Ah, l’Hospital!

For those who don’t follow me on facebook or twitter, I’m in hospital (again). Just as it looked like I was in the clear post-operatively speaking, I developed an infection.

It so happens that the infection is right in a patch of my belly that’s currently completely numb. Which possibly explains why I’ve been in almost no pain this entire time (I noticed it on Christmas Eve, but thought it was just a rash).

Yesterday I had a small operation to help fix the infection and (warning: the rest of this paragraph is medical and icky, but fascinating) the wound was left open and gaping for a while, as I waited to have a special medical vacuum attached to it. I used my kindle camera to have a look and got a huge shock at what I had thought might be a belly button-sized wound. It’s long, and wide, and deep. It’s also extremely clean as far as the human body goes, and I could clearly see different levels of. . . well. . . me. I was somewhat disturbed and quickly replaced the sheet covering it, but then realised it was a fab writing opportunity and took a picture. Several people have since requested to see it, so I’ve emailed them privately. (If you want to see it, email “fellissimo@hotmail.com” with the subject line “Gaping belly wound please”.)

It’s also inspired a significant dramatic scene in one of the stories I’m currently working on. I can’t tell you more than that, except that I ran the entire scene past a nurse and she made lots of the right kind of impressed noises. (Also, I was not on morphine at the time.)

I very much enjoyed my morphine experience once again. Some people throw up and/or feel awful after a general anaesthetic. I feel FANTASTIC. It was rather hard not to over-compliment all the wonderful staff, and I struggled with conversation due to not being able to hold info in my brain for more than about five seconds at a time.

The following morning I had a follow-up visit with the surgeon who asked me if I remembered speaking to him and his team after the surgery.

No, I did not. I definitely remember being on morphine and talking to people, but there is a whole period of time before that fully-conscious part of the evening that I don’t remember at all. He said I was, “Two vodkas over” and “laughing at nurses”. I suspect I may have made some overly affectionate comments towards all the staff (male and female nurses are both awesome) and he chose to spare me the knowledge of exactly what terrible things I said.

Silly man. Of course I want to know exactly what terrible things I said! I’ve never been blackout drunk so THIS IS MY MOMENT TO SHINE.

I saw a different doctor this morning and asked him if he was there at the time. “No,” he said. “Sadly. It seems I missed out.”

Fingers crossed I get some embarrassing and inappropriate quotes of my drugged-up self before I have to go home.

As you can tell, I’m in high spirits and feeling remarkably well (seriously, I’m not even taking panadol today because I just don’t need any pain relief). I’m going to stay attached to the medical vacuum for quite a while, and I’m still waiting on a swab result to get me a more targeted antibiotic—but I have my own room with a gorgeous view of Telstra Tower, The National Arboretum, and the helipad, and I actually had to force myself to not dance when a song I liked came on the Tv this morning.

Wacky stuff.

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You can see why this floor is called ‘The Penthouse’.

Also, I have a silver dressing on/in my stomach wound, which is extremely cool given that my steampunk universe has magical silver that can assist with supernatural levels of healing. (Based, of course, on silver’s real-world antibacterial qualities, which is why it’s in me right now.)

My actual surgery was at John James Private Hospital, but my official surgeon is away on holiday so this entire infection is being dealt with in Canberra Hospital, which is public. So I’ve been able to compare notes with… er… myself.

What the private hospital did better:

  1. It’s made up of almost all private rooms, and you can pay a (relatively) small amount ($70/night when it costs over $1000/night already) to make sure you’re alone.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but sharing a room with a random stranger (who is guaranteed to not be at their best) is always going to suck. The best-case scenario is that the 2 (or more) of you get on like a house on fire, and relieve one another’s boredom. But even that would freak me out thanks to the magic of social anxiety.

When I was at the private hospital I also had a private ensuite, which of course significantly reduces the grossness factor. (I also struggle with anxiety when showering anywhere other than my own ensuite at home, but sharing with sick/bleeding/incontinent people—or sharing while sick/bleeding/incontinent is even less fun.)

My roomie here at Canberra Hospital was an older man who was clearly very ill and in a lot of pain. He spent a lot of time moaning aloud, and would swear (and then apologise—he’s clearly also a very nice man doing his best at a miserable time) at almost every procedure (including really basic stuff like blood tests and cannula flushes) or movement. He was also in the bed by the window, which meant I didn’t get to see the view (not anyone’s fault of course, but natural light is a very helpful thing). He isn’t fully aware of where he is, or who staff or family members are, and talked to himself a bit. All this was stressful for me but part of the joy of hospital life. Then one day he was talking to himself about wanting to be violent and trying not to be, and I decided that he was a (tiny tiny tiny) potential danger to himself and others.

I told the staff that I thought he should have his own room, and why. They said that wasn’t an option, which shocked me utterly.

This man has been in hospital for weeks and hasn’t done anything the least bit violent. He’s also got a catheter and is basically unable to leave his bed. So you can see why staff immediately assumed I was over-reacting.

I went to the lounge and tried to sort out whether I was being rational or not. The thing is, as a fiction writer everything in life goes through a story filter in my head. This man said he felt like he was being tortured. He wasn’t sure what country he was in. He didn’t recognise his own family, or the nurses. And he was understandably angry.

I’m mentally ill too, and keenly aware that “mental illness” is blamed for a bunch of crimes (while the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators).

But.

Watch any movie with foreshadowing, and you can see the big disaster coming from miles away. You never get a story where a crazy old man talks about violence and then successfully controls himself. You get a story which ends with Hospitalised Mother Of Two Killed By Delusional Room-Mate After Requesting A Different Room.

Long story short, I applied the same strategy I apply to every important hospital issue: I waited until the next shift came on, and told them exactly the same thing.

They knew the man would hate to be moved, so they moved me instead. And voila! I have a private room (the only one on this floor), despite assuring everyone over and over that I’m absolutely fine and don’t deserve special treatment.

It’s sooooooo gooooooood. TJ in particular was born loud, and it was very hard to host him while trying not to bother the patient on the other side of the curtain. The gentleman above also had lots of visitors and I constantly found myself inadvertently (or vertantly, who am I kidding?) eavesdropping on everything they said.

It’s good to be alone.

2. Food. Obviously. Everything I ate at John James was nice. Not all of it was 100% to my taste, but it was all decent. Some of it was seriously good.

Yesterday for breakfast I was intolerant to literally everything on the plate except a slice of cold toast and some low-fat margarine. So that was my breakfast. No milk, no protein, nothing that was enjoyable to eat.

The vegetables here are microwaved frozen vegies; the meat is usually a little nasty; the porridge would be better used as Kindy glue and the backup sandwiches (kept in a fridge for people like me that have been fasting and needed something to eat between normal mealtimes) recalled that famous New Yorker story “Cat Person”, in the following manner:

“It was a terrible sandwich, shockingly bad; Felicity had trouble believing that a grown human could possibly be so bad at making sandwiches.”

One sandwich was cheese: plastic cheese with a thick layer of cloying margarine. The other was “Mayo chicken”. The mayo was bad, the chicken was bad, and the bread was going stale, but it was the combination of finely-minced chicken and still-very-noticeable chunks of cartilage and bone that truly surprised me. I’ve never encountered chicken bones in a sandwich, let alone one that had apparently gone to the trouble of mincing up the meat. Was it made of chicken scrapings from a sausage factory floor?

I cannot confirm or deny that statement.

This was my lunch today:

 

Take a moment to guess what it is. Milky tea, and some kind of meat with an ice-cream scoop of gently flecked mashed potato?

The mug is mushroom soup. It tasted very mushroomy, with just the slightest hint of actual real mushroom—perhaps as much as 2% of a physical mushroom, finely grated and scattered into the mushroom-flavoured broth. It was actually pretty nice, and it was a good thing it was low on actual vegetables since I’m pretty darn intolerant of the shrooms at the best of times.

The other is a veal roast with gravy and “cheesy potato”. The lunch and dinner menu always feature microwaved frozen vegetables, and various forms of (alleged) potato.

Potato is actually the one vegetable I can eat safely, and despite the carbs it’s got a lot going for it. It’s all powdered potato, but the “cheesy” version was definitely superior to the ones that are pure powder or microwaved slices of boiled spud.

I feel a little sad as I wonder how many baby cows were slaughtered in order to be burned and smothered by (alleged) gravy throughout hospitals all over Canberra today. I had some of the non-burned bits and they were okay, although the weirdly viscous movement of the gravy was a little disturbing (I’ve made powdered gravy and it doesn’t do that, so what could create such an effect? Did it get mixed up with the “rolled oats” glue from breakfast?)

Oh! The other food difference is that it was quite easy to convince people here that I’m better off with the non-diabetic menu (which tends to have more protein and less stuff I’m intolerant to). At John James I’d take advantage of any confusion and squirrel away real butter whenever someone accidentally gave me the good (ie non-diabetic) menu.

I also had a slice of nice white bread and real butter at lunch, which isn’t super healthy but certainly is delicious.

3. Respect/Meds

But here’s something interesting: I’ve been treated much more respectfully here than at John James. On one occasion at John James two nurses came in to personally administer my medication while I was on the loo (rather than coming back in a few minutes). Given how overworked nurses are, I’m mildly sympathetic—but after having two kids I feel like far too may people have treated my body like public property and I’m pissed. If I can dress and shower myself, I want to do so without company thankyouverymuch.

A nurse at John James disapproved of my method of bringing in my (very confusing) array of medications, and she confiscated them all and ordered replacements from the pharmacy. The replacements looked different and I was unable to keep track of important meds like diabetes stuff, migraine stuff, and anti-depressant pills. As has happened every single time I’ve been in hospital, nurses tried valiantly to keep perfect written records and give me all my meds at the right times—and they failed utterly. Although the paperwork system is a great plan, it doesn’t work in practice and that is dangerous. (Obviously, letting me take my own pills while high on morphine isn’t going to be safe either.)

Here at Canberra Hospital, nurses have over and over again LISTENED to me and let me take my own pills at the appropriate times. This is bizarre and wonderful. (And didn’t happen here at Canberra Hospital when I was pregnant and came in with premature labour… but of course, pregnant women be crazy so people are always extra patronising during such times.)

I have a theory that patients at a private hospital are fussier and more demanding, so private nurses are more likely to have grown hard and dismissive of patient concerns. Because, although the vast majority of staff at John James were great, my overall experience with staff here at Canberra Hospital has been better, kinder—and MUCH more respectful.

 

Having said that, I’d kill for a private room.

I mean, not really KILL…

Or would I?


There’s often a wonderful eerie quality to hospitals, as I meet yet another shift of new people tasked with keeping me alive, as my medical vacuum says “eep” to indicate it’s just been unplugged, as I smile politely while someone takes four attempts to hit one of my veins with a syringe, or as I push my drip stand down the empty hall at 2am, shuffling in and out of pools of fluorescent light.


Once again, my biggest worry is recovery. Small children, school holidays, and major surgery do not mix well.

Kids get bored.

Mums run out of ideas.

Mums do what they have to do to get through the day without excessive screaming from/towards the children.

Mums go back into hospital, and the cycle starts again.

I don’t really have a solution. Chris may be healthy, but he has his limits too—and he’s back at work this Tuesday. I have received overwhelming amounts of support from friends both close and barely seen, and that frightens me as well. I’m painfully aware that my normal “good” level of health isn’t enough to do the stuff people have done for me (such as babysitting my kids for a whole day, or donating money). It’s never easy to believe I have value, as a woman/fat person/depressed person/writer/disabled/low-income person. Hopefully spelling it out here will help me to remember it’s society that is broken and wrong, not me. My personal worth can’t be linked to societal norms or I’m screwed.

The good news is that I may still be able to enrol Louisette in holiday care during January. Because boy howdy do we need it.

Published by Felicity Banks

I write books (mainly adventure fantasy for kids and young adults), real-time twittertales, and a blog of Daily Awesomeness. @Louise_Curtis_ and http://twittertales.wordpress.com. My fantasy ebook is on sale at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/278981.

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