In 2006 I entered a hospital 200 miles from home to have a worn-out hip replaced. I chose that hospital only because my surgeon of choice preferred operating there, although he also worked through a neighboring hospital.
Because someone in his office misunderstood my insurance, they scheduled me for surgery in that hospital, then changed it to the other hospital, then changed it back when I got the insurance problem straightened out. In the process, I lost my place in line for the surgery, and had to go to the end of the line. My surgeon operated only on Tuesdays, and on that Tuesday, I must have been the last one in line. He had just returned to work after a vacation, and apparently had a lot of surgeries backed up to do that day.
When I was being checked out and prepped for surgery, a woman made me stand on the scales, and loudly announced my weight for anyone within earshot to hear. That was embarrassing, as my extended period of hip and back pain had resulted in my gaining a lot of weight. When she asked me my height, I saw an opportunity to salvage what little was left of my dignity. “Five-foot-ten,” I said, knowing she could tell by looking I wasn’t over five-foot-four. But she wrote it down without ever looking my way. I decided I might do well to fix it, as I had no idea what might come of my misinformation. “I’m actually not that tall, ” I said. “But I just figured anyone who weighed that much should be at least five-ten.” She just scowled and I assumed made a correction. But maybe not, because after the surgery when they put the pressure stockings on me, they required three rolls at the top.
I had been told that this hospital’s joint replacement department was the best anywhere. Unfortunately, by the
time I came out of surgery, there were no beds left in the joint replacement area, so I was placed in “overflow.”I soon learned to my sorrow what happens to a person who winds up in overflow there. We soon realized that not only did most of the nurses there not want to be involved with joint replacement patients, they actually didn’t seem to know how to care for them. I hate to think what would have become of me had my husband
not been there with me all the time.
In the first place, the anesthetic made me violently ill, as is normal for me. Then the narcotic pain killer I was given not only made me sick, but caused hallucinations. So a lot of my memories of the first day, at least, are second-hand memories via my husband and my daughter. Like her dad, my daughter has little to say and is never unfairly critical. But she said that during the time she was there I received the worst care she had ever seen in a hospital, and that I should report it for the sake of others coming in later.
The normal things were not checked by most shifts. My husband had to ask to have the Foley emptied, the ice pack refilled, and most other things one would expect to take for granted. My daughter pointed out before noon Wednesday that my drain tubes had stopped draining and the tubes appeared to be clogged with dried blood. My husband reported it to the nurses’ desk, but it was well into the next shift, probably 10 or 12 hours later, before anyone ever even looked at it.
The nurse who finally took them out appeared to be doing all the work on that shift. I heard her name constantly called on the speaker, and she rushed in and out of the room, apparently becoming more and more frustrated because the powers that be wouldn’t give her time to do what she had to do. As painful as it was for me when she removed the half acre of tape and pulled out the drain tubes, which were indeed plugged up, I think it was almost as painful for her. She was very angry that it had been neglected all day. By that time blood had backed up into the rest of the leg, causing more pain than I felt was necessary. It took weeks for my body to eliminate the excess blood.
Time after time my husband went to the desk and asked for assistance which should have been given without his asking. He was always told “in just a minute” but usually that was the last he heard of it. He did virtually everything that was done for me the whole time I was there.
Meanwhile, when a nurse ever did come into the room, she would almost invariably refer to my knee replacement. My husband thought he had finally gotten that issue cleared up, but learned later that he had not succeeded.
In fairness I will say there were a few nurses who seemed competent and caring, but they were always overworked and had little time with any given patient.
Because an ice storm was moving in, we insisted that our daughter go home on Wednesday, shortly after she noticed the plugged drain tubes. She lived 400 miles from the hospital, and we wanted to see her get home safely before it hit. She called several hours later and said she was home and the snow had started as she turned onto the street she lives on.
On Thursday morning the surgeon came in and said he was dismissing me. We told him the roads were icy and we might have a hard time getting home, so he said we should check and if we thought we’d have trouble getting home, he would arrange for me to stay an extra day. We were to tell the charge nurse if we needed to stay and she should call his office, and his people would make the arrangements.
My husband made some calls and learned that the roads around home were indeed iced over, so he went to the nurse’s station and told them what the doctor had said. They said they would need to leave that for the next shift, as his office wouldn’t be open till after shift change.
When the next shift came on duty, with the doctor’s instructions evidently passed on, the head nurse came charging into my room, her eyes blazing, and almost shouted, “I can’t call your doctor. He’ll be in surgery, and he has already dismissed you, anyway. Your insurance won’t pay for you to stay after he has dismissed you.”
Suddenly my mind went back to when I was a girl taking care of our chickens. I had instructions that if a hen wanted to “set” and wouldn’t get off the nest, to pull her off. After being evicted from her nest, an old hen would flounce around and squawk and give me looks that could kill. This nurse looked so much like those old hens that I almost had to laugh in spite of it all.
She left the room and my husband and I went into conference. We decided we’d just go ahead and check out, even if it meant driving three blocks and checking into a motel. We were really sick of that place and thought that if my husband was going to have to take care of me, he could do it as well anywhere else.
Soon the nurse was back. “Okay, I’m working on making arrangements for you to stay. Maybe the social worker can pull some strings.” I don’t know why she had changed her mind, but I’m thinking she called the doctor’s office and they confirmed what we had said.
We told her to forget it, that we had decided to go home, or at least as far as we could get. At that, she looked horrified, probably realizing that if we left, she stood a good chance of being chewed out by our doctor. From that moment on, it appeared she was doing everything in her power to keep us there.
First she called the “hospitalist,” the doctor appointed to take care of my needs there unrelated to the actual surgery. Soon she came back with the information that he said I needed a blood transfusion and, although my surgeon had released me, the hospitalist would not approve it without a blood transfusion.
I had donated my own blood a couple of weeks before the surgery, to be used in case of excessive blood loss during the surgery. But it had not been used. Now I was slightly anemic, probably because I had donated the blood. I told her I would take my own blood if they still had it, but not any other. She assured me they still had it. Then began the long wait for the blood to be brought to my room. Seems it had been frozen and now had to thaw naturally before use.
Meanwhile, the social worker came in and said she was going to help me locate the blood thinner I would need to be given in daily injections for the next month. She said a local pharmacy had a few of the shots, but not enough. She kept talking about “56 shots” and I finally told her I thought I was to have one a day for 28 days. She said no, knee replacements required two a day. I told her that might be the case, but I had had a hip replaced, and my husband had been trying ever since the surgery to convince them of it.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “It says here that you had a knee replaced.”
I said, “Ma’am, will you please come over here and look at my bandage and tell me whether you think it’s my hip or knee.?” She actually walked across the room and took a quick peek as I pulled the sheet back. I could have thought of a lot of other things to say, but managed to restrain myself.
Once convinced I knew my hip from my knee, she went ballistic. “This is how people get hurt! I’m going to find out who started this and do something about it,” she said.
Eventually they brought my blood, which I was prepared to examine closely before I accepted it. But the one who brought it in and the nurse who was to set up the transfusion worked very hard at making it appear they really knew what they were doing. One read the name and identification on the bag of blood while the other checked the information on a sheet of paper which presumably had the info on it to identify my blood. So I had to assume it was right.
About the time they started the transfusion, two “special” meals were delivered to our room-meals we were supposed to have been able to partake of in a special room, part of the deal with my surgery package. I couldn’t imagine anyone who had had a hip replaced two days earlier feeling up to going “out” to eat. So we ate our meals in my room while the blood ran into my veins. Of course with one hand occupied with the transfusion, it was difficult to cut a steak, especially one that wasn’t overly tender. But it was the first food either of us had eaten there that was even passable. We had learned that most of the nurses brought their lunches from home. But that was okay. I didn’t have much of an appetite at that point, anyway.
Shortly afterwards, someone came up from the business office with a questionnaire they wanted me to fill out. I had my husband put it with the things he was getting together so we could leave. When they returned for our dishes, they asked if I had the questionnaire ready. I told them I hadn’t had time to fill it out, but would mail it in later. (I did, but I sent it to my surgeon, along with a letter describing in great detail the treatment, or lack of it, I had received there.)
Eventually Henny Penny had no more stalling tactics to keep me there, so she had to let me go. By then it was 4:00 p.m. and we had 200 miles to drive before dark, or else drive in the dark, or go to a motel.
We drove about 50 miles and made a rest stop. When we got back in the car my husband asked if I wanted to find a room or drive on. So far we had seen no ice on the road at all. Most likely the traffic on the interstate had beaten it all off. I asked what he wanted to do and he didn’t care. Meanwhile he drove faster and faster.
I said, “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” He said he was and I said, “Me too. I feel like a bird out of a cage. Let’s just drive till we have to stop.” I couldn’t get over the feeling that we, like Bonnie and Clyde, were on the lam and had to keep moving lest we be caught and imprisoned again..
In three hours, we made the trip that usually takes four, pulling into our garage at 7:00 sharp. We had encountered no ice or snow and very little traffic on I 40, for the only time I can remember. It seemed that we basically flew home, but in thinking back on it, I realized I had probably slept some, since I was still full of narcotic pain medicine.
I received a nice letter from my surgeon after he received mine, apologizing profusely for the treatment I had experienced, and assuring me he would look into it. Later a woman called me and said she had just started the job of supervisor of the joint replacement department, they were moving into larger quarters, and if I ever had a need to return to the hospital, I could call her directly and she would see that I was given proper treatment.
Two years later, I actually did go back and have the other hip done. The situation was different, but still not the way I would have liked it. I got plenty of attention, albeit not always the kind I would have preferred. But that’s a different story.
As it turned out, the first hip I received turned out to be one of the DePuy hips that is currently being recalled. We are making frequent 400-mile round trips to keep an eye on things. The hips are both solid but my cobalt level is almost twice what my surgeon would like for it to be. I’m hoping to avoid having it replaced, but if it becomes necessary, I think I’ll insist on trying the other hospital this time.