Sunday, December 23, 2007

Medical notes (part 2)

The one thing you don't want to hear when you are being wheeled in for an operation:

"We aren't ready for her. We need to test the machinery; the first lot wasn't working."

Not surprisingly I sat up and told them to take as long as they wanted to test the machinery because I wanted it working perfectly before they started operating on me. I may have got a little bit on the hysterical side and they decided that it would be a good idea to sedate me while they were testing their machinery.

Obviously I have lived to survive the tale. Apparently my gall bladder was packed with stones. Unfortunately they couldn't give me the contents in a little jar due to infection control policies but I was assured it was an impressive sample.

They certainly turn you around quickly in our hospital system. Within 24 hours of being put under a general anaesthetic and having part of my insides ripped out, I was discharged and waiting to be picked up. Lord knows what happens to those people who don't have family and friends to care for them in the days after an operation. Plenty has been written about the problems of Australia's public hospital system; my experience was both better and worse than I expected.

The doctors clearly believed I needed my gall bladder out and scheduled my operation within a week of diagnosis, which is very impressive for an 'elective' (non-emergency) procedure. It made sound economic sense - if I'd had another attack of pancreatitis, I could have easily been back in hospital for another week using up scarce resources - but there are plenty of examples of people having to wait months for so-called elective surgery. The strain on the hospital resources, however, was evident every step of the way. I was originally booked in as a public patient but on the day I was admitted I was strongly encouraged to sign in as a private patient. "It's a way of fundraising for us," a rather desperate-sounding ward clerk told us. "We bill your health insurance company instead of the government. We waive all the gap fees, so it won't cost you anything or make any difference to how you are treated but it helps us out A LOT."

Well, as long as it wasn't costing me anything extra... and they weren't kidding about not being treated any different to the public sector patients.

I felt like I was on a well-organised but over-stretched conveyor belt, moving from one docking station to another. Every part of the hospital showed signs of wear and strain but the staff were unfailingly professional, knowledgeable and capable. They just didn't have the capacity to provide anything - time or resources - beyond exactly what was needed. The bean counters would have been proud. It was just terrifying to consider what might happen should something go wrong, should a staff member fail to turn up to work or a piece of equipment fail - there did not appear to be any capacity to cover any gaps.

A cynic might suggest that the post-operative ward was designed to encourage people to return home and not linger beyond their absolute medical need. 16 beds for patients of both genders - divided by curtains - with one toilet, one shower and two nurses for all to share. The nurses were kept busy monitoring our vital signs and dispensing medication. Most of us were on drips and sedative painkillers, which made even the simplest tasks a challenging process. At one stage in the middle of the night I was standing on the side of the bed with my drip somehow tangled in the side rail, desperate to pee and wondering if I should press the nurse button because I could see how stretched they were. (In the end I untangled myself but needed to call for help to get back into bed.) And I had it much better than most patients - my husband was there during the day and was able to help me change into a clean nightie and walk me to the toilet but he was not allowed to stay the night. I found it hard to believe the nurse who said I would be fine to go home by 10am the next day.

The next morning, the nurses unhooked me from my drip, gave me another dose of strong pain killers and showed off my scars to the consultant surgeons. Before I knew it, I was in the discharge chairs, waiting for J to come and take me home.

The doctors gave me a script for Panadine Forte, which left me sleepy but helped me control my pain for the first few days. J channelled his inner Yiddishe Mama and made me home-made chicken soup and jelly while I was recuperating. I alternatively slept, ate chicken soup and watched Babylon 5 on DVD while contemplating some very simple knitting.

A visit to my local GP confirmed that the scars were healing well although I had a very slight surface infection that we should watch. But even that appears to have cleared up now. I am feeling much better today, although I still cannot lift anything heavy.

J, however, has picked up a nasty cold that he is blaming on the visit to the hospital. Lucky there is some of his left-over chicken soup for him.


M-H said...

Take it easy! You'll be surprised how long it takes to return to 'normal'.

Beth said...

I am soooo sorry I missed reading your original diagnosis. I'd have chimed in that you'd be so glad to have it over with eventually. Please take it easy and go slow. Don't rush getting back to normal!

2paw said...

Oh my word, and still you managed to send me my tea cosy!! Glad you are feeling better. The doctors and nurses are wonderful, but there is such a pressure to 'get you home'. The system moves slowly, but if you really need help, you can be pretty sure it will be there. Get well soon, and hope the cold clears up quickly too!!!