic mess. I'll be quiet and calm when you need to draw blood. I'll obediently let you take my blood pressure and temperature every two hours including in the middle of the night (though it's nice of you not to turn on the overhead lights). I will say please and thank you. 

I've been here. I've done this. I bring my own inspirometer and non-slip socks. 

Just please... PLEASE... let me take a shower. 

It was at least five days after my renal, celiac, and mesenteric bypass surgery before my pleas for a true shampooing were allowed to be met. The surgery was, as would be expected, serious. Eight hours on the table gave way to days spent in the ICU where I marked time only by noting shift changes and my parents' clothing during their twice daily permitted visits — new clothes, new day. Finally transferred to the vascular ward, I looked marginally better than raw meat on a stick with my central venous catheter, IVs in my wrist and hand, and the ever present five-lead color-coded heart monitor. Still more days passed. I was eventually allowed solid foods — from chicken broth to fried chicken, which I pushed away and asked, uncharacteristically for Teddy Grahams. I ate the head off of one and declared myself full. 

But more than Teddy Grahams, what I wanted was a shower. Crusty with iodine and tape residue, body oil and sweat, I felt as appealing as construction worker with a home butchery hobby. My hair stood at odd angles completely on its own. My morale matched my personal state of funk. I begged, cajoled, and bargained for a shower. The problem was that I was not allowed to get my incision wet. My incision measured fifteen inches and cut across my abdomen from just to the right of my diaphragm, to my left flank along the curve of my rib cage. I did not yet have back the flexibility and muscle control to bend over such that only my head was in the water.

Desperate, I began to think creativity. "What about plastic wrap?" I asked. The nurse and my mother looked at one another with their eyebrows raised. My mother immediately went to the to the grocery store nearest the hospital. She came back with rolls of plastic wrap, a plastic table cloth, and tape. Gingerly yet snugly we wrapped my midsection, going around again and again. My mother cut a hole in the plastic table cloth and slid it over my head, then tapped it around my neck. We toddled me into the tiled shower stall and turned on the warm water. As I clung to the shower's two vertical handrails with my head bent downwards, mom squirted shampoo onto my hair and proceeded to scrub my scalp with both hands. Water caressed the back of my head, my ears and my forehead, my cheeks, my closed eyes, and my joyous smile. 

With my hair clean, we turned off the water, stripped off my plastic sheeting, and continued on with a sponge bath. I was patted dry, given a new gown, and new socks. I had just settled into bed when the nurse returned to check on me. She blinked with surprise and involuntarily smiled at the completeness of my transformation. Like a wilted flower given rain, I had blossomed.

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