My New Hospital Home

This is the first in a multi-part blog about my 2 week stay at St. Vincent Seton Specialty Hospital. Here is an index to all of the entries in this series.

Prologue

In a previous 14 part blog series titled “Pray That They Listen to the Man with No Voice” I recounted my weeklong hospitalization in St. Vincent’s ICU with severe respiratory problems. The end result was I had to have a trach installed. After about a week, I was no longer sick enough to be in the ICU however I still needed to use a ventilator to sleep at night and St. Vincent’s rules are such that you cannot have a ventilator in a regular hospital room. So instead I had to be transferred to what is called a “long-term acute care hospital”. The facility of choice was St. Vincent Seton Specialty Hospital which is just a few blocks away from the regular St. Vincent Hospital.

That previous blog series, the events from December 1, 2016 through December 14 but I did not finish writing it until late March. I promise to pick up the story of my recovery at Seton Hospital “very soon”. But now it is mid-July and I’m just now getting around to it. This part of the story isn’t nearly as dramatic or traumatic as was the previous story. Still I feel a need to share it because some interesting things did happen along the way and I promised I would finish the story so I will. This series will pick up on December 14, 2016 and run through December 28 when I finally got home. As you can see I ended up spending Christmas in the hospital so let’s title this series “Holiday Hospital”.

Throughout this blog if you see this little Facebook logo it is a link to a Facebook post of mine that I posted at the time of the events I’m describing.

About Seton

Before we talk about everything I did and what happened at this new hospital I thought I would give you some background about it and the Saint that is its namesake.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first nativeborn American to be canonized as a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church. She founded a Catholic girl school in Emmitsburg Maryland and founded the first religious order of sisters in America called the Sisters of Charity. That religious order is connected to St. Vincent Hospital and so this auxiliary hospital which is part of the St. Vincent system bears her name. While most Sisters belonging to religious communities or founding religious communities are single women, Seton was married, had children and then widowed before she became Catholic and then eventually founded her religious order. Seton is her married name. You can read all about her on Wikipedia here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Ann_Seton

As mentioned earlier this hospital is known as a “long-term acute care hospital” and according to the website specializes in the treatment of medically complex patients who require extended hospital stays often of 25 days or longer. I would end up staying there 2 weeks but many of the people had been there much longer. Is located at 8050 Township Line Rd. it’s a relatively small hospital just two stories and they told me at has about 75 beds. Here is their website https://www.stvincent.org/locations/hospitals/seton

I’m not sure exactly what all services they have there. I did pass by an x-ray room. They have a really big physical therapy department because lots of the patients are trying to regain strength either to go home or perhaps to a rehab hospital. Here is a YouTube video that is a tour of the facility.

Many years ago (2004?) after my mother had spent 19 days in a drug-induced coma while she was fighting sepsis after pancreas surgery, she transferred to Seton Hospital. However it was not located in a separate building at that time. It was just one floor of one wing at the regular St. Vincent Hospital. But they insisted it was bureaucratically actually a separate institution. I don’t know when they moved it from that section of regular St. Vincent into this particular building.

The regular St. Vincent Hospital is a teaching hospital so your first line of contact with the doctors is generally by a resident who is under the supervision of an attending or a group of attendings. Of course you also have lots of specialist doctors such as pulmonary, urology, G.I. and of course surgeons roaming around. At Seton as best I can tell there is one main doctor pretty much covering the entire facility. They bring in specialists as needed from the regular St. Vincent Hospital but on a regular basis I think there is only one guy on call. As a replacement for residents the instead have some nurse practitioners who are the front line medical people. All of the nurse practitioners I had while I was there were women. As explained in the video the nurse to patient ratio is about 1:4. In addition to the nurses they have patient care technicians who do things like take vital signs, bedpan duty, bathing duty etc. just like a regular hospital.

Also as explained in the video, there are no nurses stations per se. There is an area the end of the hall in the advanced care section where they monitor some monitors and there are desks and phones where I would often see the case management people working. But for the most part the nurses hang out in the hallways at desks built into niches in the walls and sit at computers. I’m not really sure what is on the computers however because a lot of the patient records are in three-ring notebooks. This is in contrast to regular St. Vincent which appears to be about 99% paperless in its record keeping. At St. Vincent there is a Dell PC in every single room and all of the activities are recorded directly into the computerized system. Apparently Seton is still a little bit old school (behind the times) by having traditional paper patient charts.

There is also a very active staff of respiratory therapy people roaming the halls all the time. At regular St. Vincent you would see respiratory therapists come and go as needed and they apparently had some sort of homebase somewhere in the hospital from which they worked but at Seton they seem to be hanging out in the hallways constantly. Just about everyone in the place had some sort of respiratory therapy needs even if it was just oxygen.

Like the regular hospital, the nurses basically work 12 hours shifts with the shift change occurring at 7 PM and 7 AM with a brief overlap to brief the next shift on what was going on. One brilliant bit of scheduling however is that the respiratory therapists have their shift change at 6 PM and 6 AM so you don’t have the entire staff turning over at once. That seemed like a really good idea that worked well for me on a number of occasions.

Another bit of interesting scheduling is that half of the patients would receive their bed baths in the morning back the dayshift and the other half would get bathed in the evening by the night shift. The entire time I was there I would get my bath in the evening. In most hospitals I would guess that only a fraction of the patients needed assistance with bathing but here everybody was in pretty bad shape and virtually everyone needed a bed bath every day. So I thought it was clever to split the duties between the two shifts.

Settling In

My biggest apprehension about moving to Seton Hospital was my concerns about my call button. If you read any of the other stories about my hospital stays you know that I have a little microswitch on the end of a long cord that is a specialty call button that I use in St. Vincent Hospital. It has a quarter-inch mono jack on the end sort of like the plug you would use on electric guitar. At St. Vincent it plugs into the wall and sets off an alarm that calls the nurse. Originally it just called the nurse but I think nowadays it’s actually wired into the bed alarm which detects when a non-ambulatory patient tries to get out of bed without assistance.

My St. Vincent Call Button

I’m guessing I first got the device perhaps 25 or 30 years ago when I was in St. Vincent for some reason or another. It was probably a diverticulitis attack although it might’ve been pneumonia I don’t recall. I was unable to use the regular nurse call button. The various specialty buttons they had available such as a squeeze ball or an elbow pad just wouldn’t work for me. Dad and I tried to wire in a microswitch but we couldn’t get it to work. I’ve used microswitches for a variety of purposes over the years. When we couldn’t get this to work, they sent someone down from the rehab engineering department and he put together this switch. He told us to take it home with us when we left and bring it back anytime we returned and so for three decades that’s what we’ve done. At one point they changed their system from a normally open switch to a normally closed switch so they had to rewire it for us. Dad replaced the cord at one point because the old one was too stiff. But otherwise it’s been that same system they built for us years ago. I’ve never been in any other hospital besides St. Vincent on 86th Street and I wasn’t really sure if that quarter-inch mono plug was some kind of standard or if it was something unique to that hospital.

When we got to Seton the plug in the wall for the nurse call was some sort of bizarre multi-pin connector that I had never seen before. However they brought in a box full of specialty call buttons like those I had tried and rejected at St. Vincent decades ago. They all had the quarter-inch mono plug and they also had an adapter that converted the multi-pin jack into the quarter-inch socket that we needed. For some reason it would not work when we plugged it into the wall but there was another place to plug in on the bed itself and that worked perfectly. I can’t begin to imagine how I would’ve gotten by had we not gotten this call button to work.

When I was at the ICU I had dad bring in my laptop computer for one day to see if I could use my IR remote and the on-screen keyboard on Windows 10 to type messages. I knew that it had a “switch control” feature where you could scan the keyboard and use a single pushbutton to select letters but I had never really tried to use it before. It turns out that compared to the switch control features of Apple iOS on my iPhone, Windows switch control is a piece of crap. Because I was on the ventilator almost the entire time that I was there, I couldn’t use the voice control so I was really better off forgoing the laptop and just using my iPhone. But now that I was going to be settling into a new place and could talk the entire time except for at night, I definitely wanted to get the laptop set up. Not only would it give me easier access to email, Facebook etc. I could also use Team Viewer to log into my PC at home and do lots of other things remotely which we will describe later on. So it was not only did I have my voice back, it was good to have my voice controlled computer back as well because that’s my normal way of operating a computer these days. This was the first Facebook post I made on the laptop after moving into Seton.

More G-tube Controversy

A day or so before I left the ICU we had an incident where my G-tube fell out. They asked me why it came out and my response was “I’m surprised it stayed in this long the way you people have been yanking on it and tripping over the tube”. You can read that story here. The end result however was that I got a new G-tube placed the morning that I left for Seton. When the nurses looked at it they were a bit confused because it looked like it wasn’t an ordinary G-tube.

There are actually three different kinds of tubes they can put in. A G-tube extends a short distance through your abdomen into your stomach and is used primarily for people like me who can’t swallow. However if you have digestive difficulties there is another kind of tube called a J-tube that extends several inches down into your small intestine. I had heard about J-tubes but was not aware that there was also a third kind that was a combination of the two. The tube actually has 2 tubes embedded in it. One empties into your stomach like a G-tube and the other goes down into your intestine like a J-tube. It has 2 ports depending on which tube you want to use. One of them you use for nutrition and the other for medication although at the moment I can’t recall which is which. I don’t understand the medical reasons why you would have a combo tube.

Anyway… One of the nurses looked at my new tube and concluded that it was a combo because it had 2 ports. My previous G-tube also had two ports. One was for doing a bolus feeding with a syringe which I normally do and the other was for connecting to a pump for continuous feeding like they did when I was in the ICU. This new version that had just been installed that morning had 2 ports and one was labeled “nutrition” and the other “medication”. We thought I was going to have to have it replaced yet again because it was the wrong kind. As it turned out this was actually a single normal G-tube with two ports just like my old one but it confused them because it was labeled that way. So I sort of dodged a bullet there by not needing to have the tube replaced again.

Because I didn’t arrive until the middle of the afternoon it really took me the rest of the day to get settled in. My notes don’t say what kind of night I had the first night so it must’ve been uneventful. My second day was much busier so we will leave that until the next installment we in which I saw more therapists that I had ever seen in my entire life.