Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Zest During A Hospital Stay
The Christmas Cactus in the Kitchen Window.
After celebrating my general health in my holiday letter written at Thanksgiving, and emailed, mailed, and given it to many of my neighbors in December, I was advised on Saturday, December 21, to go to my UNC Hospital’s Emergency Room in case I was having stroke symptoms. It was hard to believe it could be a stroke or related to one, but when I called the nurse advice line, she said go, so I dragged my good neighbor out of bed, and she took me to the ER. I was there in the ER from 9 AM to nearly 5 PM. They had me plugged into all these monitors, heart, oxygen in blood, blood pressure, etc. Finally we were waiting for a bed in the neurology ward, as I had agreed to stay overnight for tests, in case my arm going numb might lead to a stroke.
At 5 PM I was taken for my first MRI. Before that I had to answer a bunch of questions. Was I pregnant? No. Did I have any metal implants? No. Only gold in my teeth, which was okay. The machine apparently is magnetic and pulls the metal toward it. Was I claustrophobic? I didn’t think so, but I knew the machine could set it off, so I said Yes. The nurse said I could have a sedative. I didn’t want that, so I changed my answer to No. All my answers were NO.
The MRI technicians were kind and thoughtful. My granddaughter, who has been studying Health Science, knew more than I did about TIAs (or mini-strokes). She suggested while I was in the tube that I count my blessings, and my daughter said she does that, too, when things are hard. It was definitely noisy in there. I had a bulb I could squeeze for them to stop, and I only had to squeeze it once, when the IV leaked. I had earplugs and washcloths over my ears.
I thought about all the good things in my life, and there are many: my children and grandchildren, my farm, my fifteen chickens, and my dog; my orchard, vegetable garden, and flowers, my friends, my health, which is basically good, my published books, my ability to create. Then I thought: what am I going do about my next novel, in which some of my characters go back to Wales in 2013 for Christmas. Two other books, neither yet published, have been set on the Gower Peninsula in Wales. My Welsh characters have aged–how old are they now? What happens there at Christmas–I usually have been there in the summer. Snow? Boxing Day, A Christmas feast. Caroling? I have to do more research. It helped a lot to pass the time working on that novel during the hour-long MRI.
Then I was taken to my hospital room. I thought I’d be home by lunchtime the next day, and then I’d post my blog on Sunday, as I usually do. I didn’t sleep very well or very long. My bed moved under me–to prevent bed sores? They wouldn’t turn it off. I tried pretending I was in a boat, but that didn’t work very well. Still I did sleep, despite noises in the hall until they came to move the patient in the other bed, bed and all, to the Emergency Room. She was very sick and wasn’t supposed to get out of bed at all, but she apparently tried to get up and fell (there was a bed alarm, so they ran in, got her back in bed, but they were having trouble keeping up with her). So when they returned at midnight to move her bed, they had to move mine, too.
On Sunday they set my bed alarm, too, though the night shift nurses had allowed me to walk three feet to the bathroom, but not the day nurse. She was afraid I’d fall. The bed alarm is loud and penetrating, and causes the nurses to come running. I said I was drinking plenty of fluids, and needed to pee about every hour. My words fell on deaf ears, though I persuaded some nurses to trust me three feet. I hated to bother them when there were so many patients sicker than I was.
Everything is slower on Sunday, so after awhile it was clear I wasn’t going home Sunday. I wrote the poem below; I talked to nurses and nurse assistants whenever possible; I had a few phone calls. I kept my diary. I don’t like TV and I’d read my one book, so I wrote and wrote. The wise and funny ER nurse had given me a bunch of paper. I did have some more left arm episodes Sunday AM, and I was glad I was there. They finally told me I had “sensory seizures.” They wanted an EEG (checking the brain waves by putting electrodes on my head). That technician works at night, which surprised me. She woke me up at 9:45 PM, explained the test, and got me talking about everything, even killing chickens, while she decorated my hair with electrodes.
Afterward she told me for my age I had a very good brain, with lots of background activity. As it turned out the EEG showed nothing to suggest my seizures. Everything looked normal. The earlier EKG of my heart had also been normal. Their only scientific evidence that something was wrong was that little blood spot from the MRI.
They wanted to do a test where they inject dye into the blood vessels of the brain, but I said no, absolutely not. I also didn’t want to take any anti-seizure medicine. That sounded worse than the disease. Some of the side-effects are dizziness and losing your balance, and there are worse ones. I kept saying, I’ve never had regular prescription drugs. I think my brain will heal itself. This did not fly.
My attitude became part scientific curiosity (with a limit–I had no desire to learn, as the doctors did, what exactly caused that spot of blood in the wrong place). But my people curiosity was going strong about everyone: nurses, doctors, people bringing me food from the “restaurant,” the technicians, etc. I told the team of doctors (UNC is a teaching hospital–no telling what the learning doctors got out of Judy’s passive resistance. No, maybe that was active resistance.) I said they could be my consultants, but I was going to decide what I’d accept of their advice. I insisted on having the least possible medical intervention.
The last big doctor confab on Monday morning led to a big argument about my taking an anti-seizure medicine. I argued no, and they argued that the DMV doesn’t allow seizure people to drive. I had to stop driving in any case until I was free of my little numbness episodes. The medicine with its terrible side-effects they insisted on, but I compromised on a very low dose, and my immediate doctor, the resident, promised to do everything she could to get me back to normal and she would contact my regular wonderful primary care doctor who has helped me stay healthy and free of prescription drugs for twenty-five years. I haven’t had any episodes since I got home, 48 hours ago, as I write this on Christmas Day. My daughter helped me get the drug, some groceries, and came with her kids Christmas Eve to celebrate Christmas.
One friend said to look for the silver lining. She works in a cardiac intensive care unit. She says there’s always a silver lining. I feel good actually and hopeful that my basically healthy, normal body will get me through this, and people are already offering help in many ways, plus the county has transportation for people like me to get to doctor visits. I’m taking my time, but I’m getting back up to my normal lifestyle slowly, except for driving. People will have to visit me.
I am especially grateful to the nurses and nurse assistants on the neurology ward. They were beyond wonderful. I gave out bookmarks and some are even buying my new book, Farm Fresh and Fatal. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays whatever you celebrate. Now here's the hospital poem written on Sunday, too.
A THREAD OF LIGHT XIV. December 22, 2013
For all the nurses at UNC Hospital’s Neurological Ward
At home the Christmas cactus blooms
in the kitchen window without me there
to tell it how beautiful it is. Lately,
when I’ve stopped to look, I’ve
reminded myself how much beauty
there is in the world. At home Wag
lives day and night in the backyard,
and Emma feeds her out of pans
she finds in the cupboard, not recognizing
the pan in the bathroom as Wag’s
food dish. Wag feels deserted,
probably trying not to eat. She does
that while she waits for me to come
home. At home no one checks the
email, no one explains why Judy isn’t
answering her phone, her door, or her
email. No one picks up her mail.
More Christmas cards? Maybe one
more package? The hens go in and
out, eating, laying, squabbling, but
they miss the apple cores and
chickweed I carry them, the scratch
grains I scatter outside their chicken
door. Here in the mammoth hospital
on the sixth floor neurological ward,
I wait for the next test, the next doctor
visit, or my need to pee so I have an
excuse to call the nurse to watch
while I walk three feet to the bathroom.
I long to walk, but they say I must
have someone with me, and the nurses
are so busy they speed-walk from
one patient to the next. I took the
aspirin they brought me but refused
the blood thinner prescribed because
I’m in bed so much. I fussed at the
doctors. “This is a vicious circle.
I want to walk, and they won’t let
me, and then you want to give me
medicine because I’m not walking.”
Then the big-honcho doctors said,
“We’ll take it off your chart.
You can walk.” Here the nurses
make it all work. Caught between
the patients and the doctors who
stand at a celestial height and keep
asking me if I fell, if I hurt my head.
I keep saying, no, no, not for over
a year, but they can’t explain a spot
of blood in the brain that is coordinated
with where I’m having numbness,
which they call now sensory seizures.
I make the nurses laugh. We talk
about Russia or their young daughters
who love to read and write. They
bring me paper and hug me. I give
them bookmarks, which delights
them, though they can already see
I’m a writer because that’s all I do.
I’m writing the story of the hospital’s
neurology ward. So many nationalities
of women and men care for me,
from Germany, Armenia, the Middle
East, Japan, Kenya. I tell them I fell
on the ice several times in Finland
and Russia in ninety-five and ninety-six,
but no, my blood spot isn’t that old.
They’ve taken blood and urine, pictures
of my brain, and studied the MRI images.
They’re measuring blood pressure and
oxygen, and temperature often. The
last blood pressure reading was one-
twenty-four over sixty-one–the best
I’ve had in years. “But, no, you can’t
walk three feet alone in case you fall.”
One nurse assistant promises to return after
ten more blood pressures of other patients,
walk with me and tell me more about
her daughters who read and make up
stories, as I do--waiting, waiting to
go home to Wag, my hens, and my
beautiful pink Christmas cactus in
the kitchen window. Judy Hogan