What I learned by being in the hospital
A couple weeks ago, I experienced the hospital from the other side of the bed. I wasn’t the chaplain. I wasn’t the patient. I was the patient’s spouse. So while Nancy was in the hospital, I was at the hospital.
For 48 hours, Nancy was in the hospital, moving from triage to an ER bed to an actual room, to surgery, and back to her room. She had fallen, and ended up with a non-displaced fracture of the neck of the femur. A broken hip is how they usually say it. With three screws to hold the fracture in place, she is now able to put weight on her leg,
As I was with Nancy, going to my office in chaplaincy for coffee, tea, and a meeting, going home to sleep, I had time for observations. It’s taken a week to have time to process those observations. Here’s the start:
Disrupted routine is disorienting. The break was unexpected, the daily routine of our lives was suddenly disrupted. And even though this wasn’t a tragic hospitalization, and it was brief, and has a good outcome, the sheer disruption affects thinking. Eating patterns, coffee patterns, privacy patterns, every pattern changes. And these changes mean that answers to simple questions are often hard to find inside our heads.
As I meet with families going forward, I will work on clarity and deliberateness. We ask questions so often, and sometimes we don’t need questions. We need space with someone to catch up with ourselves.
Even if you know all the words and the facts and some of the people, you still have to live through the experience. You still have to wait. You still have to have the tests. You still have to fill the time, to feel the pain, to be uncomfortable. You still have to recover from the anesthetic. You still have to be uncomfortable, to be exhausted, to be away. And this was just two days. For the people who are in our place for a long time, away from home, unfamiliar with the hospital, this is a challenging. I need to work on ways to provide explanations, to provide visits worth looking forward to, to address the waiting.
There is always the 5%. I’m on the rough side of healthcare. Because I show up for deaths and traumas and strokes and heart attacks, I am oriented toward things going wrong. I’m aware that every time there is a 95% of recovery, there are real people in the 5%. As a result, though I knew it was likely that Nancy would be fine, I was mindful of the conversations I’ve had when things weren’t fine. And so I was a bit more emotional than would be expected from someone who should know better. Because I know better. Talking me down from unreasonable fear would have been futile. Simply acknowledging it is more helpful.
Sometimes we need people to simply show up. I cancelled an appointment with a friend when I got the news of Nancy’s fall. He showed up as sat with me when she was in surgery. And didn’t talk about the surgery. Another couple well familiar with healthcare showed up just before surgery. They offered support, offered prayer, and disappeared. Both could have said, “I know they probably have support, I know they know what’s going on.” But neither did that. Neither made assumptions about their friends. Instead, they showed up. I think I’ve been hesitant about showing up. I won’t be. (On a side note, we’ve had been ask if we need anything. We don’t. But a couple people said, “We’re bringing something.” We said yes.)
Just because you are doing better doesn’t mean things are back to normal. Our schedule will be disrupted for a few weeks. The recovery will be influencing our decisions long after other people forget about it.
Nancy is a patient patient. And I’m grateful.