Sow’s Ear: Planet Hospital
April 14, 2006
by Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.
Being a guest in a hospital has opened my eyes to an entirely different world ” possibly a different planet altogether. In some ways a stay in a hospital can be compared to a stay in an expensive health spa ” that is if you’re speaking only of close and constant surveillance.
My experience began when I crossed the portal of the “emergency” entrance to the House of Medicine. After that, I became the center of an army of personnel dressed in color-coded jump suits or lab coats indicating clerks, attendants, nurses and assorted additional staff whose classification escapes me. The A-Team ” the surgeons ” wear spiffier knee-length white jackets, usually with a tie. Other workers tend to follow them about like the wake behind a sea vessel.
In the outer orbit of Planet Hospital, the workforce wear street clothes. These employees are there to lull you into a sense of assurance that what’s coming is no more threatening than checking out a library book. My signature was required on a series of official-looking papers which I was supposed to read. I pretended, skimming the pages up to the last line where it said I had read and understood and that I gave my consent to submit to a variety of indignities. I signed and dated in the spaces provided.
Next, a kindly individual in a paisley lab coat led me into a room the size of a lambing jug and invited me to remove my clothing. She stepped out of the room while I disrobed. (This was the pre-surgery phase where they let you think you can retain a modicum of modesty. Trust me, that modicum will pass.)
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Once I’d abandoned my clothes, I was encouraged to slip into an ankle-length garment that left my backside open to the breezes while the front looked like something designed for a bag-lady. Thus garbed, I was invited to stretch out on a gurney. Once stretched, I was given no time to relax. A swarm of jump-suited and lab-coated folks crowded into the tiny room ” all carrying needles and vials. They wanted my blood.
First off, the student nurses got to practice needle-stabbing techniques. They searched for one of my veins, all of which buried themselves deep into my body’s interior. The first student jabber couldn’t “find” a vein so she did a series of exploratory pokes. Failing to achieve her goal, she called in a more experienced stabber who kept “blowing” veins leaving big blue bruises. A third team was called in. When finally success had been achieved, I had acquired at least 402 punctures up and down both arms. One of the punctures harbored an I-V attached to a tube attached to a bag of mystery fluid that flowed into my vein.
While the search for veins and blood continued, another entity wearing a green jump-suit and carrying a clipboard introduced himself as Remington Steele and asked me what kind of anesthesia I’d prefer. (I didn’t care as long as I was rendered unconscious, but green-suit insisted I had a “choice.”)
Meanwhile another jump-suited fellow appeared at the foot of my gurney and announced, “My name is Captain Marvel and I’m here to shave your knees.” Possibly because of the mystery fluids dripping into my system, this statement struck me as hilarious and I fell into a spasm of giggling. “Never before,” I said, “have I had a young man offer to shave my knees. Give it your best shot.”
And that was only the beginning of my stay on Planet Hospital.