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Gratitude   (June 15, 2007)

If you haven't felt a jolt of gratitude in your life recently, allow me to spark one: be glad you're not in a hospital. I helped another friend pick up our elderly (78 years old) neighbor from a major city hospital after a weeklong stay to treat pneumonia. The release process took about an hour and a half; my friend joked that getting out of jail had to be easier.

Being in a hospital is no fun. Is that the result of incourteous staff? No--the staff was uniformly professional and courteous. The un-fun part starts with why you're there in the first place, of course; you feel lousy, and are in pain, and probably very weak.

But the experience of being there is not fun, either. Here you are, feeling and looking your worst, lying in a bed facing an open door to a hallway filled with the chatter and clatter of innumerable staff going about their day and night duties, and complete strangers who are free to poke their head in and ogle you at your worst. Across the hall is an open door and another ill person; not exactly a cheery view. There is a window in your ward, but you're not close to it; there is no view of Nature or the outside world to relieve the tedium of being ill in a closed, always busy impersonal world of other ill people and those who care for them.

The food is microwaved. You're diabetic, and not hungry, and the protein drink you're given has too much sugar in it. Oops. The doctor says no, the dietician says yes. Take it away. They're confused, and so are you.

Every patient has rights; they're posted in a long list on practically every door: to be treated as an individual, blah blah blah. But the right you care about is the one the other patients in your room seem to treasure, which is to play their TV all day and night, even when you hear them snoring. Your request to have the sound turned down--gosh, the other patient might be hard of hearing. Her visitors come in, turn up a baseball game and sit down to watch it for three hours. When they leave, they leave the volume up. It's their right.

Other visitors crowd in--younger, even more disrespectful--and one pulls the curtain aside to take your TV remote--yuor TV is off--"since you're not using it." After a protest, your remote is grudgingly returned to you. Are all our rights equal? No, for respect and courtesy are not rights.

Consideration, it seems, isn't a right, either. Neither is your desire to sleep a right. We can give you earplugs, Honey. They have their rights, and they insist on them, even when they trample yours. Welcome to America, Baby. I got my rights, and they always trump yours.

So we're ready to take the patient home. There are dozens of staffers around, but nobody to get a wheelchair. That's another department, of course. A half-hour later, after three polite requests, the wheels start turning. This is Hospital Time, a version of Hurry Up and Wait. It's interesting, observing the great variety of the staff--every ethnicity and religion is represented, some more than others. But after a while you start wondering why there are hundreds of people at work here but nobody to get a wheelchair.

Minute 40 rolls around and the wheelchair and staffer appears. Great. Now we go down to pay the $200 co-pay--that's important. Another long wait ensues while they find her personal effects--her wallet--and carefully count out the cash inside to confirm (sign here) that nobody ripped her off during her stay. Make the payment, and we're off to the Discharge pharmacy.

Ah, they were wondering whose prescription this is; there's no patient name or number on it. They will call her doctor. My, what interesting floor tiles; they seem to hold up to wear and tear pretty darn well. Oops, her doctor's not available, we'll find another. Thank you. Some time later it's all confirmed and the medications are handed over. The staffer with the wheelchair has to call her department; this Discharge is lengthier than expected, it seems.

Ah, fresh air! Sunshine! After a mere hour and a half, you've forgotten what they feel like. Imagine what it's like after a week in a stuffy room, listening to an idiotic sports channel all day and the constant noise of a 24/7 staff all night. It's hard being a patient; it must also be very hard being a staffer. I would rather dig ditches or carry lumber all day than work in the hospital environment, and I am grateful someone is willing to do so.

Home sweet home. The healthy have no idea. Be grateful you're not in a hospital as a patient.

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copyright © 2007 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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