I’m starting this account about 24 hours after we got back home from three days in the hospital. I still need time to recover… from the hospital.
I have already written about reaching one goal I’ve had at last Sunday’s worship service. When we got home again that day I searched for Joel Osteen’s sermon online. He told a very interesting story about watching some favorite sports team of his about one week after the game was actually broadcast, from a recording he had made off the TV. He already knew the final score (his team had won). Now he finally had time to watch the game.
He mentioned how it changed the way he watched. During most of the game, his team did poorly. They fell way behind the other team’s score.
Joel said he watched all this disaster without getting nervous. He just kept eating his snacks and saying, “Wow. I wonder how they’re going to get out of this??” He was able to stay calm because he already knew how things were going to turn out.
I thought about this story often over the next few days.
Sunday night, after my 8 pm session of having Melanie pour nutritional glop into my feeding tube, I got up from the chair to head down the hallway. Behind me I heard Melanie saying, in an alarmed voice, “Rick! There’s blood all over the chair! You’re bleeding…”
I shuffled the walker into the bathroom as quickly as I could and removed my shorts. Melanie cleaned me up (just add it to the list of personal care tasks she has done without hesitation) but she quickly decided that this would require an immediate trip to the hospital emergency room. I was not happy with that decision or with God, but I was unable to argue with either one.
The ER folks moved quickly (so quickly it apparently impressed one administrator we talked to later) and I was being moved to a hospital room within an hour after some preliminary examinations.
Once in the new location we got to meet Roommate #1. This guy made it plain he knew more than the doctors and staff. The food restrictions prompted cursing and bad-tempered grumbling. Over the next 24 hours we watched him get turned down by one staffer after another – only to hear him push the same demands on the next staffer who came in. After they left we were treated to long, foul complaints and accusations over the way he was being mistreated and ignored.
He kept his TV volume up loud all night. So there was no sleeping for us the first night. My wife quietly appealed for us to be moved to another room if one was available. But it was a busy night at the hospital. Every room was full up.
The roommate’s bad manners continued the next day. He would be told he needed to stay in bed and to stop pulling out his IV’s. As soon as a nurse departed, the fellow would get out of bed. We saw him dressed (changed out of the hospital gown) and wearing a ball cap heading out to the hallway. We heard him explaining he was going to walk across the street for a cigarette. The nurses told him he could not leave the floor. This prompted more swearing as he returned to his bed and waited for someone to reconnect his IV’s.
Somewhere during that day it was decided that I would have my 7-month old feeding tube replaced at the same time I had a colonoscopy the next day. To prepare for that I was sent some Instant Diarrhea Mix in a giant economy size two-gallon container. As evening started, Melanie began pouring it down my feeding tube.
I was a virgin to all this. You kind of know what’s coming but not the details. When it was suddenly time to move to the toilet, I was unable to move fast enough. The stroke has removed my sense of balance and ability to move without some kind of walker. So the nurses got to change the bedding and clean the floor between the bed and the bathroom five feet away.
The rest of the night was spent, for safety’s sake, sitting on the toilet. This turned out to be a smart, if uncomfortable, decision.
At close to midnight, the unhappy roommate was finally moved out to another room. Perhaps the condition of his roommate made him happy to leave.
The next day we were told that “out patients” got to go first with the doctors doing colonoscopies. I was told my chance would come “after 5 pm.” In the meantime, no food or liquids. Melanie said, “Perhaps there’s a reason we have to be here all day.”
That reason was rolled in a short while later. Roommate #2 was an 89 year old man who had suffered a stroke. During the day we overheard their doctor give his gloomy prognosis of how unlikely a recovery would be.
Only a thin curtain separated us from the group gathered around the other bed. Melanie and I held hands tightly as we listened. I said to her, “The man is 24 years older than I am. I have time to recover. We are trusting the Lord for my healing.” Melanie agreed.
Soon it became apparent that this was a Christian family. When the gentleman was wheeled away for testing, Melanie caught the attention of the man’s daughter who had brought him in. She gestured for the woman to step into the bathroom and closed the door. She told the woman she could understand what she was feeling since I had also suffered a stroke. Melanie got to pray with her. The daughter got to cry.
A bit later the son in law stopped to talk with us. He runs a large farm. He was struggling with the decisions before them. He said, “When we have an animal suffering, we put it down out of mercy. With human beings, we can’t do that.” We told him we would be praying for the whole family.
I was finally wheeled into the operating room some time after 8 pm.
When I came to from the anesthesia, a doctor from my own church greeted me with a big smile and said how much he missed me. The nurse watching over me was not smiling when, a few moments later, she told Melanie and me that the colonoscopy had not been completed. But I was wearing a new and shorter feeding tube to my stomach. I had yet to speak at all with the doctor himself who had done it.
Earlier in the day, some other doctor had come by my bed to assure me that the induced diarrhea was the worst part of this process – and I was done with that! Now I learned I would have to repeat it all and return the next day for a second attempt to finish the colonoscopy.
Oh, and yes, the doctor had also discovered a polyp that needed to be removed, once my colon was “clear.”
It was now close to 11 pm. Melanie held my hand but stared at the floor silently. Finally she spoke.
“I’m sad,” was all she could say at first.
Then she went on. “As much as I hate to leave you here, I cannot do another night. I must go home and get some sleep.”
Now I was the one feeling sad. But I couldn’t ask her to stay. She was exhausted from having just passed a kidney stone herself over the weekend. I watched her go and waited to be wheeled back to my hospital room. My mouth felt gummy and parched.
There was no one in the other bed when I finally was taken to the room. The elderly stroke victim had been moved to the stroke unit. The new jug of Instant Diarrhea was waiting for me. The young fellow who was in charge that night told me he would get me started shortly.
But then Roommate #3 arrived. I never learned exactly what sent him to the hospital that night but a whole crew of nurses quickly surround him. The man had some kind of serious wounds that needed immediate attention.
I kept watching TV, waiting, and wondering if I should just go to sleep and do the diarrhea drill in the morning? By 1 am, with the nursing crew still working on Roommate #3, I turned out my light and tried to sleep.
Fifteen minutes later the night supervisor woke me and said he was ready to begin. So we began. He was hoping to complete the intake of the Instant Diarrhea by 3 am to give me time to be “ready” by 6 am. He expected the operations room staff would be back and ready to schedule the colonoscopies then. He poured in the first dose. I told him I would ring for him in 30 minutes.
When I rang for him, another young nurse told me he was busy with another patient and would come as soon as possible. Which turned out to be another fifteen minutes, or 45 minutes after the first dose. At this rate it would be a long night.
It was a long night, again spent on the toilet…
By 6 am I thought things were probably finished. They had to be. I could not imagine there was anything left in me. I made my way off the toilet and to the bed.
As soon as I lay back on the bed I knew it was too soon. All told, I decorated the floor three more times when I could not make it back to the toilet quickly enough. I was also changing freshly decorated night gowns each time and two pairs of socks. I had to keep wearing my splattered sandals. I needed a shower but that would not happen until I got back home.
Roommate #3 woke up and I heard him quietly praying a gentle, heart-felt good morning to Jesus. When he finished I said a loud Amen.
Melanie arrived later in the morning. I told her the new Roommate was a Christian and she might want to say hello to him. When she did he asked her to help dial his wife on the phone. Melanie came back to my side and scribbled a note for me to read.
The man was a quadriplegic and blind in the left eye. And in nearly constant pain. The rest of the day we heard him frequently crying out loud, “Mercy, Lord” and “Help me, Jesus!” He was completely unable to handle the nurse-call button, so several times we did that for him.
I was told I would be taken back down for my colonoscopy at 1 pm. Since it was a repeat visit for me, I had been bumped to the head of the line. The doctor who was covering for the supervising doctor told us I could be discharged as soon as it was done.
When I came back to consciousness after this second procedure, the recovery room nurse told us, “The colon is still not clear. The doctor could not continue.”
When he showed up several minutes later, the doctor simply said, “You’re still not ready.”
I stared at him. I said, “I’m going home. I can’t do another night of this.”
Melanie spoke up, “He has had no food or liquid since Sunday night!”
The doctor remained impassive. He handed us a card and told us to come back within two months. He briefly explained that the polyp could become cancerous and needed to be removed. He went on his way.
When we got back to my room, we told the head nurse it was our desire and intention to leave, go home, and come back to deal with the colonoscopy later. The nurse checked with the doctor who had stopped the procedure twice. Apparently he told her it was his desire that we be kept in place so he could take a third try the following day.
But he was not the final decision maker in the matter. That belonged to the day’s fill-in supervising doctor who was standing in for the fill-in doctor who had been standing in for the original doctor overseeing my case from when I showed up in ER. I don’t believe we had met this third stand-in doctor. I can imagine that all he had to go on was the surgeon’s statement that he wanted us to rinse, lather and repeat for a third day. And did some crabby patient think they knew better than all these sincere medical practitioners? The third stand-in doctor was not going to be the one who fumbled possession. He refused to grant a release. The second stand-in doctor had already written the order for my release after the colonoscopy was done. But it still wasn’t done.
I asked the floor nurse what the consequences were if we left anyway? It was something to do with losing all insurance coverage and being held responsible for all costs incurred during our stay. The reason people like money is it can buy your way out of so many problems.
We don’t have that money. Also I suspect the medical community wanted to protect themselves against being sued if I collapsed on the sidewalk due to my stubborn refusal to let them keep practicing on me.
Melanie tried to appeal to me that, though it was difficult, I could do it all again for a third night. It was the moment I felt most desperate during the ordeal.
Melanie went to work calling people we knew who might help. They advised us on the chain of command, on who we should take our appeal to, but they also strongly advised against just walking out.
God bless the nurses, the patient’s advocates. The floor nurses went to bat for us. The shift nurse kept trying to page the doctor(s) in charge but was getting no response. And I don’t blame any doctor trying to protect their time away from such a demanding job. That’s a fair discipline for them to have. The shift nurse turned the problem over to her supervisor. When the doctor got a page from her, he finally returned the call.
It was close to 9 pm before the shift nurse came back, finally, smiling. Permission had been granted. After another hour, we were allowed to make the escape to our van.
I remember Mark’s pointed remark that the woman suffering the issue of blood had spent all her money on doctors but only grew worse (Mark5:25ff). As we drove away from the huge hospital building that night, I was thinking, Father, that’s the best we can do. But You remain the only One Who can heal me.
Melanie says I slept that night for seven hours straight, something I have not done in the nearly seven months since I had the stroke. It was because I was so dehydrated I never had to get up to go to the bathroom. She says she poured water into me three times during the night. I only remember once. The other times I never woke up.
Lord, how am I to understand such an experience?? Perhaps with the statement Rick Warren used to open his book Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not about you.”
It seems too coincidental that Melanie’s kidney stone and my rectal bleeding episode represent the devil’s anger at my reaching a milestone last Sunday. I don’t think this is about him either.
I have thought about my roommates, especially #3 crying out to the Lord. He gave me new appreciation for Bartimaeus, who refused to be quiet as Jesus passed by (Mark 10:46ff). This broken world is full of such cries from broken bodies and broken hearts. Hear the cries of those you love, Lord, and heal them. That’s how you said this whole thing would end.
And I believe it.
But the cries of pain are loud in my ears just now. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on us.