The jailbird flies free

In the hospital crib

Click on the jailbird to see more photos of our hospital stay.

Charlie is home now, playing and laughing. He still has a rattle in his chest, every so often, and we’re still on a daily regiment of breathing treatments. Tomorrow we follow up with our doctor to make sure recovery is on track.

For now, we’re all just extraordinarily happy to be out of the hospital, which, to my surprise, was a little bit like being in jail. Rules for when to open your bed, when to close it, when to have visitors, when to eat–and torturous interference from the authorities that interrupts sleep.

While I happen to know a lot about hospitals and medical care (I studied medical anthropology, worked for a medical magazine and my sister is a nurse with a lot of stories) I’ve never taken care of someone in the hospital before. It’s a lot of work, much more work than regular baby care. When Jesse and I traded off, before my mom and sister arrived to spell us, we spent many hours in the room alone with Charlie while the other one got some sleep. Due to a lack of space (the only places for CW were in our laps or in the crib) and the fact that his insistence on pulling up meant he bopped his nose and hit his head on the metal bars when we weren’t looking, we had to keep one eye and one hand on him all the time. This put a crimp in bathroom and food breaks, to say the least. Then there were the numerous treatments and medicines that lasted several hours over the course of the day. The nurses, contrary to what I had previously believed, do not actually give the baby his medicine. Instead, they set it up and leave the parent to finish it, even if that meant wrestling him upright with one hand, entertaining him with another and also giving the treatment. Three hands were not always available. (Jesse even had to change the bedsheets by himself when Charlie peed everywhere. The nurse brought sheets while Jesse was finishing the diaper change and then she left. He had to hold Charlie with one hand and strip and make the bed with the other.)

While we had a few good nurses, who were gentle and efficient, they were not the majority. Most of them treated us, and the other parents in the ward, as if we were a barrier to their care for our children. I guess that was true, considering their idea of ‘health care.’ I can’t tell you how many times the nurses, especially the techinicians, came into the room in the middle of the night, flipping on lights, speaking loudly and then proceeding with tests. I got in the habit of waking at the slightest noise so I could keep them from poking Charlie unecessarily. My vigilance didn’t help much when they came for the girl on the other side of the room. Her mom slept more heavily and they consistently woke up the two-year-old who then cried for 20 minutes trying to get back to sleep. The first night of CW’s stay, before we’d learned how to intervene, they gave him a bloody nose while suctioning him.

And then there was the advice. The constant barrage of criticism grated on my nerves from the very first day. Jesse’s favorite: One of the nurses told him he needed to burp the baby after his bottle. Did she not see that the chubby kid was obviously fond of eating? Did she think we had lived with tummy aches for nine months? My favorite: I asked for a sheet and blanket for my cot. After waiting several hours I was tired and grumpy and thinking only that I wanted to sleep as much as I could before Charlie woke up. The nurse brought my linens and said, “You shouldn’t sleep with the baby in the cot. When he falls asleep, you should put him back in the crib.” (Which is where he was when she gave me this little lecture.) My response, in a very annoyed, near-to-violence voice: “What are you talking about? What does that have to do with my sheets?” My sister’s favorite: She went to the nurse’s station to ask for a new crib sheet. The nurse got up, walked a few steps into the hall and pointed to a blue bin down the way. “They’re right there,” she said. “You can get them.”

I daydreamed during our whole stay about a hospital designed for patients’ comfort and healing. Where nurses would use assessment skills in addition to equipment to determine the course of treatment. (Sometimes they took a reading four times before getting the ‘right’ one. How did they know it was right? They never compared the data to his actual pulse rate or any other manually collected data.) And where nurses would not enter the room after lights out speaking in loud voices and acting as if it were the middle of the day. Where they would quickly, daily and without asking, provide diapers, formula, linens and gowns; no guarding them at the nurses’ station as if I was planning a major theft. (The first day there, the nurse said she couldn’t give us more than 8 ounces of formula at a time because they needed to know how much he ate. This meant I had to go to the nurses’ station in the middle of the night to ask for food if I needed it. But as our stay progressed and we supplemented their formula with our own, I realized no one asked us when he ate or how much. They just wanted to keep me from having any extra, you know, to sell on the baby food black market.) Where rooms in the pediatric ward had a wipeable mat for floor play, a sink and trash can near the crib for easy diaper changes, and a comfortable reclining chair for quick parent naps.

And, to add (potential) injury to insult, the staff delayed a treatment that, in my and my sister’s opinion, could have shortened our stay considerably. They did not bring in the respiratory therapist or tell us to begin cupping until our fifth day. The next day he was proclaimed well. If they’d done this therapy from the first, we may have seen quicker healing. Also, when we received our discharge papers, which included instructions for the times, doses and durations of four different medications, they wrote them in medical shorthand. (Using Qs, POs, OPs and other abbreviations I didn’t understand.) If I hadn’t had my sister decipher the script, I would have been completely clueless. They couldn’t have written at least this one, very important document in plain English?

I’ve never been fond of doctors or hospitals–too authoritarian and pain-inducing. (All of my writing and research has been from the patient point of view.) But now I’m even less a fan. The U.S. medical system is a sham. It’s too expensive because of inefficiencies like double testing (info wasn’t/couldn’t be shared between the ER and the pediatrician even though they were in the same health system), multiple testing due to poor equipment, and longer hospital stays due to nonrestful conditions. Health insurance for everyone is obviously only half a solution. Because what that insurance pays for is a freakin’ mess.


2 Responses to “The jailbird flies free”

  1. Page Escallier Says:

    Your blog is on the very high level and includes a lot of very interesting information and was very useful for me.

  2. A sick and busy time of year « With Charlie Says:

    […] First, the week after Thanksgiving Charlie got a mild case of pneumonia that meant he was at home for a week and taking multiple medications. (At least he wasn’t in the hospital.) […]

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