Saturday, June 21, 2014

On People Fatigue, Hospital Stays, and Exceptions

I'm certain that I did not coin the term "people fatigue", but I've used it for years and it goes something [or exactly, in my case] like this:  I'm in no way shy and am often energized by being with people, both friends and strangers. I smile at strangers and engage them in conversation and it is an aspect of my personality that made me enjoy being in hospitality so much.  However, and it's a BIG however, I need my time away from the world at large.  Not really "me" time, just time and space where I don't feel the need to engage or feel pressured to be open to engagement.  It's like a palate cleanser or a walk in the woods in order for my inner extrovert to relax on a psychological level.  Minus chardonnay, Dove chocolates, and / or bubble baths.

Because this last round of "breakthrough" seizures, along with their accompanying complications, continued to escalate at the point when they generally de-escalate, I admitted myself to the emergency room early Tuesday morning.  Within a few hours, I was transferred to the ICU where I resided for a couple of days, often hooked up to three different apparati like a little Philip K. Dick cyborg in repair. 

Not only was the nurses' station immediately outside of my door [so calm and quiet!], but every two to three hours, you are visited to have your vitals recorded or your blood drawn or to have your IV stint removed because the vein has collapsed, then moved to another vein [try going back to sleep after that!] or because you've rolled over on the line leading to the heart / respiratory / etc monitors that are now scream-beeping in alarm like a bad Michael Bay movie or for interviews with various people / teams to answer questions you already answered so many times that you can anticipate their questions and answer them before they even ask them.  And, it's INSANELY cold.  It's a good day when you do manage 3 hours of sleep. Parents, I applaud you, once again.

I understand, fully, the point of why these practices are in place, but I'm a person who requires a certain amount of solitude in order to maintain balance and a sense of peace. Do not get me wrong, you receive amazing care and the nurses are absolutely incredible, but you are, in essence, never, ever alone as that kind of supervision is precisely why you are in the ICU in the first place. Even when you're doing your business, they either stay in the room discreetly or leave the door cracked and simply pull the curtains, but peek in to see if you are done. Not only am I now a master at using the bedpan commode, but I no longer have any dignity issues about not getting to wipe my own bum because, well, you do have between 16 and 20 wires and IVs hooked up to you and you're sure to rip one out in the process and that's less than zero kinds of fun.  I speak from stupid and stubborn experience.

As an aside, because my veins kept collapsing, they spent two hours one night trying to find an artery on both arms to use.  Apparently mine are super small, nine attempts later at 2:30 AM, they finally gave up.  It's a unique experience to have five people standing around your bed well past midnight asking to take a turn at putting a needle into you.  Between that and what I'd estimate to be 12-15 IV sites, I have the arms of a heroin addict right now. 

Finally, I was moved to the non-ICU section.  Much of the same routine followed me there, except now I had the privilege of sharing a room with a woman who was extremely vocal in her sleep and kept the TV on 24/7.  In her defense, she has challenges that many us do not and none of us would ever want, so I do not begrudge her.  This time, the room was across from
the Admissions Desk and the supply room with a slamming pneumatic door [think bed pads, syringes, etc. Things that every nurse and PCA are in constant need of and access, sometimes, 10 times in a minute.  Yes, I counted.]  It made the nurse's station seem like a quiet hike through the forest.  The brighter than the sun lights do not go out until midnight. 

So, when I was told on Thursday that I would not be discharged that day and that they felt I should stay the weekend for observation as I still had [and have] some walking / balance issues, I lost it.  Not angry, hissy fit lost it, but lack sleep, lots of pain from all the poking, being crazy homesick for my own bed and bathroom and real food, and Ben being too far away; this news was the tipping point for me.  I didn't bawl outright but I suppressed it so that I had that quivery little voice that shouts to the world, "I WILL NOT CRY-Y-Y-Y.  Shan't." and then promptly began to cry.  At this point, they were SURE I needed to be kept for further observation.

Friday, I overheard the nurses talking about how they needed beds and successfully presented a valid argument for my immediate discharge.  Understand, however, that, much as in doctor's offices, in hospitals, there is a time warp phenomenon where "I'll be right back" usually means 15-30 minutes, "Just give me 5 minutes" means at least an hour, and "Shortly" means more than 3 hours, if ever.  Soon [four hours later], I was in the sunshine and getting the first breath of fresh air I had had in 4 days.  If I could have teleported home, I would have.  Sadly, I needed to get my meds and my chaperone, who is also my ex-fiance, was exuberantly chatty and I did my absolute best not to simply grunt in a sort of shell-shocked response.

Once home, I savored my very untidy, very unsterile quasi-studio, did not even turn on music so I could simply soak in the relative silence of my own space.  When I washed off the hospital smell [pure ick, btw. DCFC described it perfectly: "
In the ICU / That reeked of piss and 409". It permeates everything and clings.  Lord, does it ever cling.] and had the chance to be alone and clean, smelling like a Frisbee Girl should, I felt the invasiveness of all of that forced people time fade.  I feel guilty now, because I've been home for a little over a day and have done everything in my power to avoid my housemates, so greedy am I to restore balance and quietude.

This all brings me to my final point, and a subject that I promise to quit yammering on about: Ben. The exception.  What intrigued me the most about the time we spent together is that never have I ever spent more than 10 hours in the same room with the same person, and that was usually due to working a double shift with someone and in a large dining room with a kitchen to where you could retreat, if needed.  Granted, I've been on long flights, but that doesn't count. 

With the exception of maybe 12 hours [bathroom breaks notwithstanding] once where he went for a run and once when he took a bus tour of SF, we were never apart and usually within feet of each other.  Most often on the bed, on our computers, doing our own thing: me, doing research at my little makeshift "desk", with funtime breaks and him, catching up on sports and anything else that struck his fancy at the time.  We played a great deal of internet dj with each other. But here's the kicker: outside of our excursions, this took place in a room that is 150 square feet, at best.  For 20 days, straight.

It was a revelation to experience and I'm not sure it is an experience that I can imagine having with anyone else as I never imagined being able to have it in the first place.  It is an experience, however, that I am grateful for having had.

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