Life took a turn last Monday morning at 3 am. All unheralded I woke with acute pain in my abdomen. Was it wind I thought and tried every position imaginable to rid myself of the morbid affliction. Nothing worked. Felt nauseous. Threw up. Unexpectedly did a number two. Normal enough. No relief followed. Living alone alas I grew ever anxious as the pain continued. Finally, having worried at it for three hours, at 6 am I decided to call an ambulance. Dialed triple 1. Not thinking straight. Finally dialed triple 0.
The ambulance only took about twenty minutes to arrive. Very supportive. Walked me down. Put warmed blanket on me. Pain robbed me of my senses, and I travelled to the Royal North Shore Hospital sans phone charger, laptop, change in clothes, deodorant, etc. Obviously, implicitly, expecting to be turned around tout de suite. Numbers of pain killers, which didn’t work at all, and two MRIs later I was under the knife at 1 pm. The procedure entailed cutting out a piece of strangulated bowel and joining the two resulting lose ends. Don’t want to big note but they called it serious surgery. Apparently, it lasted 2½ hours.
Was fooled by the immediate operation aftermath. No discomfort or pain. False dawn. Not so long before I thought this must what it feels like after being kicked repeatedly in the stomach by a couple of steel-booted thugs in a dark alley. Very unpleasant. Hooked up with a catheter and assorted tubes. One tube annoyingly through my nostril down into the well of my stomach with an attached bag using gravity to suck out and catch the contents. Nil by mouth until the Friday. Physio said I must cough and breathe deeply lest be struck down with pneumonia. She gave me a folded towel to press on my stomach to lessen the pain of coughing and deep breathing. Helpful? Yes, but not enormously so.
After a day or two, two doctors, part of the theatre team, who visit me briefly each morning, said that they couldn’t remove the stomach tube until they knew my bowels were working. Apparently, they go into down-(s)tools mode, when mucked about with in surgery. I explained that with no food, and to the point, no porridge, prunes, Metamucil, and regular jogs, there was no way my bowels would perform. Wind will do they said. This opened a new vista. I became anxious to expel wind. And when I finally started, I felt free to do so whenever and wherever I wanted. No more embarrassment. I had license and incentive.
Why share this personal tale of woe? Too many to count suffer much worse for much longer. Get it. First, I reflect on the way hospitals change social etiquette. Abandon all dignity ye who enter here. My first shower, tubes and all, drew the assistance of a young female nurse. I can tell you that one’s modest manhood is not assisted by trauma. Pathetic, I know. But I thought of George Costanza’s “shrinkage” (Season 5, Episode 20). Also, one’s scrupulous cleaning of one’s private parts (clearly anything but private anymore) and bottom is completed in a much less thorough fashion when under the watch of a detached young woman, nurse though she be.
Second, again I am mightily impressed with the medical care received in this first world city. I wonder what Aboriginal societies left to themselves would have made of a strangulated bowel in 2023 or 3023. Of course, primitive societies making glacial if any progress century after century have no answer to strangulated bowels. The victims simply die in agony and distress. Something for the black armband brigade to suck on.
Third, I am amazed at how hospitals think that they are only in the medical business. Not in the catering business. Not in the business of providing secure and fast intent connectivity. I mean three-star hotels are primarily in the staying business, but they pay attention to food and to internet access. Hospitals are single-focused. Or, at least, that’s my experience for the second time in three years. The first in September 2020.
Fourth, and back to primitive man in a way. It sure pays not to be in Woop Woop, “come the wet ass hour.” (Phrase courtesy of Al Pacino in Sea of Love.)
39 thoughts on “Abandon All Dignity Ye Who Enter Here”
as someone who has been through the RNSH Medical System – 13 1/2 Hour Op 2018 and 9 1/2 Hour Op in 2022 and sucessful 34 Rounds of Cancer Immunotherapy through RNSH Cancer Clinic preceded by 2 lots Intensive Chemo that did not work
your statement is correct
Second, again I am mightily impressed with the medical care received in this first world city.
RNSH is superb as was my prior treatment at St Vincent’s – RNSH has my records from my 1st Op there in 1949 – amazing
And finally, seen on a Tombstone in Waverly Cemetary in early 60s – a famous quote
“Wherever you be let your Wind go free, because holding my wind was the death of me”
Crikey- duly noted Peter! Hope you are fully recovered!
Best wishes Peter! Being a scientist and engineer I find it helps if you regard it as a mechanical thing that needs fixing. I’m sure the medical staff think like that, since they do it every day.
God’s speed with your recovery Peter.
Glad you had the presence of mind to assist yourself so well.
Get well and keep the classics coming.
Sadly, they are not even in the getting well business, if my experience is any guide.
Once the post-operative narcotics wore off, I was in for eight days, during which I could rarely get to sleep, and if so, only for a couple of hours at a time. Apart from sharing a room with a woman who snored like a freight train and was doped up enough to pass out at night, the ambient noise levels, punctuated by clattering and banging, were high. Lights would be switched on in the middle of the night and patients disturbed to administer medication. The staff did not bother to lower their voices at any time. Sleeping during the day was impossible due to constant, but random, interruptions by cleaners, nursing aides, nurses and visitors, not to mention the noise.
I was cranky and exhausted the whole time and didn’t really start to recover until I got home and was able to get some peace and quiet, and proper sleep.
Peter, so sorry to hear you had to have an operation for a bowel obstruction. I have recurrent diverticulitis, which is very prone to obstruct, the pain as you now know is immense, so my sympathies there. I travel with a letter from my gastoenterologist saying to ER try to resolve my problem with other methods first, as I have too many adhesions from past attacks for operating.
One hates to get all bowelish as age advances, for I have memories of my mother’s constant letting the world know of her toileting woes, but hospitals are used to doing whatever is necessary. When I first had what they call a ‘double ender’ colonoscopy and stomach endoscopy, a kindly nurse said to me you just have to realise that below the neck, you now belong to them not you. I don’t mind that in a modern and technologically advanced hospital, over to you I say to them. I just hope I never end up with medical problems travelling in less well serviced countries.
In past ages people died of so many miserable ailments and diseases. PJ O’Rourke said modernity’s superiority could summarised in one word: dentistry. I’d also add anaesthetic surgery.
Have a good and restful recovery, and keep writing so well for Catallaxy and Quadrant.
One imagines that in pre-contact life, indigenous belief systems may have ascribed such trauma to evil spirits or witchdoctory type of causes. I make no judgement on that, other than to assume that the medicinal ‘treatments’ used may only have had effect on relatively minor issues.
Regarding dignity: You’re a male, so dignity is not one of your privileges. Move along now.
Hope you’re doing well now Peter. Unnerving experience.
I can assure you that dignity goes out the door in all plumbing surgery, male or female. 😀
All the very best, Peter, and a quick recovery. For all the whinging that pain and dislocation causes, our hospitals are still first class. And yes, the food is horrid. If you are allowed, given your condition and possibly a restricted diet, can you get a pal to bring you in something delicious? I did that for the Beloved when he had his knees done (knees being quite different to guts, of course). In the old days, we had “convalescent food” and it had to be both nutritious and delicious and an aid to recovery.
You were very smart to get that ambulance. I wish I had had your presence of mind when in agony and far from help. Idiotically I drove myself. How I got there in one piece is a miracle.
I suspect we both have very weary guardian angels.
Yikes – sorry to hear it, Squire.
Get well soon.
It obviously hasn’t affecting your writing skills. Writers block nah, the kiddies would still be cleaning out the fridge. Whilst you’ve gone the full bonza. Get well soon and keep off the processed white bread.
Lucky you weren’t in WA, the Royalty State otherwise McClown would have had you waiting in an ambulance for 5 hours prior admittance.
Well done on calling the ambulance, many would have waited longer, get well soon.
First bowl resection? Been there. Hope that never happens again. You forgot the part where the doc shoves his hand up your ass in emergency…….
3 children and subsequent various hospital admittances, where every orifice has been exposed to the vulgar gaze, means I now pack up my dignity and leave it at home. But the exceedingly black humour always travels with me, much to the alarm, and sometimes horror, of the treatment teams.
Prayers for a speedy recovery and no repeat performances please God.
Peter, best regards for your recovery.
On the loss of dignity once medical treatment of one sort or another is required, I’m reminded of a column in the paper (can’t remember which one) some years ago.
The doctor, a gastroenterologist, listed the various comments his colonoscopy patients had offered following their procedure. One, I remember: “Dr, can you please tell my wife that’s my head’s not up there”.
After some excision at a very delicate place I was informed I could not go home until the water works worked.
Nurse Ratchett treated me like a pest for taking up bed space as the day surgery wake up zone kicked me out. I had to wonder why she went into nursing as she had no empathy or care brain cells.
To make it up, however, then a lovely nurse said time was nearly up, but she did say 1 thing which she found helped. If I didn’t manage it naturally I’d have a tube shoved up my doodle. Worked like magic 🙂
I have been in public and private and actually found public better from a facility and bandages quality viewpoint (burns bandages are better in public by far), but private could see you faster of course.
So, if you were not in a hurry, public works well.
And nurses can be crap even in the best hospitals.
I thought it was routine for this type of surgery. I woke from my bowel resection with a ‘tube up my doodle’. Stung like hell when they took it out. It is actually inflated after insertion (deflated before removal of course).
Hope you get well soon Peter.
Having had “gomers” removed, I feel for you.
get well soon Agent Smith
These sorts of problems are often diet related.
Make sure you are getting enough bacon and whiskey.
All the best, Peter.
Sounds a very scary experience.
The nurse who removed my catheter was a good friend of my sister. (lol)
Bowel problems are likely diet related, but I just read that the main risk factor for Strangulated Hernia is previous abdominal surgery and the adhesions caused.
Try an extended stay.
Familiarity with P. R. Reid’s Escape From Colditz helps more than you’d imagine.
I’m glad hospitals are still only in the medical business.
Good to hear you decided an ambulance ride was necessary.
I remember feeling awkward about ringing for one of those myself, and then of the difficulty in convincing them I was sufficiently unwell to warrant them coming, though like you I definitely was in serious trouble (ten weeks in hospital proved that).
rosie, the problem is that their definition of ‘the medical business’ does not encompass maximising the patient’s chances of getting well as quickly as possible. It only focuses on the intervention aspect, which is a critical part, but by no means the whole, of optimal patient care.
As you must know, when you are stuck in bed in one spot all day, things like meals and the general ambience assume much more importance than they would in normal daily life. Yet, hospitals are usually indifferent at best to patient needs beyond the acute medical care aspects. For example, apart from the inability to rest that was inflicted on patients when I was in hospital, the bathroom had black mould growing in it. Cleaning was another of those ancillary functions that management just weren’t interested in.
Thinking back, for about half the cost of a hospital bed, I could easily have stayed in a luxury hotel room as long as there was an on site nurse to dispense medication and change my drip. It would have been much cheaper and also much, much more comfortable, and my hospital bed could be used by someone else.
Why don’t health policymakers think outside the box and contract a hotel group (which specialises in making people comfortable) to run a convalescent facility?
All the best Peter.
With regard to these invasions of privacy, the best consolation is to remind yourself that no one ever died of embarrassment.
I suppose everyone’s hospital experience is unique to that person, but speaking personally I had no substantive criticisms of the quality of care I received during my hospitalisations at St Vinnie’s Public and St George Public.
Sure there were discomforts and inconveniences to be endured, but it was what it was.
And wishing you speedy recovery Mr Smith !
Freemasons transfer their well mums and bubs to rooms at the Westin for a couple of days before discharge. Midwife comes to do checks.
Five star hotel, my oldest had the experience for her second.
Very useful story. Lots of angles. No BS. Thanks.
Wishing you a speedy recovery.
Much sympathy Peter. Husband had impacted bowel which was uncomfortable enough – but could be dealt with non surgically. RNS does have very good people in those sort of emergencies. Our family had had quite a few excursions there over the years,
On one admission, I woke up after a bit of a turn in ICU. Still a bit puzzled as to how I managed to get there, it was a different floor and I don’t remember taking the lift – while standing – I had one of those catheters in when they sent me back to Cardiac Stepdown. Then came the for its removal. I hadn’t let them know I was a Nurse, just unemployed.
Young lady puts all the gear – gloves, 10ml syringe, blue sheet, etc on the table and tells me she’ll do the extraction after lunch.
Bugger that says Bob. “I’ll take the damn thing out myself” because they don’t let you out until you’ve had a piss and everything’s working.
Now there’s a way you can take the catheter out and it all wraps up in one of the gloves to make a neat little package, which is what I did.
Bright young thing comes back from lunch and snaps a glove – they must get taught that, I had to work it out myself. She explains what she’s going to do, Bob swings his legs out of bed, hands her the package with a “Did it meself. Here ya go.”
The look I got was worth it. Eyes go to the package, then at me, back to the package, and the jaw snaps shut.
I have no idea what she told everyone else at handover. I did, however, tell the Supervisor as I left that I was an RN, just currently not working. He offered me a job on the spot. “We need someone with a sense of humour in this ward.”
All the best with the rest of your recovery Peter.
The axiom in Woop Woop is when there is pain, get on the plane.
Great article you’ve written in Quadrant:
First world problem. 😀
Come to think of it, your average Indian hospital would probably have that sorted via local “contractors”.
A speedy recovery!
Several years ago I encountered the beginnings of this concept in a Californian hospital. The restaurant across the road had a contract to supply all patient meals. Wonderful food, delivered on request, great menu options. I was too zonked out to find out how they managed “nil by mouth” instructions or “bland food only” treatments but for me at least it was wonderful.
Mrs OSC, stuck in a nearby hotel during my recovery, was less than impressed by the 5 star service I was receiving!
Glad it all worked out for you, best wished for a full recovery.
As you age ,you seem to get more surprises.Last December spent a day on a ride on mower at mates farm.Next day lots of blood.Day after removal of golf ball sized cancerous tumor.
Home the next day.Didnt even have time to contemplate my mortality.
Follow ups so far no more cancer
Good stuff. All the best.