True confessions of a hospitalized hospitalist

A road trip from Georgia to New York was going splendid, dare I say, wonderful — catching up with old friends and family — when it took an unforeseen and slightly less desirable turn: I got admitted with a small bowel obstruction.  Thanks to truly excellent care from a community hospital, I am home and now subjected to endless computer questions from my father that has me briefly contemplating readmission (just kidding).

I’m a hospitalist.  What happens when a hospitalist gets hospitalized in a hospital?  He amuses himself with some observations.

Quality of toilet paper matters in a patient with diarrhea. After a few wipes with standard hospital/Penn Station-grade toilet paper, I can only imagine my behind looked like a kid’s skinned knee when falling off his skateboard at 30 mph onto asphalt.  I might have been better off wiping myself with glass shards.

Is there a distance record for projectile vomiting? I projectile vomited like a champ.

Phlebotomists must be ninjas. Someone would announce “phlebotomy,” but before I could gather my senses, all that was left was a gust of wind trailing the shadow who had managed to escape with some of my blood.  I searched for stray throwing stars and nunchakus.  Nothing.  Not even a bruise.  Incredible skill, and I thank them for their service.  Your identities are safe with me because I never knew who you were.

It is second-nature for health care providers to remain untangled. I’ve seen them, we’ve all seen them: the unfortunate patient trying to get out of bed but is entangled in a spider web of IVs, Foleys, telemetry, nasogastric tubes, and headphones so dense that hospice is an option worth considering.  But good news, fellow healthcare providers!  Should you be hospitalized (and I hope you are not!), it will be second nature to deftly maneuver and remain untangled.  It’s an elegant waltz, in my case with the Alaris pump and nasogastric tube, turning clockwise or counterclockwise, ensuring I had my degrees of freedom without dislodging anything in the process and forever being labeled as “agitated” or, worse, “altered.”

Theory: Doctors like their pagers as much as nurses like Alaris pumps. I know every time my pager goes off a little large part of me dies inside; a negative Pavlovian response, though I feel Pavlov’s dogs got the better deal.  Is it safe to conjecture that nurses feel the same way about Alaris pumps?  Every time I saw a nurse walk up to my IV infusion pump, he or she stared it down like a disobedient child.  When they beep (the pump, not the nurses), they beep so loud it perforates eardrums within a fifty-foot radius to the displeasure of ENTs.  I tried to do my part to minimize the beeping: I kept my arm with the IV extended at all costs and kept that thing plugged in whenever I was within proximity to a socket.

I haven’t decided what’s worse: the NG tube going in or coming out. Contrary to popular belief, a nasogastric tube is not very pleasant.  As gentle as my nurse was in placing the NG tube and as much as I’m a medical professional, all I kept thinking was, “He’s gonna shove it through my face!”  I sipped my water through a straw; he advanced it, and I prayed that the tube avoided my brainstem.  My right eye watered (the right nare was sacrificed), but my brainstem was spared.  I looked forward to the NG tube coming out.  As it was pulled, I felt the unsettling sensation of everything from my GE junction to my sinuses getting scraped by the NG tube as it got pulled out, along with any clot and dried glob of mucous adhered to it.  Actually, I changed my mind: I loved them both.

An SBO makes one appreciate the joys of green Jell-O. I hadn’t had Jell-O in forever.  But once I started recovering, I heard those three beautiful words: clear liquid diet.  Music to my ears!  First, I didn’t know Jell-O was a clear liquid, but I will forgive that detail.  After all the abdominal distension, pain, nausea, vomiting, I was never so thankful to have a bowl of jiggly green semisolid matter of questionable origin placed in front of me to consume.

My first solid bowel movement so was glorious, you would’ve thought I pooped out a rainbow. Imagine you’re a child and you have to go poop and realize that instead you’ve emitted a beautiful rainbow, complete with a pot of gold and unicorn at the end of it.  You’d be the happiest darned child in the world, right?  Exactly.

I want to sincerely thank my medical team, especially my nurses and surgeons, who took care of me and got me well.  I want to thank my family and friends for all the support and making me laugh so hard that I, therapeutically, pooped.  I want to thank my parents for keeping me company, racing laps around the floor with me, though do you really have to ask everyone if they’re single or married? 

Jeff Manaloto is an internal medicine physician.

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