16 July 2007

How are you today? What's Your Pain Score? (Pt. I)

Repost from 22 May 2007

I'm really getting tired of this whole pancreas thing. I've got a lot more trips up north in my future, and each ERCP is more painful and harder to recover from than the last. I have no muscle tone. I am addicted to opiates--physiologically, yes, but that still technically makes me a junkie and much closer than anyone else I know to being Sick Boy. My only hope is that I know someone who's a real junkie, but I just am unaware of that fact. Wow, that sounds awful.

I don't like hospitals. It's really a combination of their assault on my senses. Of course there's the pain, fear, discomfort, unease with not being in familiar surroundings. But it's more than that for me. Initially, it's the smell. It's that antiseptic smell that tells me so many things at once. First, nowhere in my near future would there be any sort of natural products--only man-made synthetics will be going in or on my body for awhile. Second, there is something to fear, something to kill: we have to be so careful to keep everything clean (although look closely at a hospital bed or phone the next time you're in a room because they are not at all clean) because there are things that you can't see trying to kill you. Outside with trees and dirt and a breeze, it doesn't seem like these things can hurt you. At least they couldn't when I was a kid. But in a hospital it feels like any little thing can hurt you. I guess that smell in hospitals is the smell I associate with despair and vulnerability--and no one likes those things. Perhaps it's that hospitals smell too much like nursing homes, too much like the discarded humans of our society and the death they're patiently waiting on.

Secondly, it's the way hospitals look. Institution-white floors and standard-issue fluorescent lights really bother me in any context, but especially in hospitals. Both the local hospital and the one up north are guilty of this. (At least Local's new campus and current outpatient center are trying to overcome it: fake wood flooring, mauve or moss green walls, and wood trim on cabinets and doors make a huge difference to my mind.) I suspect, however, that after awhile this won't matter. If you remember, the walls of schools and hospitals used to be painted that sea-foam green color. It got a bad rap, so they switched to white or beige, which currently has a bad rap. It's nothing inherent in the color itself; it's the context and connotation of the color that makes me cringe. Visually, I also cannot stand hospital gowns, paper cups, wall-paper, privacy curtains, etc. That multi-color 80s squiggle art--the ones that are usually mauve and turquoise--or the forgettable waiting-room-chair pattern makes me think of the hospital and fake gaiet

And I cannot imagine a more frightening vision than the ones I experienced quite a few times in the last year or so. It's become a sort of television/movie cliché by this point, but it is still very scary: imagine on your back on a gurney staring at acoustical tiles and fluorescent lights going by. I could either look at the dismal scene going by or close my eyes. I couldn't move my head really, so I didn't have much choice. That is kind of creepy, but what was much, much worse was lying on the operating table. You can't see anything except the ceiling, and in the procedure rooms, there are the giant OR lamps that you always see on TV, but there are also large metal tracks that run along the ceiling. From these tracks hang a lot of machinery. There's a giant fluoroscope (a sort of X-ray machine) and a large monitor bank made of 2-4 screens. These things are hovering over you; the doctors and nurses have on radiation gear; someone is sticking nodes onto your chest and back at the same time someone is strapping a blood pressure cuff onto your ankle, someone else is preparing the IV, someone is attaching guards to the side of the table that press your arms to your sides, and someone else is prepping the drain site by taking the dressing off, cleaning it, and removing the stitch.

You know this is happening, but you can't move, and you can't see it. It's cold, and all you can see is the random masked face and the machinery hanging over your head. That visual input, combined with the bustle of all the unseen hands working on you, can cause some extreme anxiety. At least until the drugs kick in, and then it's all good and everyone is your best friend.

Sound-wise, a hospital is terrible. There is no peacefulness, no comfort. At the Northern hospital, I would constantly hear "MET Team to room whatever" or "Code Red in room whatever." All I could ever think (and this speaks perhaps more to my mindset than anything wrong with the hospital) was that someone was "taking a turn for the worse." That is hospital/doctor terminology for "really fucking bad news," by the way. At Local hospital, I would hear this lullaby ("Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep Little Baby") at random times. On my third stay, I finally cared enough to ask what it meant, and Ada, one of the coolest nurses there, told me it played whenever a baby was born. That should be a good thing, a good connotation. But I was there again recently, and that song played over the loudspeaker. I cringed, and my heart sort of dropped. If we have a child here, that song will play when it's delivered, and I'm afraid that such a beautiful moment will be tainted (even slightly) by what's happened to me over the last year. That is an unfair long-term effect of this experience on me.

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