THURSDAY, MAY 6, 2010 11:49 AM, CDT
Right Choice #5
Should I hurry out of the hospital, and if so, how could I make it happen? This problem haunted my waking thoughts, even after I transferred out of ICU into the surgical ward. The nurses in ICU talked as if moving to the ward would be akin to transferring into a spa. The reality was that of conditions more closely mirrored a prison than a spa, my IV acting as the prison bars that kept me from freedom.
Once cleared by the surgeon to transfer out of ICU, my entire hospital bed was wheeled down the hall. Bump. Ouch. Into the elevator. Crash. Ouch. Banged the wall. At last the narrow door to my room was located. Curtains separating my bed from that of my roommates were pulled close to afford a bit of privacy.
Sniffing, coughing and apologizing for her health, my ICU nurse briefed the ward nurses on my case. I was now released to begin a fluid diet, but would need to maintain anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, anti-biotics , anti-acids and pain relief through my IV. As the ICU nurses left, I took in my new accommodation. A television was attached to the ceiling, drab blue drapes hung at various angles between the two beds, an empty stand was next to the bed with a key available for securing my belongings. If only I had any belongings to secure.
As if on cue, in came Roishin, the physiotherapist responsible for my walking and breathing popped in. Roishin’s infectious energy cheered me a bit. She took my mind off my pain, the nausea and the gray walls that trapped me. As we walked – well, shuffled I suppose is more like it – Roishin asked questions about what had brought me to South Africa. How I liked the country. I repeated what will always be true for me about the country. The people are so warm and friendly, the country rich with possibility. It made me sad that corruption kept the country from moving forward. As we returned to the room, and she helped me rest back into my hospital bed, Roishin looked around the room. “Can I get you your toothbrush or something to help you freshen up?”
In the hospital, patients are responsible for providing all of their personal affects. Since there had been no way to keep my belongings at the hospital, everything was back at the hotel. The Sisters had gone to the hospital canteen to buy me a washrag and soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, but I lacked a brush, comb or any other supplies. Sadly, I said, everything is back at the hotel. “Well why don’t I drive over after work to pick it up for you?” She offered. Oh, my goodness, I couldn’t wait! Roishin’s return with my luggage will always remain a hospital highlight for me. Now, with my belongings I could wash myself. I could look at pictures of my family. I could listen to music. A bit of me began to come back to life. And yet still, the hospital left me with a feeling of unease.
The problem was the level of nursing care. Throughout the day I had to ask the nurses to clean an IV connection prior to exposing my system to the risk of virus, and I reminded them to clean my injection sites before they suck a needle in my skin to draw blood. The worst situation involved my evening medication. I was to receive medicine into my IV at 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM. After 8:00 PM I could choose if I would like to take a sleeping pill in addition to these medicines. It was a simple enough routine, and none of the drugs struck me as particularly lethal. They were, however, critical to my comfort. By the time the 6:00 PM dispensing time neared, my body cried for relief.
Unfortunately, the first evening in the ward was the time my intestines chose to start working again after the surgery. At the exact time I was supposed to get me medicine. I can only guess that when the nurse came to inject my medicine into my IV line, the IV was with me in the toilet. An hour after I should have been given my medicine, I began to feel awful. My body needed more medicine, yet none was forth coming. The nurse responding to my nursing page reviewed my chart and said that my medicine had already been given. “No.” I explained. I had been in the bathroom. “Yes.” She countered, and showed me where the Sister had signed the line for my medicine.
Together we looked across to the counter. A syringe of clear fluid sat next to the sink. “That’s my medicine!” I exclaimed. “Are you sure?” the Sister asked. I wasn’t. Not sure enough to have it injected into my body, anyway. So I asked if she could re-dispense the medicine. Apparently this was impossible for a hundred reasons I couldn’t understand. As my pain and nausea grew, I worried about missing my anti-biotic. And I wished I had been given my medicine. I hung on until I could take my sleeping pill and escape the hospital in my sleep Until I could escape it for real. Yet as the restless night wore on, I formulated a plan to get off my IV and out of the hospital. The students returned to Pretoria from their Safari the next night. I would have them help me escape the hospital.