Friday, September 21, 2007

Appendix Ultimatum

So, the old appendix flared up again, as of course it should. Same symptoms as before, it was evident what was coming. I left work, drove home, and prepared for my first hospital stay.

(Quick reminder for the uninitiated: I visited Hospital A in February with symptoms of appendicitis, waited six and a half hours in the E.R. until giving up and going home. I then visited Hospital B the next day and had the most awful day I've had in quite some time, culminating in me being seated on a gurney two corridors away from the E.R. outside the isolation room where a guy with full-blown tuberculosis and his wife were wandering in and out of isolation back and forth in front of me complaining of the heat. I've had a dodgy appendix for quite some time. Read the full story in all it's glory here.)

I gathered a book, a change of clothes, and the average length of stay for the five hospitals closest to me - not including hospitals A and B from my prior sojourns. I then had a good night's sleep in my own bed, and mentally prepared to lose myself to the system for a few days.

I saw that my hospital of choice had lower than desirable scores for infection prevention, so I made a note to bring it up when antibiotics first appeared.

My plan was to hit the 8 a.m. shift change, but my subconscious desire to not go to the hospital had me pacing the living room until nine, so I didn't get to the hospital of choice until ten. Nonetheless I was triaged within 12 minutes and was seen by a doctor within another 15.

Emergency Preparedness

The E.R. proper was impressive; clean, lots of open space, certain areas were labelled - such as the asthma section. The doctor who saw me was amazingly friendly, very informative, listened and heard the story of my history with appendicitis and it's atypicality. I drank the stuff you need before going for an MRI and was confirmed to be suffering from appendicitis by around 3 p.m.

I was told that I'd be admitted to the E.R. and therefore settled in for the wait.

It should be noted that this whole time I was in my regular clothes. No gown. Clothes. I cannot begin to describe the difference compared to sitting in Hospital B in February all day in a gown.

I was in the E.R. up until around 7 p.m. During the entire day, I felt like I was in a place that was very aware of its patients. My E.R. doc was fantastic. Checked on me every once in a while, I received regular updates about my status. Around tea-time the learner doctors began arriving one after the other to poke and prod.

I was given a form to sign that acknowledged I had received various forms and information. I asked for the said forms and information, but was told I would receive it the next day. After a brief exchange of dry sarcasm, I elected to shut up and sign the release, making a mental note to see when the information actually arrived.

It was given to me two days later.

As the reality of surgery became more and more present, I asked the learner doctor surgery chap who was taking all my details down about how I could remove my appendix home with me. While it may seem odd to some, I am part of a large group of people who actually want to keep their hands on the bits that come out of us. I asked earnestly about my ownership of my slated-for-removal organ, and even offered to go halvsies on it so that pathology could have something to look at. I asked two different surgery doctors to check on this for me, I never got an answer nor did I see those doctors again.

Slowly, as my status was swinging from profitable E.R. visitor to run-of-the-mill appendectomy last thing on a Friday night, I became less of a customer and more a vocal cadaver.

Special Ops

Looking back, the thing that really peeves me is that no-one ever told me what was going to happen *after* the surgery. I did not know I was going to be shaved "down there".

I did not know I was going to wake up with tubes up my nose and another down my throat into my stomach. I did not know there would be metal staples in me. I did not know I would spend the night in a recovery room full of other people.

None of this was impossible to deal with, but knowing it beforehand would've made waking up after surgery a whole lot easier.

Seems to me that pre-op I should be given a one-page handout along the lines of "Appendectomy for Dummies" that covers what they're about to do and what things will be like after.

One page. A couple of paragraphs. That's all I'm asking. I don't want half an hour with a very busy surgeon stroking my hand and reassuring me. Just give me the handout.

So I woke sans appendix. The operation took longer than expected as my appendix was reluctant to leave, for which I feel proud in a silly way. The surgeon chap, when trying to impress upon me how aberrant my appendix was, exclaimed "that was one ugly appendix", at which I was offended in a silly way. It was twisted around and clinging on, he described it as having to "peel it off out of there".

The first 24 hours were simply uncomfortable as I had this pipe down my neck. I finally made it to a room, where I experienced my first real time in a hospital bed.

Overall, the stay was great, everyone was polite and friendly. The only real grumble I have is that the surgeon was very obviously agreeing to anything I asked like "please take this pipe out of my stomach" or "let me eat some ice chips" but he had no intention of doing so, which he could have just said so instead of trying to placate me.

For example, he told me the pipe could come out within the hour, left the room and gave no such order. This happened three times, all the while he actually wanted the thing in there about 36 hours. He told me this after it was removed, along with why it had to be in there for so long in the first place.

Information I could have really used, say, 36 hours ago.

Feed Me

Due to my atypical presentation, the guy wanted me in hospital for four or five more days. I worked really hard on walking around, looking healthy, and passing gas "back there". Given that I chose the hospital based on their apparent ability to kick people out relatively quickly, I felt I should give it the old college try. The surgeon really wanted me to stay in, but after talking to the resident who was visiting me, the surgeon came by eventually and checked me out. Again, I really felt listened to, like what I was saying was relevant, that I knew my limits and capabilities, I knew my body, and I felt like I would recover better at home. I was passing gas "back there", I was walking around unaided, I was peeing like a racehorse. The guy let me go home, albeit reluctantly and with many cautions about when to come back if such and such happened, but the point is they listened to me and let me go home.

Either that or someone googled me and figured they should let me go before I caused a scene

By the by, why is the no Internet in hospitals? I worked every day checking E-mails, I would have loved to do some research on recovery from appendix surgery, check the rugby. I was reduced to working on my phone which is mind-numbing after any decent amount of time. Get some wi-fi people! We'll pay for it, don't worry, you can bill it to the room just like the TV.

Three days later, when I was becoming ready to kill the next passing orderly for a tub of strawberry jelly, the senior resident for the day, after having asked me about 15 times if I was passing gas "back there" agreed to let me get some "clears", code talk for jelly, stock and tea - which in American means Jello, broth and... tea.

UK jam, US jelly
UK jelly, US jello
UK stock, US broth
UK broth, US chunky soup

I was so concerned that these orders wouldn't be passed on I ninja'ed the "Nil P O" (no food by mouth) sign above my head and removed it to the wastepaper basket.

That lunch time I received a tray with two jellies, a bowl of beef stock, a cup of tea and a bread roll which certainly doesn't seem clear to me but I wasn't about to give it back.

Never has a bowl of beef-flavoured water tasted so good. Three days without food is cruel and unusual in my book.

Nailed To The Door

All in all I'm glad the appendix is out, I wish I had it at home, and the hospital experience was middling. The E.R. was truly great. Everything else was vanilla. Maybe it all comes down to who's on duty that day. I don't know. I know I'm writing a letter to the E.R. doc and her boss to say thank you, they really exemplified everything I want to see when I'm in the E.R., I couldn't have been happier or more pleased with the care.

The only truly awful moment came on my third night when a roaming minstrel was allowed onto the floor and he minced from room to room with his guitar taking requests and singing to the patients. It was bad in a comedic, wincing kind of way.

I half hoped he'd break a string so I could make a luthier reference, a joke I'd been crafting for just the right moment, but the chance never came.

Ah well, it was a stretch anyway.


Disclosures and Disclaimers


My employer is compensated through funding to provide analytical research, technology solutions, and Web-based public and private health care performance reports by the State of New York, the State of Illinois, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Commonwealth Fund and Bridges to Excellence. I am not being compensated by any of these organisations to create articles for or make edits to this Web site or any other medium; and all posts authored by me are as an individual and do not represent my employer or the agencies I work for.