Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hospital Tips

In 1920's Paris, Ernest Hemingway, who had already gained fame as a novelist, was a member of what was later referred to as "Paris café society." He would have lunch regularly with such luminaries as Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and others.

I am a member of Kokomo's café society, which is made up of a number of the usual suspects, who are no less brilliant than Hemingway and his contemporaries, but have the good taste to be less public. As we all know, having a leisurely lunch with friend is a very special occasion and is to be treasured. It is rare that I do not have a lunch date these days.

I was having lunch with a friend last week and he asked me if I had learned anything during my sickness. I told him I had learned two things: 1) the meaning of life, and 2) how to get along in the hospital. He asked me several questions about staying in the hospital and commented that he guessed few people know what I know about hospitals and then opined that I should put it in writing on my wife's blog. Hence, this entry.

Let's suppose you are sick and your Dr. says you need to stay overnight for "some tests." How should you dress for the occasion? Simple. I arrive at the hospital wearing my boating shoes, a pair of athletic socks, my pajama bottoms and my Navy blue, hooded, floor length bathrobe. I have already put my toothbrush and toothpaste in tonepocket with my glasses and a bottle of Tabasco sauce in the other. I am sure I look like an ancient Druid on his way to worship at Stonehenge, but who cares? This is not a style show and the first thing the nurse is going to tell you to do is take off your clothes, put on that weird hospital gown with no back to it and get into bed. You might as well be comfortable in your own clothes, right?

A word about that cute little gown is in order. I always wear my pajama bottoms. Always. When I am told to put on the gown, I take my bathrobe off and say, "I brought my own. That's not happening". Never have I had a response other than "OK." Show a little backbone, but not your back end.

If you can swing it, try to get a room across from the nurse's' station. It is a little bit noisier than down the hall, but the staff can get to you more quickly if you are in trouble. Nurses have a tendency to check on you more frequently if you are across the hall and have a tendency to hang out with you and talk, which is a great thing. Nurses are very special, cool people with lots of good stories about crazy patients. Like me. If they send out for pizza and you smell it, they might give you a piece.

It may be that you have been there for a few days and your mouth tastes awful. A nurse might ask you if you want some ice chips. No, you don't want no stinking ice chips. What you want is "lemon ice," which seems to be stocked at all nursing stations in all hospitals. Lemon ice is essentially frozen lemonade. Big improvement over ice chips! From what I can tell, the supply is limitless, as I have personally depleted the stocks at two nursing stations during one recent stay.

Try to get a private room if you can afford it. Private rooms usually have their own shower. The nurses will not want you to take a shower, particularly if you are doped up. They worry you will fall in the shower, lose consciousness, or scald yourself. Maybe all three. Of course, you couldn't burn yourself if you had to because they have turned the water temperature to lukewarm, at best. Nonetheless, even a lukewarm shower will make you feel better. The trick is to get to take the shower. You can ask, but they will probably say no. I just tell them that is what I am going to do and do it. Sometimes the nurse will say she needs to check with the Dr's orders. While she is checking, go take your shower.

You may find yourself hooked up to an IV machine running off a wall plug. This might prevent you from getting to the shower. No problem. If you unplug it from the wall, it will continue to work under its own internal power system. You will not die. Hang the plug on top, get out of bed and maneuver it into the bathroom and take your shower. Be careful of the needle in your arm, Bozo!

What do all combat soldiers in Afghanistan have in common with hard-core hospital patients? They all carry a bottle of Tabasco sauce with them. I do not find hospital food to be bad. It just has no seasoning, so it tastes flat. Even Chicken ala Hospital can be tasty good with Tabasco sauce on it. Ditto for the commonly served scrambled eggs in the morning. The bottle can be kept under your pillow.

Always take something to read. Sleepless nights in a hospital can stretch on and on. I try to take a car or motorcycle magazine or something I am interested in with me. It is psychological. You can think about what you might do when you get out. I do not take a laptop. Why? Because every nurse has a story about walking into a room and finding the patient cruising a porn site. Laptops, by their very presence, are suspect. If you are stupid enough to bring your laptop, apart from insulting a professional who is trying to help you, may I suggest that the next time you need an IV, a bigger bore needle than is really necessary is going to be used. Ouch! Also, there is the possibility of an enema in your immediate future. Do we really need to go further? I think not.

Every nurse can find you a warm blanket, heated in their special blanket warmer. Once you have been tucked in a warm blanket, you will not forget the experience. The problem I have is that it is so unmanly to ask for a warm blanket. So what? You are a little cold. Be a man, right? But that blanket is so nice. I cannot bring myself to ask for one, but I will not turn it down if offered. It is my own weird little standard.

If you happen to be in Krannert at IU Medical Center or some rooms at St. Vincent (I am a veteran of both.), you might find yourself in a room with a view of the outdoors. Your bed has wheels. Ask your nurse to wheel you into the sunshine. She will. I remember a nurse did that for me at Krannert and made room in the bed for the Lynne. He said he wouldn't be back for at least an hour. I know what you are thinking. So was I…but not with 90 stitches down my abdomen. Even I am not that tough.

It is nice to have visitors when you are sick in the hospital, except when you are really, really sick. ( I have been there and I like to have the Lynne with me and nobody else.) Sometimes, visitors do not know when you have had enough visiting. Just say that you think you are going to throw up. The room will clear in a nanosecond. Trust me on this.

Most hospitals will assign a nurse to you during each shift. Always, always ask them where they went to nursing school. Nurses are professionals. They are proud of where they went to school. They do not give RN certificates away, especially when accompanied with bachelor's degrees. Always ask how long they have worked as a nurse. They will always tell you about their school and work. I have noticed that when you show some interest in them, you get separated out from the rest of the patients. Not a bad thing. Might get you a piece of pizza or, as one nurse did for me, a bowl of peach ice cream every day at the beginning of her shift. Love those nurses!

Always say thank you to whoever is working on you, if you are able. Apart from being common courtesy, which is rare these days, medical people appreciate that you acknowledge they are trying to fix you. I always say "Thanks for trying to help me, I appreciate it." They tell me so few patients ever thank them, just like the practice of law.

I do not mind being stuck with needles, having been drilled several hundred times by now. If needles bother you, then don't look, Bozo. Try to carry on a conversation when they are putting in the IV line. Watch the television or take a deep breath when you get stuck. It is not much, but it is the best advice I can give.

If you have to have an EKG, the technician will put these little rubbery thingies all over your chest. No big deal, except if you are a manly-man like me and have hair on your chest. ( Unless you work in the circus, this tip isn't for women.) You can handle this one of three ways. Shave your chest in advance. Not cool, because the guys in the YMCA locker room will look at you weird. Pull each one off in a quick, extremely painful jerk. Or just go take a hot shower. It turns out that warm water will melt the glue and the little thingies almost fall off. Very cool, right? I'll bet you didn't know that, did you?

I guess that is about it so far as hospital tips go. You want to stay out of hospitals, of course, but sometimes you can't avoid it. I should know. Take my advice and you will receive better care, the food will taste better, you will get a shower, and you will hear some great stories from your nurses.

Mike out.


  1. You're much better at this than I am. The last time I was in the hospital and took a shower behind the nurse's back, I was discovered just as I was towel drying my hair. The nurse was unhappy that I'd gotten my IV wet and she proceeded to flush the thing out with something like saline solution which in turn burned and made me cry. I never knew about the lemon ice - it sounds heavenly; certainly superior than sugar-free popsicles.

  2. The pic of the "druid" is priceless ;-)