Some Thoughts On My Recent Hospital Stay

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Four days in the hospital is approximately three days too many. The first day, you’re all, HECK YEAH, I can watch this TBS marathon of “Friends” from the comfort of this Craftmatic adjustable bed while this lovely lady from food service delivers me french toast that I neither had to prepare nor have to clean up. Then, day two arrives and everything is terrible until the minute you are discharged.

If your first IV gets kinked, a nurse will place a second IV. If your second IV is infiltrated, your hand will swell up like a baseball glove and a nurse will place a third IV. If your third IV blows within just a few hours, they will call a nurse from the intensive care unit’s special “IV Team” to place a fourth IV. When it is all over, you will be able to rattle off your IV stats like a sports analysis: four IVs placed out of six attempts.

If there are no beds in the regular recovery section of the hospital, they will place you in the cardiac care wing which, demographically, skews a little older. They will choose your roommate carefully with a nurse explaining that they found a patient for you to bunk with that was, “a little closer in age.” That patient will turn out to be… 60. Also, when your kids visit you, their glowing youth and vibrant health will ensure they are treated like Golden Retriever therapy puppies by everyone in the halls and they will, therefore, be hugged extensively by strangers.

You will discover, tragically, that narcotic pain relievers do not sit well with you thus shattering any dreams of a narcotic-fueled life of crime on the run because you would have to pause to vomit every 30 minutes and the police would surely catch up to you.

The very minute you start to think, hmm, our health care flexible spending account still has a balance in September. That’s pretty remarkable. CONTACTS FOR EVERYONE THIS YEAR! That very minute – the very minute! – when you think of all of the things you’re going to buy with your extra FSA money – NAME BRAND CHARACTER BANDAIDS – is the exact moment when your appendix will burst or your kid breaks an arm or your diverticulitis flares up.

You’ll start to resent everyone that can just… walk around on their own. Logically, you know that the person in the hall wearing regular shoes instead of non-slippy socks isn’t, like, showing off or anything but it still feels like they kind of are. You’ll start to mutter to yourself, “I bet that lady over there doesn’t have a headache.” Or, “That dude over there doesn’t look nauseated.” The ability of others to exist without crippling pain will bring a not insignificant amount of irritation. ESPECIALLY when your 60-year-old roommate gets discharged before you and she is wearing regular clothes and no amount of french toast can make up for that kind of jealousy.

You will be given so many different IV antibiotics that you begin to get to know each of them. Not by name but by how they make you feel when they’re administered. The one shrouded in brown because it shouldn’t be exposed to light is especially terrible. You suspect the one in brown is responsible for your super duper heightened sense of smell which, by the way, is just the absolute worst superpower to have. Especially in the hospital. It’s almost like you can smell the very molecules in the air around you. Your new super smell capabilities means you will accuse your husband repeatedly of having very bad breath which will give him a little bit of a complex. He does not, in fact, have very bad breath and you will apologize profusely for the false accusation once you are home and off of the IV antibiotics and no longer able to smell each atom of matter that surrounds you.

The nurses will be amazing and their kindness for your condition will make you weepy and when they finally send you home, you will be a little sad that no one brings you french toast anymore.

Apparently, It’s All Downhill From Here

Ever since I turned forty years old last October, my body has been letting me know in small, subtle ways that I am forty years old. A weird sore elbow here, a painful back twinge there, a weird bump by my eye that’s there and then not there – all random things on random days but each one noticeable and leaving me thinking, huh, I guess it’s going to be like this now.

At some point awhile back, my ears began to itch. Really itch. Not the outside part but sort of the inside part but not really deep on the inside sort of just on the inside. I explained this phenomenon just as clearly to my dermatologist and she looked in my ears and said, “Oh, sure, you have {insert name of weird skin condition that I legitimately cannot remember the name of now}.” Alarmed, I asked about a cure, possibly before I used up all of the Q-tips in all of the land, and she patiently explained my weird ear thing wasn’t curable. There’s nothing that will fix the problem. It’s just a thing I now have. “Here’s a prescription for an ointment that will only mask your symptoms but know that you’ll be itching your ear maniacally until the day you die. Good luck!” (I might be para-phrasing my doctor a bit here.)

It’s like I’ve crested some invisible mountain at forty and am now on the downslope. (Which, walking down the side of a mountain can be really tough on your knees. Ask me how I know!)

But, whatever. Fine. I can handle itchy ears. What’s harder to deal with is when something in your body just decides to stop working all together. Did you know all your parts could just do that? Randomly? Just up and not work when they’re supposed to but don’t want to? They can! Mine did!


On one of the last days of March, after getting all of the little people in this house off to their little places, I felt a dull ache in my lower left torso that intensified throughout the morning hours. Stretching didn’t seem to relieve the uncomfortableness nor did a hot shower. The pain I was feeling was getting stronger and stronger and I was getting increasingly worried. What was fine at 8:00 a.m. became intolerable by 11:00 a.m. which is about when I decided to take myself to our local urgent care. After consulting with Bob during one highly panicked phone call, he rightly surmised that urgent care would shrug their shoulders and send me on to the emergency room. Better to just go there first. So, I drove to the ER instead. This was, in hindsight, probably an unwise decision since I was in rough shape by this point and the ER is quite a bit further than urgent care. But, you know, I’m good in a crisis so I gripped that little handle they provide above the driver’s side door and clenched my teeth and made it to the ER check-in where I writhed in pain while blindly signing whatever form the lady at the desk presented to me.

After a quick examination revealed I’d need a CT scan and a sonogram, the doctor offered me pain medication to ease my symptoms while I waited. Something in my brain that didn’t want to, I don’t know, inconvenience the staff or something made me refuse at first. So, of course I half-spoke, half-screamed, “Thank you, but I’m OKAAAAAAAY.” I was totally not okay.


The ER doctor looked at me with equal parts sympathy and confusion and said with a surprising amount of compassion, “Look, there’s no reason to be in pain,” and ordered morphine.

Then, everything was good for a really, really long time.

When the tech working the CT scan advised that I might be uncomfortable with the contrast dye she was administering through my IV, I didn’t even flinch, didn’t even feel it. (She also told me the dye would probably make me feel like I was peeing myself but that, not to worry, I probably wasn’t actually doing that. There is just so little dignity in the hospital setting, isn’t there?)

Thanks to the graciousness of some friends and neighbors, Bob left work early and was able to join me at the ER while we waited for test results which, was quite the reversal of roles in our marriage. An irony that was not lost on Bob, who made quick work of repeatedly exclaiming in front of the staff, “Wow, Joanna, you sure have a lot of medical issues.”

By the time they transferred me to the main hospital later that evening, I was feeling no pain. Literally, no pain. Such a testament to the power of modern pharmaceuticals. I climbed into my hospital bed (which felt 100 times more comfortable than the ER bed I had just spent hours and hours upon), took a minute to organize my purse (my preferred activity in times of crisis) and settled in for the night.

Up until this emergent situation in March, my previous hospital stays had consisted of one (1) overnight observation for a concussion at the age of five and three (3) multiple-night stays for the cesarean births of my children. And, now I can say with total confidence that the labor and delivery part of the hospital is really where you want to be. I was plopped in the surgical recovery portion of the hospital since they weren’t sure if I would be recovering from surgery shortly and it was not as… cushy as the part of the hospital that cradles new mothers and their babies. I decided rather quickly that I would rather not be there.

The next couple of days passed in a bit of a haze. I know Bob and Millie spent most of Thursday at the hospital from all of the gift shop and cafeteria receipts Bob presented me with but I don’t remember conversing with them. I really wasn’t well and the doctors were divided on what actually had gone wrong. It was either something super serious (infection) or something that was less super serious (malfunction). Best to just leave me in place, pump me full of antibiotics to treat whatever was in there and hope for the best. Medicine is a very cross-your-fingers kind of a science.


Millie discovered the “nourishment room” during one of her visits which is the small space that houses all of the drinks and snacks, like graham crackers and applesauce and ginger ale. I don’t think she’s ever been more excited in her four and half years on this earth. (I’ll let the prune juice in this photo speak for itself.)

When I was allowed to go home later that week, the first thing I did was take a hot shower and nap for two hours. Then, I scrubbed absolutely everything that had touched any part of the hospital environment, including Millie. It was so good to be home. In my absence, I had received the perfect get well card from my sister-in-law that basically read as follows: “You don’t drink enough bourbon. It kills everything.” My sister-in-law is full of excellent advice.

It’s been a bumpy month as my body recovers from both the trauma of being sick and the trauma of the hospitalization. It’s not over either. I’ve got some repeat tests coming up to see if my body is making magical progress in healing itself without surgical intervention. Which is something your body can totally do! Even at 40!

I, of course, have my fingers crossed.

Under Pressure

Bob was in the hospital for a couple of days last week. His ailment wasn’t stroke-related but was exacerbated by medication he has taken since his stroke so his doctors wanted to keep a close eye on him. He was released mid-week and spent some time recovering and resting at home. Thankfully, he is doing fine.

It seems we’ve become rather deft at handling medical emergencies around here. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or just really depressing but it has become clear that I am resilient in a crisis. I may not have many other talents but when life suddenly gets serious, I spring into action mode.

From the minute I googled Bob’s symptoms and determined we should skip urgent care and head straight for the emergency room, I was exactly like a (slightly less physically fit) SEAL Team Six member, grabbing kids and snacks and diapers and water bottles and distraction toys and coats and medications and night-vision goggles while simultaneously checking traffic on my phone while buckling a kid into a car seat. In a crisis, I am a vision of calm and patience which is in stark contrast to my typical modus operandi of complete harried annoyance.

This not being our first time at the hospital rodeo, the kids and I dropped Bob off at the entrance to the emergency room, wished him the best of luck and then went and ate dinner at Chik-fil-A. If there is one thing I’m sure of, it’s that hungry kids make the WORST hospital visitors. Also, keeping the kids on schedule is crucial during a crisis. Like dogs, they sense fear. After plying them with chicken nuggets, waffle fries and reassurances, we made our way back across town to the emergency room to check on Bob. When it became apparent his stay was going to run past bedtime, I made my way home with the munchkins to pajama everyone and wait on word of his condition.

The kids and I spent the next couple of days making strategic visits to the hospital to spend time with Bob. It was surreal to be back there, walking the same halls as I did before, during what was such a dark time for our family. I was delighted when he was discharged and we all got to go home.


It is ironic that about five minutes before Bob got sick, I had been complaining to him about how rundown I was feeling after a packed to the gills October and November. My enthusiasm was low in the face of a teetering tower of laundry, crumb-covered floors and an undecorated Christmas tree.

But, throw a medical emergency into the mix and I immediately become steroid-level motivated. I was scrubbing kitchen counters and folding clean towels at 11:00 that night, fearful that THERE WOULD BE NO MORE TIME to ever get anything done if I was down a team member. Thank goodness I had just completed a Target run earlier in the day because every time our family goes through a crisis, I have the inexplicable urge to fill the pantry to overflowing. Like, I assume I’ll somehow never have the opportunity to shop ever again so, this 12-pack of spaghetti sauce seems reasonable.

I think all of this behavior must be survivalist DNA. My brain, in an effort to divert itself from thinking Bad Thoughts, kicks in to some sort of Van Damme gear, making the completion of a mountain of mundane tasks incredibly important; giving me the satisfaction of staying busy when I can’t help Bob otherwise.

The highs of mid-emergency motivation are always followed by the lows of the post-crisis need for sleep. So, we rested this past weekend and just took it easy, which was kind of the best.

Today, Bob is back at work and I’m tackling Christmas cards. Crisis concluded. Just like that. I can now return to my pre-emergency life of slovenly housekeeping and much impatience with the short people I live with.

Want to come over for some spaghetti?