Thursday, August 1, 2013

Walking to Live.....Or Not

 Part 1

It was days before the tube was removed from my throat. At that point the rawness it caused was as bad as the pain in my abdomen. Even the IV pain killers provided no relief. There were still no gut sounds but it was still days before they decided that intervention was needed to keep me from starving to death.

I have no idea how much weight  I had lost by this point but only that I had lost whatever I had gained after my last hospital stay. The one size fits all hospital gown was now swimming on me to the point the neck hole was sliding off my shoulder and halfway down my forearm.

The way this gown now fit already had me wondering what it was going to take for the doctors to do something about nourishment. Having gone through this once before and knowing I did not begin  anywhere near the same starting weight,  I had a pretty accurate idea of how really thin I was so I was worried about the kind of long term damage my body might sustain from this current starvation. What was the point where my body turned from skeletal muscle  to  organ muscle like my heart to savage in order to keep me alive? Questions like that haunted me but never got answered by my medical team.

Thankfully soon after my gown got to that height on my firearm, the decision was made to begin the TPN. I don't know how effective those treatments are. I know I continued to lose weight but at least knowing my body was getting some kind of nutrition gave me hope I might be able to come out the other side of this latest trial.

The bad thing about this treatment was the apparatus it took to provide nutrients to my body.  There was an assortment of small tubes that plugged into a catheter that was placed into a vein in my right arm. The technician who placed it told me the thing went straight into my heart. It's placement had to  be checked with an x-ray machine since accuracy was essential both for efficacy and to avoid infection.

I don't know how many tubes there actually were but they were heavy and cumbersome. I worried about getting them caught on something like the tray table or the arm of the bed and pulling the whole thing out and maybe bleeding out before anyone found me.  I don't know if that fear was appropriate or just another example of how thinking is compromised by serious illness.

The pole with the pump was top heavy and not the most stable even though it had a much larger base than the usual poles. The thing was too heavy for me to push so I could not walk alone. In order for me to move around I had to have a person to push the dumb pole. It's a good thing the bathroom in my room was within range of all that tubing or I'd have been up a creek.

Horse owners know that walking is good for colic. Personally I have walked several horses through colic episodes when I worked as a groom. Walking, driving or even bouncing colicky babies can bring relief so it only made sense walking might be useful to get my gut working again, not to mention walking is as important preventative against clotting. Even with precautions in place because of the pulmonary embolism after my first surgery, regular walks should have been an important element of my hospital care.

Before my first hospitalization there had been staffing cuts. Getting help so I could walk then was difficult at best but it was happening. As long as I remembered to ask, someone found the time to push that machine so I could walk.

Right after that time in the hospital there were more personnel cuts, followed up by another round of them just before my second hospitalization. By this time the cuts were so deep, necessary medical care must have been regularly compromised.  My much needed walks were a low priority even though I probably needed them to survive.

Every time I asked a nurse to help me walk, I was told she/he would try to get back to me. Every time I saw a hospital worker I asked for help so I could walk. Yet most days I only got one walk with anyone on staffs ...and I was lucky if I could get ten minutes of their time. Not really what I needed to get my plumbing working again.

When Dave and Lindsay came to visit, I wouldn't let them leave until I got a walk in. With their help I walked all over the floor onto both wings to get in as much walking as I could. We didn't stop until my body quivered from fatigue but I knew I had to push if I was going to have any chance to survive.

I was so desperate to walk I would get myself set up to go whenever I could hear nurses nearby. I figured if I could be at the door all ready to go it would be more difficult for them to put me off. Sometimes this tactic worked and others it didn't.

I felt sorry for most of the nurses because they really cared about their patients but were so under staffed they just could not accomplish all of even the most necessary procedures. The pain and stress shown on their faces and apologies flowed like water but the apologies were sincere.  I had no doubts these nurses were really trying to give good care.

Most of them wanted to be the kind of professionals they knew how to be but corporate bureaucracy had them hamstrung. They were professional enough not to point blame; it was only because of my connections to workers in this healthcare system that I even knew about the cuts and their depths.

Still when I thought about it I couldn't help but wonder how many people died because of these practices. I prayed I would not be one of the casualties but knew it was entirely possible that I might.

Each morning the surgeon came for rounds, he checked all four quadrants for gut sounds. I didn't have to wait for an explanation. I could tell from his expression. No sounds of any kind caused tension to frame his face. The furrowed brows, pained eyes, tight muscles and down turned mouth was more vivid a description than any words.

I have seen such looks before and each time I was told I had very little chance of survival. The only good thing about that was I have long since recognized my ability to buck such odds. I saw their grave looks as a challenge to prove them wrong. What energy I had was directed towards that goal but I had to wonder how long was too long to have no gut sounds?

To be continued........

An Unexpected Hospital Visitor Wants to Talk Horses...


  1. It's a shame that so many cuts are made in hospitals where people need care the most. I think your strong will and determination helped you overcome the poor odds you were given for survival.

  2. Sad about t he cuts , and what a gracious soul you are faced with the effects of the cuts, you are not blaming the nursing staff, when so many would