Over the course of three surgeries starting in May, I've had the honor of spending 17 days in the hospital in recent months. Before this, I'd not spent a night in the hospital since I was five years old, so I had to learn a thing or two about how best to take care of myself.
What I learned is this: I had to be an advocate for myself.
My second visit to the hospital, in July, was the worst. Part of that was a function of the surgery itself--I was opened up along the entire length of my belly, and surgeons had a difficult time once they got inside. The result was more pain--and more pain medication--than I have ever experienced in my life.
An additional problem, for me, is that I am what's known in the medical industry as a "bad stick." Hospitalization is an unending series of 1 a.m. blood draws--the better to deprive you of needed rest--and what became clear during that second visit is that it was hard for medical personnel to find a decent vein to tap. On one particularly unpleasant evening, the phlebotomist stuck me five times, fruitlessly, leaving an ugly and long-lasting bruise. I warned subsequent needle-bearers they would get two opportunities, tops.
I was ready for the problem this time. Every time somebody new approached me to draw blood, I told them: "I'm a bad stick. It's hard for people to find the right veins. I know you're trying to help me, but I'm not inclined to sit still for repeated stickings." And the results were good: One young lady stuck me three times--once in the hand! digging around!--but everybody else seemed to take extra time and care to finding and preparing the right vein. For the most part, the blood draws were a smooth process this time around.
My other problem during the second visit was room-sharing. I'm not above the company, but I realized--thanks to a nasty panic attack on my last day--that I needed better air and light than I was generally getting. So I told the people in charge of my care that if I shared a room, I needed to be next to the window--which, in addition to providing natural light, also happened to be closer to the air-moving unit in the room. With light and moving air, I could survive better. It's probably not a coincidence that I was moved to a private room after one night during this last visit.
I'm sure I seemed snotty and a little precious in laying down the ground rules to the (really!) great team of medical professionals who were helping me recover from a devastating illness. But the truth is that this hospitalization was the easiest of the three. That's partly because the surgery was less invasive and painful, but also--I think--because I knew how hospital conditions affect me, and what conditions provided the best level of comfort (and thus the least stress) in that setting.
I'm grateful for every single person who attended me during my hospitalizations. I hope I never offended them, though I'm sure I did from time to time. But there's no point in becoming a passive slab of meat once you enter the hospital. Once I figured out what I needed, I asked for it. And generally got it. That made the process much, much easier to endure.