Safe in the Arms of Authority

Through the looking glass with Alice in hospital land

by Rus Cooper-Dowda

Woodcut illustration of woman lying abed sick.One evening about a month ago I went to the hospital to be prepared for surgery, chest surgery, the next morning. I checked in at six p.m. but felt so unsafe that I checked out again, against medical advice, four hours later. What happened?

Well, for starters, all of my doctor's orders were lost and not once but twice. The staff attempted to re-create them, twice, using my memory (I'd reviewed them, once) because they "didn't want to bother his office after hours."

Stop-and-Go Radiation

They lost the record of my pre-admission x-rays, too. Rather than look for the pictures again on the computer, they turned me over to Radiology for a re-do. That department took me from my room three different times. The first two times they got too busy after I arrived.

Things in my room weren't going too well either. I am immuno-suppressed and both my primary nurse and her aide had very bad colds. Nobody masked, gloved up or washed their hands in my presence during surgery prep.

The lack of infection control got worse though when I realized they were giving me a body shave with a previously-used shaver. The aide was really leaning into the job without having checked to see if she was actually working with a blade. Only when I insisted did she check and find out.

She treated the discovery as a joke.

Since I have chronic pain that requires missing no doses of my medication, my concern rose when the nurse said, "The pharmacy wants to know if you will just take an extra sleeping pill tonight so they don't have to get to filling your regular pain meds until morning."

Even when I protested, that was the plan. Then, an hour later, the same nurse came in to say, "The pharmacy is not going to be able to get to the sleeping pills tonight either. Is that okay?"
I started praying that one thing - one single thing - would go right.

Enter the Blood Taker

I told the woman who was about to stick me for blood that I was hard to stick and showed her the best places to try. She ignored my advice until she'd stuck me elsewhere eleven different times. When she got the blood, I thought I was home free. Then she showed up to do it all over again. Sometime after leaving my room, but before getting to the lab, "my samples were misplaced."

In between runs to Radiology and the bloodletting, calls came in from Dietary asking, "Do vegetarians like you eat hamburgers?" Four calls, same question.

The Missing Machine

At that point I decided I'd better confirm pre-admission arrangements about the machine I'd need to be able to sleep. Nobody in Respiratory Therapy had heard of the arrangements, or the machine.
That's when I called my family and said, "Get me out of here. I am not safe."

My husband and son arrived after the head of Respiratory Therapy told me they'd never owned the equipment I'd been told would be on hand. Now he was asking me where they could rent the equipment I needed - at ten o'clock on a weekday night. He thought that if I could tell them who to call then the hospital might have the equipment I needed by the following night.

That's when we left.

Here's the kicker. This hospital is one of the best in the area and I have to go back there day after tomorrow for the surgery originally scheduled.To say that I am worried is an understatement.

Illustration depicting one mean camel biting another."If there's anything mean in a feller, a little authority will bring it out."

— Kin Hubbard

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