Bent Words

Bent Words

December 02, 2006

I used to have this romantic ideal of hospitals. I always imagined that if ever I were unfortunate enough to experience a lengthy stay at a hospital, I would be lavished with care by smiling, empathetic nurses. These caregivers, women dressed in crisp white skirts from the 50s, would fret over the plumpness of my pillows, worry about the temperature of my room and, on occasion, gently wipe my brow with a cool, damp cloth – regardless of my lacking fever.

Perhaps I had seen too many episodes of General Hospital as a child because, on November 1st, during my first overnight stay a hospital, I learned the hard way that care giving doesn’t necessarily equate to a caring attitude.

It was 12:30 a.m. and I had pushed the nurses’ call button twice. I was waiting for someone to answer the throbbing pain in my right shoulder with another dose of Morphine and, more importantly, it had been 12 hours since I last emptied my bladder.
When the nurses finally arrived (three of them answered my call as though I needed an entourage for my visit to the bathroom), not one of them was wearing crisp white clothes or a smile. Rather, with their arms folded and their brows raised, they wore expressions suggesting a dare on my behalf. I dare you to request another pillow. I dare you to ask for some ice chips. I dare you to make me work.

“Um, I just have to go to the bathroom.”

Earlier, I had been told not to get up on my own – not even to go to the bathroom. With the drugs they had given me, I wasn’t sure that I even could get up on my own. Yet all three women were staring at me as though I had just demanded a pedicure and back massage. Finally, one of the nurses turned toward the other two and, in a squeaky voice, began to beg,

“Please, please, please, Lisa, can you take over? I was supped to be outta here a half hour ago!”

Lisa nodded in obvious displeasure and began preparing the room for my departure from bed. As she untangled the clear rope of IV, pushed the bedside table back and disconnected the cooling device attached to my shoulder, I couldn’t help but feel utterly disappointed with my hospital experience. It was not as though I was there because I had foolishly swallowed a pen or because I had been dared to sled down a flight of stairs on a snack tray (that’s another day entirely) – I was at the hospital with high hopes that surgery would repair my recurrent dislocating right shoulder.

With my file on hand, I’m sure Lisa and the other nurses knew that. And with her average hourly salary of approximately $22.00 an hour (according to the May, 2005 Occupational Employment Statistics of Wisconsin) I did not believe that I was pushing the gambit when I requested assistance to the bathroom. After all, it was in her job description as caregiver to give care to those who need it. It was the profession she chose and, though it may not always be pretty, I was fairly certain that was why she earned over twice my own annual income.

Lisa’s daily responsibilities were demanding, I’m sure, but during my stay I had not demanded too much. Despite the pain, I was always pleasant, always smiling and ever so patient. I did not whine, I did not complain and, in spite of myself, I did not once ask her to wipe my brow with a cool, damp cloth.

Written at 5:06 p.m.