Thursday, May 12, 2011

Facebook made my hospital stay less miserable

When the doctors told me they were admitting me to the hospital for surgery, the first thing I did—after calling my wife and parents to let them know how dire things had become—was go to Facebook and Twitter.
Surgery for sure. Apparently this is quite serious and disturbing. This account may be dark awhile.
And I meant it. I assumed that if I wasn't too overcome with pain to care about social networking, then I'd at least choose to be stoic and not inflict the details of my illness upon my friends.

Who was I kidding? I'm not one to endure pain silently—or, really, anything silently. It's why I blog. I'm a compulsive oversharer. Indeed, my first update to Facebook—dictated to my wife, apparently, through a morphine haze—came just a couple of hours after surgery.
Surgery done. Colostomy! Diverticulitis! Pain! (sec:jcm)
And over the next 24 hours, there were 26 comments appended.

Here's the thing: Surgery is an isolating thing. You're taken away from the people you love, drugged and cut open. After that you have days spent watching TV, giving blood, and drifting in and out of consciousness. The pain was the worst thing about surgery; the colostomy bag was the second. The loneliness could've ranked right up there with it.

But it didn't, quite. Because I kept posting, three and four times a day, to both Facebook and Twitter—and, thank God, folks kept posting right back at me.

Just a few hours after my first update, in fact, President Obama took the airwaves to announce the death of Osama bin Laden. Slightly more alert this time—and leaving the TV on around-the-clock to reduce my sense of dislocation—I posted this at 12:40 a.m.:
News flash: Osama bin Laden was hiding in my gut.
Probably not that funny, I realize. But I'd realized that I'd probably be giving folks regular updates on my recovery. And I'm not an optimist. But I didn't want to scare people away. So I figured a few jokes sprinkled in amongst the self-pity might be helpful.

I wrote about the food. I wrote about my roommates. I wrote about feeling sorry for myself. I wrote about the bad TV. And people kept responding. It was absolutely what I needed.

Social networking's limitations were also helpful. I've been writing longer blog posts this week, but while I was in the hospital I could barely stay awake or concentrate for five minutes at a time. (There were a couple of times I actually did fall asleep while updating my social networks, only to snap awake when I dropped my iPhone in my lap.) One-hundred-forty characters allowed me to communicate without spending the kind of energy required from an actual hospital visit. I could dip in and out of the communications stream as I was able.

Does this mean anything? I don't know. I Googled around to see if there was any link between a patient's social networking practices and their health outcomes, but it doesn't look like the kind of thing that's been researched. (Yet.) All I know is that I've had a love-hate relationship with Facebook and Twitter. It's why I invented "Single-Tasking Sundays" for myself.(Suspended for the duration.) But when I went into the hospital, I was able to take all my living relationships with me, staying in conversation and feeling the love. It was great.


Shruti said...

Now I understand why I missed hearing about this--I thought perhaps you weren't tweeting when you got sick, but it was the opposite. But all this occurred on the weekend when I was on a virtual social network blackout.

I think these are the things social networking is made for--short updates when a longer post isn't possible. However, some of it is extreme, like facebook uploads of like placenta or whatever. I wonder where the line is and how we figure out how to draw it.

Also, of note, my word verification is "fection." As in the last half of the word "infection."

zeditor said...

Joel -- I second that. My boyfriend had a serious medical incident on Easter Sunday evening, and if it weren't for Facebook and his HTC Thunderbolt phone, letting his friends know how he was doing would have been very, very difficult. People who say social media are frivolous haven't experienced this kind of thing.

It has also been helpful for me in keeping track of what is going on in the world while away from my home base. Thanks to my new iPhone, I could monitor work e-mail and my own social networks as I waited in the hospital for him to get better.

Now that he's in a rehab facility to finish his recovery, we use our smartphones to stay in touch with each other and with friends who want to trek over to Topeka to see him (our home is in Lawrence).

Hope your healing continues. I'm sure that having your community at your fingertips was a big help and will continue to be.

mitzibel said...

It's also the last half of the word "affection." Don't jinx the man!