Three days in the hospital with an inner ear problem — severe vertigo.
For the first two of these days, my hospital room is my sole domain. That, and the sounds coming in from the hallway: footsteps, things on wheels, beeping noises, and nurses and staff talking in the hall or at the nurse’s station or on the telephone (“Where is everybody? I’m working my buns off up here!”).
Room 832 was once a double room — the ceiling tracks for the curtains, the curtains themselves, the over-bed lights, the computer apparatus — all still there, but no second bed. It seems like heaven to not have a roommate. I remember back to when our first child was born; not only did I have a roommate, but she smoked. In the room. And that was considered acceptable.
On my first day, I soon realize that nothing is going to happen in the hospital — literally nothing — unless you can come up with your name and date of birth, repeatedly, whenever requested. And, believe me, this simple information is requested over and over again. The staff workers have these basic questions deeply ingrained in their routines, part of their efforts to make sure they do not give the wrong meds to, or carry out the wrong procedures with, the wrong patient. The hospital ID bracelet has a bar code on it, and this is scanned at the same time as you are asked for your name and birth date. The IV bag is also scanned at least twice a day.
As part of my admission process, I am asked questions that are amazingly practical: Is there someone at home who can help you? Do you live in a 2-story house? Do you have railings on the stairs? Do you have any adaptive equipment in the bathroom? Do you have an extra room on the first floor that could serve as a bedroom? Are you able to get dressed by yourself? These questions come from physicians, nurses, and physical therapists. They are the kinds of questions I would have asked of clients in my own occupational therapy practice days. It seems as though the whole health care system is now aware of the importance of independent function, the patient’s life beyond the hospital walls, and the potential need for community support.
On my second day, the physical therapist comes in first thing in the morning, stating her goal of getting me up and walking. I manage to sit briefly with my legs dangling over the side of the bed, but no way am I going to be able to actually stand up or walk. Okay, she’d come back in the afternoon and see if I could walk then. She comes back about mid-afternoon looking hopeful; I sit up but can go no further. No dice. I feel ridiculously like a failure, or, at the very least, a disappointment to her.
On the third day, the physical therapist comes back at 7:45am, pokes her head around the curtain, and (somewhat meekly) announces her presence. This time I smile at her and say I am definitely feeling better. She looks like she has just witnessed a miracle. I come to sitting, stand, and then walk with her out into the hall — for the first time expanding my hospital world beyond Room 832. We walk to the left as far as the double doors, into a stairwell to go up and down steps, out into the hall again to go as far as the other double doors, and then back to my room.
I realize only later that this therapist is actually the key person regarding whether or not I can go home that day; in effect, I have to safely pass her walking “test” in order to be discharged. And indeed, I have passed the test. I go home that afternoon. I’m scheduled for this coming week to go to an outpatient physical therapy clinic, one that specializes in vertigo treatment.
As I think back on all of this, I’m feeling like my hospital stay was a pretty well- coordinated experience in health care. For the most part, staff at all levels treated me as an adult and included me in the decisions that needed to be made along the way (one medical technician who came to draw blood [after asking me, of course, for my name and date of birth] was decidedly stern and grumpy). And yet, in spite of the basically good care, virtually all the “ordinary” routines and habits of everyday life are ipso facto absent in any hospital environment. There is no way for a hospital to simulate the soothing comfort of familiar surroundings and daily patterns of occupation that are known at home. Only home — sweet home — can offer that.
Ahhhh — it’s so good to be home.