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Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip has written a journal entitled "Don’t be a man: Do the right thing", which is an ongoing series about living with cancer from Tom’s perspective.

ICU, but who sees me?

by Tom Philip

Having been hospitalized for 10 days recently to, in order, have a cancerous tumor removed from my colon, start my recovery in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), battle a nasty infection after being transferred to a surgical ward, and travel by wheelchair to the facility’s front door on the last day, I have come to a number of conclusions about hospitals.

I would like to share two of those observations with you today. Admittedly, opinion articles like this are simply that: one person’s viewpoint about how certain parts of the author’s world operate. But I’d like to believe (and I welcome any feedback, by the way) that I am not alone in concluding the following.

Observation #1: Hospitals are not fun places in which to spend a few days, largely on your back. Observation #2: Even though hospitals are often where we go, or are sent when we need medical attention, they are no place to be if you’re sick!

Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful that my bowel resection took place in a sterile operating theatre and not on my kitchen table, or in the back room of the local hotel. It wasn’t that many decades past when the latter two options were more realistic than we’d care to believe. My surgery was nearly “textbook” according to Dr. Basmajian, and modern operating facilities and equipment no doubt contributed to that.

I received excellent care in the ICU, despite having referred to its nurses as “sadists” as I continued my return trip from anesthesia world. I apologize for using that term, especially to ICU nurses Crystal and Robyn who gave me gentle, professional care, reassurance and a lot of smiles and laughter during the four days I was there. No, they were merely “mean and nasty” as they hauled me out of bed a few hours after surgery to “get your system working” by walking the halls of the ICU.

This was working therapy, with jokes and good humour, followed by long periods of sleep. And although laughter and love are important for healing (check out any of Dr. Bernie Siegel’s books on those subjects), there was no “fun” in my hospital stay. That proved particularly true when I left the ICU for a relatively impersonal surgical ward.

An ICU nurse walked me to my ward room on the afternoon of day five. I asked to be left sitting in a side chair, needing a short respite from the flat-on-my-back routine. And there I sat, for more than an hour, without anyone checking on me, my surgical dressing, my intravenous or other catheter lines, or even if I was ready to lay down again. It wasn’t until the same ICU nurse who had brought me to the new room happened to pass the doorway, and noticed me sitting exactly where she’d left me, that I was helped back into bed. By that time I was exhausted, in pain, and longing for the attention I’d had in the ICU.

In fairness, the surgical ward into which I had transferred was, and probably still is understaffed. As one nurse told me, paperwork consumes much of their shift time, and there are few full-time nurses working anywhere in hospitals these days. It doesn’t exactly border on patient neglect; but the fact that I, as a new ward patient, just a few days out of major surgery, could sit in full view of a busy hospital corridor and not be seen by any nurses for an hour, did nothing to boost my confidence in that healing place.

No, from my perspective, hospitals are not the place to be when you’re sick; and next week’s story about the infection I picked up after leaving the ICU may just illustrate that point.

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