In 2004, after having been moved out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I became aware of a very unpleasant situation — My ability to communicate was extremely limited due to a tracheotomy (as described in a previous posting, Hospitalization – 2004); And, I was under the control of people who were not my friends or my family.
Newly aware of where I had been and what was happening, a dilemma soon presented itself!
Hospital policy stated that I was to be turned every 2 hours — 2hrs on my left side, 2hrs on my back and then 2hrs on my right side. (Despite this policy having been in effect, I now had a pressure-sore on the back of my left buttock which I received while in the ICU.) If I was turned as proscribed I would soon be laying on the sore — which is what quickly happened!
As I was turned, the pain was immediate. I shook my head and gestured to the staff not to leave me in that position — No matter, I was left with my bandaged sore pressing upon the mattress. As the staff exited my room, I was told that someone would return in 2 hours to turn me again. Then, the ceiling light was turned-off.
I was feeling very alone in my darkened hospital room. However, I did have two companions:
- The incessant, never-ending, sound of the breathing machine pumping oxygen into my lungs via the hose attached to my throat;
- And, the pain coming from the only pressure-sore I’ve ever had in my life!
After attempting to “tough-it-out” the pain became intolerable — I pushed the call-button which had been clipped to my hospital gown, hoping to summon someone to help me.
Eventually, a voice came from the speaker on the wall above my headboard, “can I help you?” I had no way to respond to the voice — I couldn’t speak!
The voice asked another question, “do you need something?” Surely, I thought, the staff at the nurse’s station must know I can’t talk! I remember feeling desperation and panic as the sound from the speaker went silent.
It seemed like a long time, but a nurse eventually entered my room to check on me — I frantically motioned to be turned. She said that she was going to get some help and returned with an assistant. I managed to get them to roll me onto my right-side — the side I have always preferred to sleep on, and was away from the sore! The nurse reminded me I would be turned again in 2 hours.
The next time I was turned didn’t start to badly, except for my short panic when they began — how was I to deal with the upcoming pain I expected? Attempts to stop them from changing my position seemed pointless! Then, a small glimmer of hope entered my consciousness — somehow, they managed to avoid placing me on the sore.
What a relief, I thought — But, it was temporary!
The positioning I was in slowly shifted until I was again feeling severe pain. This time, however, when I pushed the call-button three women entered my room and they did not turn-on the ceiling lights — I could vaguely make-0ut their appearance in the light coming from indirect and medical equipment sources. One of the women asked what I wanted and I gestured to be turned. Then, the one assuming authority walked toward me and said, “you were turned less than an hour ago. You will not be turned again until it’s time!”
I resumed my pleading gestures to be turned. But, the Alpha-female would have none of it — “If you push that button again, it will be taken from you!” She turned around and left my room, with her companions close behind. The shock of what had happened began to sweep over me! Tears soon dampened my face.
Difficult situations were very familiar to me before this incident:
- at least four times, brakes have failed on cars/vans while I was driving;
- other types of vehicle brake-downs have occurred while I was driving;
- wheelchairs have broken while I was in them;
- people bigger and stronger than I have threatened me;
- some have beaten on me;
- and, some have taken things from me.
Why has this particular incident changed me so dramatically that I still feel its effects — more than 5 years later?
I had an absolute and complete feeling of powerlessness!
- I could not speak or even scribble intelligibly — left to using gestures, I felt my communications had declined to the equivalent of what was available before I uttered my first multi-word phrase as a child;
- And, I could not escape my abusers — at least not until shift change, which I had no idea how long that would take.
Following my release from the hospital, almost two months after being threatened by the “night-shift terror-crew”, I came to believe I was experiencing PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I feel better today — but I’m aware the effects still linger. Whenever my wife leaves our apartment I find myself worrying about when, or if, she’ll return. And, whether she’ll remain healthy enough to provide the daily care I need. Those are feelings I never had prior to 2004.
I don’t think I’m alone with my anxiety — I believe that a large percentage of people with physical handicaps or age-related limitations worry about what their life will be like tomorrow or the day after that!
How many of us want to finish our lives in an INSTITUTION or in the hands of someone we don’t know? How about YOU — how do you feel?
Please leave a comment (the button can be found at the top of this posting) — I welcome, and read, each one.