THE “D” WORD
DEALING WITH THE HOSPITAL (PART I)
So there I am, pacing the waiting room, consoling myself that removing an appendix is no big deal. She'll be fine. But it's been an hour. And here comes the surgeon, still draped for surgery and he wants to know if anyone in my family has Crohn's. Huh? Never heard of it.
Now I don't have to worry about an appendix which is perfectly healthy, but a terminal ileum that is twisted, perforated, and inflamed and they are calling the hospital's head surgeon to decide what to do next. The doctor returns to surgery and I do what any sane person in this situation would do. I call my mom.
Many of us have been introduced to our local hospital through its emergency room. Even if we are avid watchers of TV medical dramas, the only thing we've really learned about dealing with hospitals is that we should worry. And that's about right.
If you think this article is a 1, 2, 3 Step Program of how to breeze through a hospital stay, I have to tell you, I don't think there is such a thing. I hope to pass on a few hints on how to be helpful in a very stressful situation, but I'm not going to tell you that it's easy.
First off, you are probably dealing with many strangers. I thank my lucky stars that, if I had to be in the hospital at all, at least the surgeon, specialist, and nurses we were meeting were skilled, professional and downright human. So when I talk about the few who weren't, I want you to know that they were exceptions.
My 12 year old returned from surgery with tubes stuck in every direction. She looked awful. I nearly fainted. Tears sprang to my eyes. I just have to say that because it's the truth. You may think before you find yourself in this situation that you could never handle it. I'm here to tell you, "Yes, you can," and you will find strength you never thought you had.
The nurses went about the business of making my daughter as comfortable as possible and spoke to me as if I were a functioning person who could lend them a hand. Amazingly, my two legs moved, my two hands worked, my brain even kicked into gear and I started to ask the questions necessary to be helpful.
I felt at times that I was in some medieval chamber of horrors and the torture I was going through was that of not only watching them torture my daughter but being asked to help. Now, I'm sure most modern hospital administrators would cringe at that description, but any parent who has sat beside their child in the hospital probably thinks it's an understatement.
So before I would help cajole my daughter into a procedure, I needed to know why it was being done. It didn't need to be a medical brief, just a reasonable explanation. For instance, "Get her up and moving as soon as possible because she'll heal faster."
OK. I found the play room an acceptable distance to count as "getting her up and moving" and the board games there an appropriate enticement. Even in her weakened condition she beat me at "Sorry" about a dozen times. I'm not even going to mention "Clue."
Talking with a tube in her nose and down her throat was very uncomfortable. I found a "magic" slate at the gift shop. She could write on it, turn it over and the words disappeared ready for the next message.
When they finally removed the tube, she was very delighted. Unfortunately, later that evening she was feeling nauseous. The doctor we had was out that evening and he told us that his colleague would be by to see us.
When she came by, I told her that my daughter was feeling nauseated and was very worried about the tube being put back. Dr. Bedside Misdemeanor glared at us and said in the meanest tone, "That's right. If she throws up, that tube is going right back in her." My daughter began to quake. I don't know how she managed not to throw up right then.
I looked at my daughter sweating and trying so hard to get better, and I just knew in my heart that it would be over my dead body that that doctor would put a tube back in her.
As soon as the doctor left the room, I started doing a guided visualization. Seeing your child in the hospital gives you a very helpless feeling so being able to calm her with this visualization made me feel useful. I hope that the following relaxation technique is helpful to you. It's easy to do.
In a quiet, calm voice you say, "Starting at your toes, you begin to feel a wave of relaxation. With each breath you take, you feel more and more relaxed. That wave of relaxation is moving into your foot. That's right. Moving up your ankle. Your whole foot feels loose, and limp and lazy..." You keep going up the body to the head, part by part, calf, thigh, etc. repeating pretty much the same words, just changing the body parts as you go.
My daughter looked at me in desperation when I started and nodded. We had done this before, and she was more than willing to try anything now. It worked. She relaxed and the nausea subsided.
You do not have to be Mesmer to do this. As a parent, you have calmed your child a million times. You have comforted them and drawn their attention from their pain many times. They trust you to do this and even if the words aren't exact, your soothing tone is something to which they automatically respond. Try this body relaxation technique. You never know when it will come in handy. It's great anytime when dealing with pain.
My daughter also has a tape of soothing music that she plays when she goes to sleep. We brought this tape to the hospital. Be sure to bring batteries for your tape player because the hospital will not let you plug in anything. Also, bring headphones in case there are neighbors in the room who do not want to listen.
Probably nothing puts a parent on edge as much as a child in pain. So the good thing about this relaxation techniques is that it helps you relax too.
Humor can also be a great relaxer. My daughter and I rated the doctors. One doctor that was a bit sullen and had forgotten how to smile got an A rating for skill, but a D in rapport. Another doctor got an A in everything. Our private rating system gave her a way to let me know how she felt and lightened things up a bit.
Now, take a deep breath. That's right. Relax. And give yourself credit for doing your best.
Copyright 1996 - 2002 Arlyn Serber