I have a friend who just had heart surgery, the robotic, minimally invasive kind. I told his wife that I would send my hard-earned tips on how to survive a hospital stay.
- ENJOY THE PAIN MEDICATION, BUT NOT TOO MUCH: Modern delivery mechanisms may have drastically changed the situation from when I was getting doped up by doctors, so maybe this suggestion is a bit outdated. Few things in this world feel as good as when those narcotics hit your brain (remember what Lou Reed said–“I feel like Jesus’ son”), but few things are scarier than drug addiction. I have had friends that have teetered near the edge, fallen over, and crawled back to safety—all from pain prescriptions following surgery.
- WEAR SOCKS, PREFERABLY SHOES WHEN WALKING AROUND: Despite the antiseptic smell that permeates a hospital, they are really filthy places. And who knows what needles or other paraphernalia have inadvertently been dropped along your path. This tip comes from a friend who has been a surgeon for thirty years, so I think he knows of what he speaks.
- ENJOY THE SPONGE BATHS: Admit the idea of being nearly naked (oh those carefully draped sheets) while a nurse of the opposite sex gently handles your body fits a middle-aged man’s fantasy. We can’t expect to much excitement from our lives, but when it comes our way don’t be frigid.
- FLIRT WITH THE NURSES, THE ONES PLUS OR MINUS TEN YEARS FROM YOUR AGE: Depending on your orientation this might call for a similar qualification to “ENJOY THE SPONGE BATHS.” You’re bored; they’re bored. Let’s lighten the mood with some narcotic induced levity.
- DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR SOUTHERN EXPOSURE: When it becomes time to get up out of your bed and exercise, grab your IV stand and look forward. There is some scriptural phrase about not looking back. Looking back to make sure your bottom is covered is just going to twist you up and make you walk in dangerously zig-zaging paths.
- TREAT THE NURSES AND OTHER STAFF WITH RESPECT: I worked with a nurse in Pittsburgh who was about 5’1″. She said she was 5’6″ before she became a nurse. Lots of people from above piling down on them; you don’t need to be one of them. Besides, they are the people primarily responsible for keeping you sane. And if you are mean, don’t expect a quality sponge bath.
- DON’T EXPECT TO GET ANYTHING DONE: Leave work and books and household repairs behind; they’ll be there when you get out. And don’t expect your brain to be anything great while you’re suffering through pain and its palliatives.
- EMBRACE YOUR PATHETICNESS: Its hard to be arrogant once you’ve been in a hospital and your urine has been drained with a Foley catheter, you’ve soiled your sheets and all your visitors have seen the green, foamy stuff being pumped out of your stomach. All this, as the Doctrine & Covenants says, will be for your good. I don’t know if thirty years later I’ve been able to embrace the patheticness of my soiled bed sheets, but I do have one story to share to wrap this all up with. When I had my finger surgery, I felt most pathetic. I was right handed and my right index finger had just been slices open and was in terrible pain. My right hand was useless. To top things off, I had a PIC line put in my left arm, rendering it useless also. I couldn’t feed myself as handling the fork and knife required more than my gimpy hands could muster. With my spaghetti and garden salad dinner sitting untouched by my bedside, my friend David came to visit. Seeing my plight he cut my food and fed me. At the moment it felt pretty shameful, but it was a bonding moment that has stuck with me over the years. Patheticness is a basis for friendship, an opportunity for people whom you have helped to help you, a reminder that our grandiosity is but a show. For when all is done, as the Psalm says, we are but dust. (Although some pretty valuable dust, if we get into. After all, there are a variety of kinds of dust: the dust that is sand mixed with dead skin cells and hair follicles, yes, but also gold dust.)