Tag Archives: hospitals

A Good Marriage Is Easy To Spot

How do you know your marriage is good?

Passionately and deeply in love?  Want to spend all your waking and sleeping hours with that one person?  Enjoying today, together  but planning for tomorrow?  Moving in, setting up a joint bank account and sharing the day-to-day tasks of living?

Every one of these could indicate a strong relationship, a good marriage.  Anyone of them could also be just a symptom of what looks like a good marriage.

The first time one of you makes a bad decision, you’ll get a look at what underpins your marriage.  Lose the savings account on a bad investment and watch the argument rip from money to control and back again.  Or make a bad choice morally – just once and it didn’t really mean anything.  But your partner may not be able to bridge the gap between the before and the after.

The truth is anyone can have a “good” marriage when things are going well.  The acid test only happens when things go badly.

Sometimes, bad choices can make or break your marriage depending on how you and your beloved handle it.  But what happens when no one makes a choice but both of you have to live with the consequences?

What happens when one of you gets sick?  I don’t mean a head cold or the flu.  I mean sick unto death.  In our case, it was cancer.  Will you run or will you stay?

It has been 10 years since our journey began, 10 years of chemo therapy, surgery, hospitalization after hospitalization.  Sitting here, reading my journal from the days when I thought, we both thought, that treatment would be fast, surgery would finish it, tears are streaming down my face.  What happened to my husband, to us, still cuts to the bone.  Our loss runs deep and wide.  Our sorrow is endless.

But our marriage not only survived, it got stronger with every treatment, every surgery, every hospitalization.

Since he was diagnosed with cancer, my husband and I have spent every vacation, every year, in that very expensive resort with very small rooms, a single bed and terrible food.  Hitting 34 hospitalizations in this, the 10th anniversary of our relationship with cancer, we are closer together than ever, enjoy each others company over that of almost anyone we know and wish only for one thing, at least another 10 year of whatever life has to throw at us.

It seems ours is a good marriage.


Filed under Healthcare, Life & Death, Love and Marriage

Goats In The Hospital Halls

There a thousands of people working in the major metropolitan hospital my sister almost died in — many doing their jobs then going home at night.  And there are a handful of heroes in most hospitals, even this one.  But there are also goats, herds of them, wandering the halls, bleating their value to the world.  These goats graze at the top of the healthcare food chain; these goats will kill you.

One of our goats was a Resident — what I call a “baby doc.”  In one 24 hour period, without touching her and undoubtedly without reading her Electronic Medical Records (EMR), this Resident – I shall call him Dr. X, managed to take a person who was in for surgery and reduce her to a patient teetering on the brink of death.

Here is the short story of how Dr. X almost killed my sister.

Friday morning, my sister complained of excruciating pain in the gall bladder area but no one listened.  Just 8 hours later her kidneys started to fail – urine the color of iced tea and very little of it in the catheter bag.  I told the nurse, and asked for a consult with someone right away.

The nurse paged Dr. X 3 times with no answer.  By then it was 6PM and there was no urine output.  At shift change, the night nurse was really shocked by her condition, paged Dr. X and finally got him to commit to come down.  The baby doc appeared at 8PM but he wasn’t there to help, he was there to dismiss.

I asked him if we could consult a urologist; he said no.  I asked for a consult with a nephrologist; he said no.  The nurse specifically asked about getting “a visualization of the kidneys.” He said no.   Four hours later, at 12:40 Saturday morning, the nurse told Dr. X his patient was in full kidney failure and asked if he could take cultures to measure my sister’s kidney function, Dr. X said no.

When paged again, Dr. X showed up again at 3:30AM to “talk with us” and was about as helpful as a plank – not listening, dismissing the problems and both of us.  In full kidney failure and literally drowning, with creatinine levels that had almost tripled and hyper bilirubin anemia, my sister was clearly heading for a casket but Dr. X didn’t seem interested.

I followed him to the Nurses’ Station and demanded a consult with urology.  What I got was a consult with another Resident – this one from Internal Medicine.  Dr. X thought this might shut me up.  It made Dr. X shut up.  This Internal Medicine Resident read her EMR, talked with Ryan and me then examined Meg, who was beyond words.  Then he did what most doctors would never do – he literally removed my sister from Dr. X’s care.  He saved her life.

In Intermediate Care Unit, he put together a team that included all the consults I had asked for and then some — nephrology, urology, pulmonology, cardiology and gastroenterology — and they got to work fast.    Surgery occurred that afternoon and the Chief Surgeon told me they just got to her in time – she had less than 12 hours to live.

This is the proverbial cautionary tale with one moral.  No matter how big the hospital is, no matter how great its reputation, people just like my sister die there NOT because it is “their time” but because goats like Dr. X get a hall pass.


Filed under Healthcare, Life & Death, Medical Writing

Finding Heroes In Hospitals

Six weeks in hell in a hospital with my sister has taught me many things but one of the most important is who really are the heroes.

Are they the surgeon? The cardiologists? The specialists who swoop in, make their cuts and move on?

In some cases, yes, but there are many more heroes who travel the halls of today’s hospitals, many of them unnoticed by administration or management but it is these heroes I want to say thank you to.

There was the housekeeper who found me collapsed, in tears, watching transport wheel my sister’s gurney off to the OR. Without a thought, she dropped her mop and wrapped her arms around me, held me, told me it would be okay. A hero, a human being who touched my soul for a few moments and gave me comfort.

There was the nurse who watched me watch you, who listened to me and started slowly, bravely and repeatedly pushing the Resident, asking for tests and finally telling him that my sister was in full renal failure. A man who risked his career for my sister, him I will not forget.

The housekeeper who stopped what she was doing and walked me to the cabinet to get a warm blanket, the nurse who pushed away from the computer and came down the hall with me to soothe my sister’s pain, the security guards who welcomed me, smiled and said good morning, the cashiers in the cafeteria who always asked how I was doing and how my sister was doing — all of them are heroes, the underpinnings of the hospital that make the work of the technicians – read doctors – possible.

These are my heroes, men and women who come to work every day and see sorrow, pain, loss, played out in every corridor and every room and still they reach out to touch, to help, to care.  These are people I will not soon forget and will never be able to thank.


Filed under Life & Death, Medical Writing

In Love, With Cancer

It always starts the same way…a phone call, a finding, “We’re hopeful that…”

Cancer has been my constant companion for more than 10 years now.  It tapped my husband first and took me to my knees as the hours, days, weeks passed.  He survived but at a series of terrible prices which I will share over the coming weeks and months.

Four years ago, my oldest brother was diagnosed with a malignant cytoma in his brain.  The Cyber-Knife showed a sister tumor and they sewed him up.  He died in two months.

Last May, my brother Bob had a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by a large, malignant tumor in his brain.  He died in two weeks.

Today, right now, my older and dearer sister is battling for her life, a 25 centimeter ovarian tumor taking over her abdomen and her every conscious moment.  She is in an ICU, on a vent and still has another surgery to go.

With each of them, I have suspended my life, shut it down to the 10 foot by 12 foot white prison cell called a hospital room.  Watching, caring, calling out what I see and demanding attention when it was needed.  Day after day, and in many cases all through the night, I have lived with them, breathed for them, watched them, prayed for them and advocated, always advocated for them.

Everything else fades away and life narrows to the hospital bed, the pinpoint that demands all your attention.  You are tired to the bone and still you stay, you watch, you help, you cry.  You ache in your joints and in your heart and still, you stay, soothing, calming, trying to reassure.  You forget what day it is, when you last ate, what a hot cup of tea tastes like, what it’s like to lie down in a bed to sleep instead of a chair and still, you stay.

That’s what it means to be in love…with cancer.

Heading back to the hospital to hold her hand, tell her where she is, what is happening and what will happen next.  I will write more about this, about the nurses who are heroes every day and about the good, the bad and the ugly of health care and hospitals.

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Filed under Healthcare, Life & Death, Medical Writing