Stuff I Learned In The Hospital


Recently, I spent a couple of days in a hospital.  Nothing serious: it was just for a series of tests.  FYI, “tests” is a medical term that means, “We haven’t got a clue what’s wrong with you, but we’re going to stick needles into you until you quit bitchin’ about it.”  Anyway, during my stay, I learned a few things about hospitals, and I feel obligated to pass them along so others can learn from my experience.

1 – Festinare Expectare.  This is Latin for “hurry up and wait.” It should be etched in stone over the entrance to every hospital on the planet.

2 – Everybody tells you to relax.  Hey, folks!  I can relax at a 5 star resort on the Mayan Riviera; I can relax binge-watching Netflix; I can relax soaking in a hot bath with a good book; but nobody can relax in a HOSPITAL!  It’s a HOSPITAL!  You’re stuck in a building with a bunch of disagreeable strangers, the beds are tough, the food is worse, they’ve taken away your clothes and there are people coming to stick sharp implements into you – relaxation is not actually an option.

3 – How do you feel?  Unless you’re in some obvious distress (that you can point to) like a gunshot wound or a broken bone poking through the skin, this is a trick question.  It’s impossible to translate any of the 1,001 aches and pains that can befall a human being into words that make sense.  Think about it!  What is a shooting pain? A burning pain?  How are they different?  When does an “ache” become a “throb?”  Which one is worse?  And it goes on and on.  Even Billy Shakespeare didn’t have the vocabulary to describe pain accurately.   Mere mortals, like you and I, haven’t got a hope.  Which brings us to:

4 – The Pain Scale of 1 to 10.  Whoever devised this comic opera was clearly an idiot.  They tell you that “10” is the “worst pain imaginable.”  I can imagine a lot.  For example, getting hit by a bus has got to be painful, but getting hit by a bus and being thrown into a power pole has got to be worse.  And getting hit by a bus and being thrown into a power pole that bursts into flames has got to be worse than that.  Suddenly, getting hit by a bus is only a “7,” and that could become a “6” if the reason you got hit by the bus is you tripped in the street and broke your ankle.  Here’s the deal.  The worst pain you can imagine is the pain that’s happening right now.  Anything else is mere speculation.

But the most important thing I learned about hospitals is:

5 – Nurses run the show.  Doctors my sashay in from time to time and hog the limelight, but down in the trenches, it’s the nurses who get things done.  If you want to survive in any hospital, suck up to the nurses.  They’re like medieval smugglers: they can get you stuff that ordinary people only dream about.

BTW – Apparently, a tiny percentage of men over 50 have a Vitamin B 12 deficiency: 48 hours and several jabs, pokes and prods later, it turns out I’m one of them.  No biggie.  A couple of dollars’ worth of over-the-counter vitamins, and the headaches are gone, my evil twin is back in his box and all’s well with the world.

How Are You Feeling Today?

medicalIn the privacy of our own minds, we’re all hypochondriacs.  Every unusual bump, bruise, ache or pain is a self-diagnosed alarm of our impending doom.  “Death be not proud: I see you there!”  This isn’t weird; it’s perfectly natural.  We all do it because our bodies are such marvellously integrated organisms that when they’re not working perfectly, our brain goes on Red Alert and wants to know why.  We unexpectedly become aware of all the rhythms of our heart, lungs, liver etc. that normally chug along unnoticed while we’re doing other things — like watching TV or reading incredibly interesting blogs.  It’s much the same as being aware of your tongue.  Suddenly, there’s this huge thing in your mouth and you don’t know what to do with it; where to put it, how to keep it from roaming around restlessly or licking your lips.  (You just licked your lips, didn’t you?)

The reason we’re not normally aware of our tongue, or our fingertips or our clavicle (whatever that is) 24/7 is that it would drive us nuts. The brain knows this and shoves all our everyday bodily functions back into the subconscious until they’re needed.  That’s why people don’t remember pain.

Pain is that incredible device that tells us something’s wrong.  We feel it, but it’s primeval.  When we accidentally discover the bread knife is sharp, our brain doesn’t analyze the situation the way it would a beautiful sunset.  We just loudmouth an obscenity (or something less verbal) and drop the knife.  Like breathing, it’s an automatic response.  But, here’s the magic.  After a band-aid and a couple of days, we forget what slicing a finger open feels like — the actual feel of it.  The brain has pushed that nasty business back into our subconscious to protect us.  Otherwise, we’d spend our entire lives howling in remembered pain.

But here’s the other cool bit — and the reason we’re all closet hypochondriacs.  Even though the brain protects us from being consciously overwhelmed by pain, it also subconsciously remembers what pain can and will do to us. So, yeah, at 3 in the morning, chances are good that stomach ache is just the bean burrito we ate at midnight.  However, our friend the brain has to make sure it’s not kidney stones, a ruptured spleen or a burst appendix.  Therefore, it starts chirping away like a canary in a mineshaft.  The trick is we need to remember, it’s 3 in the morning: Google and WebMD are just going to make it worse.