Sunday, January 20, 2008

There was a pox upon our house.

Not an actual pox but a nasty virus that gave Lula a high fever for several days and then colonized Nate's lungs to such an extent that he ended up in the hospital. It's been a rough couple of weeks. The Tallulah thing was fairly bad; she had to stay home from school for three days, she was a bit more sleepy than usual, lost her appetite, had the runny nose and cough combo, etc. But she never got alarmingly ill. Nate, however, demonstrated the true crappiness of the baby immune system. He got the fever, runny nose, and cough, and upped the ante with rapid breathing, wheezing, and a scary floppiness. The day I took him to the doctor Nate was so lethargic that he would immediately fall asleep whenever I picked him up.

The doctor sent us to the emergency room, where they eventually decided to admit us for a lovely overnight stay. Ever since this experience a rant has been festering in my head, and the title of the rant is, "Hospitals: Why You Gotta Be Like That?"

Hospitals: Why You Gotta Be Like That?
Hospitals, what is your collective fucking problem? People who are staying in you are sick, right? There is something wrong with their bodily health that needs mending. Their bodies need medicine, or surgery, whatever, and then they need sleep. As much sleep as possible, so their bodies have the chance to heal. And here's the thing, hospitals: you have set yourselves up to PREVENT THE SICK PEOPLE FROM SLEEPING. What the fuck is wrong with you? Can you not get your shit together enough, maybe just have a monthly meeting or something, to tell the respiratory nebulizer specialist and the temperature-taking nurse practitioner and the gaggle of non-fluent-English-speaking residents-in-training and the security-tag checker and the blood-oxygen-level metering lady and the I.V. line fiddler and the heel-poking blood-sugar-meterer to somehow coordinate so that there is not a different person coming in to do something invasive to my poor sick baby every five fucking minutes?

So there's that. Add in an inevitably tragic roommate (in this case, a slightly older child who sometimes moaned in pain and whom was moved to intensive care at what was, to the hospital's mind, the reasonable hour of one a.m.) receiving a mystery treatment involving unrelenting beeps and some kind of whooshing/pumping noise and who is (thus) watching TV at an elevated volume, PLUS florescent lights designed to stay on all day and night; and, well, I'm surprised that hospital patients don't simply die from sleep deprivation. I bet they do all the time, and it's just covered up for insurance purposes.

By the way, hospitals, why is "intravenous" the default way for you to deliver various fluids and medicines? If you are dealing with a person who can still drink water orally and who is not severely dehydrated, why not just try giving them a beverage? Why immediately jump to sticking a thready wire-tube into a person's actual bodily veins? I have my own theory. I think that giving fluids intravenously is easier because treating the patient like a piece of meat is easier. Using an IV means you don't have to worry about the patient messing up the incredibly tricky water-drinking thing. Also, using an IV line involves technology, and that always makes medicine seem more science-y and official, something you hospitals seem to like.

Before we were admitted to "upstairs" on Wednesday the ER doctor sent Nate to get a chest x-ray. We waited outside the x-ray room in a chained row of chairs next to an elderly lady in a wheeled gurney. Every couple of minutes an orderly would come and wheel another elderly person behind the first. When we left, there was a string of wheeled beds holding patiently waiting elderly people that stretched out into the hallway. An assembly line, if you will.

Because the hospital, as an institution removed from the scale of humanity, necessarily treats sick people as pieces of meat on an assembly line. Note how difficult it is to be admitted -- to be inserted into the never-ending medical treatment assembly line -- and how hard it is to leave. A person has to assert that she's ready to go, and then push and push to receive the proper instructions and paperwork so she can actually go home. To be "discharged." Jesus.

I won't even go into the cleanliness issues and the corresponding and terrifying infestations of germs. The mystery spills and dried puddles of
unknown effluvia on exam room walls and floors. The steel bars of the hospital crib that are smeared with previous occupants' fingerprints. And I don't have time to get into the staffing problems, the wildly uneven levels of competence (and civility) demonstrated by various doctors and nurses, and the numbingly high number of different nurses and doctors that a person can see during a single 24-hour period. And I'll even give a pass to the cliché that is the woefully unhealthy and inadequate hospital food. (Not that I got the chance to taste any; the sick child's parent isn't fed by the hospital.) Because in the end it all boils down to this: hospitals, you have to remember that your sick people are actual human beings. Have a little compassion, fer chrissakes. A little mindfulness. You're hurting people. Hell, you're KILLING people.

Rant over.

The takeaway is that Nate didn't have pneumonia or the very contagious RSV but rather just a nasty unnamed virus. So his symptoms were treated, first at the hospital and then, more successfully, at home. And he has gotten better. The floppy, wheezing Nate is gone and the sweet, curious, grinning Nate is back. I am very much relieved.

EDITED TO ADD: Scott feels I've been unfair. He pointed out that there were many caring and helpful doctors and nurses at the hospital. A few people in particular made the discharging process smoother than I rather hysterically described here. He also received some food at lunchtime (though it remains true that I never received one for the preceding dinner or breakfast.) So take what I've ranted above with a grain of salt. Thank you.

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