Illness from the other side of the bed


Regular readers of communicatrix-dot-com know that roughly four years ago, I spent one delightful summer sliding into a severe onset of Crohn’s disease: colossal weight loss, fever, diarrhea. (I know, I know, sexy!!!)

It’s a long story, but the short of it is I was sick, brother: 11 days in the hospital followed by four months of bed rest to get to anything remotely resembling my pre-Crohn’s-onset life.

Today, I was in the hospital for the first time since getting ill. I’m not sick this time; I was visiting a friend who is. Several things struck me about the visit, though, probably in large part because of the parallel experience I had four years ago on the other side of the bed:

1. Our current health system blows gigantic, acrid chunks

I know this isn’t coming as a huge surprise, but for people lucky enough to stay healthy or even well-insured, it’s easy to downplay or forget. My friend can’t afford coverage, and had to wait until he was ungodly ill at both ends (severe respiratory illness and something like what I have, neither of which has been diagnosed yet) until he could be admitted.

I had great coverage and still had to wait 6 hours in the ER because so many people without coverage are admitted via the ER. (My fever was only 102.2ºF when I showed up; they told me I should have come before, when it was 104.4ºF. Yeah, and the night staff was on duty, and I was delirious with no advocate to accompany me. No, thanks: I’d like to keep my colon.)

I don’t know what to do about any of this. I’ll be interested to read Dave Pollard‘s chronicle as he goes through much of what I had to, since he’s pretty smart and pretty Canadian. But our health care system? For all but a very, very few? Sucks.

2. If you’re not feeling sick, a few days in the hospital will cure you of that

No rest. Horrible food. Except for the maternity ward, a dismal environment.

The staff at Cedars, where I was incarcerated, was great. They still couldn’t do anything but stabilize me. (Believe me, I was and remain grateful for that.) Even my doctor, the sainted Graham Woolf, told me I might as well try going home to see what happened, since a lot of people get better once they leave the hospital.

3. If you’re wondering what to bring, start with toilet paper

When you’re pooping 36x/day, hospital tissue feels like 3M’s finest 40 grit. Even relatively well butts are attached to sick bodies, so any bit of comfort helps.

Ear plugs are also hugely helpful, as is edible food (provided it’s cool with the doc). If you bring a book, make sure it’s light reading, both in terms of subject matter and weight. A TV Guide is really, really nice (you watch a lot of TV), as is lip balm (you breathe a lot of dry air).

And flowers are lovely, but if you’re bringing them, don’t forget the vase.

4. Stay well

The most obvious, but the easiest to forget. Be a fierce advocate for your own health before anything happens. Get your annuals, even if you have to pay out of pocket. It’s more important than any phones/lights/motorcars/single luxuries. If you’re just scraping by, I don’t know what to tell you. Hit the clinic, hit up your parents, hit a bank (kidding…kidding…). Eat right. Move your ass a little. Don’t take stupid risks behind the wheel or anywhere else.

Take it from me: the only trips you want to make to the hospital are as a visitor. And even then, only when necessary…


Photo by katastrophik via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Related links:

How to have a great colonoscopy
The inside poop on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet
A brief history of my onset, and a tribute to Elaine Gottschall

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  1. I was in the hospital once, and it was amazing how unpleasant it was. (also at Cedars). To keep thing sterilized, the temperature is freezing. You have a flimsy blanket. And you are awoken every other hour for medication. I’m really surprised more people don’t get sicker by being in the hospital. The only good thing about being in the hospital is that they give you all the tests that your HMO is too cheap to give you when you’re healthy.

  2. oh man…

    that was a good, solid, entertaining read…

    sad that even a doctor had to admit that ‘most people get better when they leave’… sad, but true… even sadder.

  3. My wife got hit by a car while crossing the street here in NYC shortly after we moved here. It was making a left-hand turn and knocked her down. She just broke a chip off of a bone in her finger, but getting the call from the emergency room and seeing her all strapped down to a back-board was pretty scary. But the worst part was the 4+ hours we spent there. She got “lost in the computer system” and we waited hour and hour for her to be taken down to x-ray. And there was a shift change an hour after she got there, so no-one seemed to know what the hell was going on.

    My Grandmother got pnumonia and had to be taken to the hospital last week while visiting with my Mom. My Mom’s county hospital found things wrong that my Grandmother’s local doctor had been telling her were fine for years. Significant things, like cronic bronchitis and an enlarged heart.

    When we had our daughter the post-birth rooms on the maternity floor were a huge disappointment after the actual birthing room – so small and cramped and you had to share and my wife got no sleep and they were so bad she called me the next morning and said, “Get me out of here!” and we arranged for her to go home 24 hours early.

    That is the long way of saying that I agree.

  4. Yeah, being in the hospital after the (unplanned) C-section birth of my daughter ranks up there with some of the most unpleasant times of my life. I had just had major abdominal surgery and was out of it and the nurse came into my room and put a bunch of pill bottles on my table and proceeded to tell me how often and how many to take each day (needless to say, I didn’t take any because I forgot what and when immediately). I was confused, wondering what the nurse’s role was in my medication. Then I had a major panic attack and called the nurse who came in and asked if I ever had a panic attack and then left. I was so scared that I would suffocate that I yelled over at my sleeping husband (who was holding my newborn sleeping daughter) to come over and help me. Then my daughter was losing weight (like all newborns do) and the nurse would come in each night at midnight (!), wake us up, and weigh her and then give us a hard time for her losing weight. Anyway, I could go on, but I could not wait to get out of there. And we had great insurance and this was a supposedly great hospital. Shudder.

  5. Michael Moore needs to hear from you. His next project, working title Sicko, focuses on the mangled healthcare system in this country. (P.S. I just now found your blog, absolutely love it!!).

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