Three Hospital Rooms in One Day

This is the 10th in a series of articles about my recent trip to the emergency room, my intestinal surgery, and my recovery afterwards. Here is an index to all of the articles in this series.

I awoke in the intensive care unit of St. Vincent Hospital on the morning of August 10, 2006 after having had surgery to remove 12 inches of my colon on August 8. I had been weaned off of the ventilator okay and been visited by friends and family. The big event of today was to be to move to a regular room.

Mom and Dad were there in late morning to visit me. It didn’t take long for them to say they have a room for me however it took a long time for them to prepare it. Eventually they said that they were sending me to a double room temporarily and eventually would move me to a private room. Although I don’t mind double rooms and at times I like the idea of having somebody else there, there is very little space in the room and by the time you add my wheelchair and if I try to use my lift to get into the wheelchair there just isn’t enough room to maneuver everything around.

Sometime in mid afternoon they finally transferred me to my temporary double room. Of course when you come to a new room all the nurses have lots of things to do to check you in. They check your vitals and take some history generally even though all that is in your charts. A respiratory therapist was among those working on me in the new room. It was a young man in his late 20s perhaps 30 who at one point said to me “Do you remember me?” I didn’t. He said he had been my respiratory therapist when I first returned from surgery in the ICU. He said there were all these doctors and nurses standing around working on me and he was the one who noticed me mouthing the words “I can’t breathe”. He kept trying to impress upon the other people that I was in distress. He implied he didn’t have much success. He tried making various adjustments to the respirator which had helped some. We had a nice long conversation about the incident. I told him that I’m sure some of my distress was a bit of panic coming out of the anesthetic but that I really was having difficulty breathing. I told him that even after I was fully awake I felt I was not getting sufficient volume through the respirator. He said that increasing the volume was one thing he wasn’t allowed to do. I told him I would have a long conversation with Dr. Vohra about the situation.

I did later have a conversation with Dr. Vohra and he kept insisting that my difficulty in breathing was because they were having to use a small size pediatric nasal intubation tube. It wasn’t however like it was hard for me to breathe which was what you would expect with a small diameter tube. It was more a situation where I tried to breathe deeper and the machine wouldn’t let me. Dr. Vohra said that they estimate my lung capacity based on my weight. The bed in the ICU actually has a built in scale. However anyone who has taken a good look at me realizes that my arms and legs are undersized for the rest of my body. I have very little muscle mass so that although my lung capacity is severely limited, I would think that my lungs are actually large compared to my overall body weight. I don’t think I ever did convince Dr. Vohra that I needed more volume. I even discussed it with him weeks later in an office visit in preparation for my follow-up surgery in late October. I just warned him that if I end up on the ventilator again (which I will at least temporarily) and if I ask for more volume to please give more volume a try. He basically said “Don’t worry about it.”

As it turns out, he is going to be on vacation when I have my surgery and his partner Dr. Pfeiffer who is my mother’s lung specialist will be taking care of me. If I get the opportunity I will be talking volume issues with him as well. Anyway it was an interesting conversation with this respiratory therapist who really seem to know his stuff. Also told him a funny story about the other RT person who didn’t know what a nose pillow was on a CPAP. He explained that day shift people didn’t know as much about different kinds of CPAP’s and masks as did the night shift. Also people in the ICU know more about ventilators and about the equipment the hospital uses and are not as familiar with the equipment people are likely to bring from home. That made sense but it was still a funny story.

My roommate was an African-American man in his late 20s who had been in for gallbladder surgery. Is surgeon was Dr. George who had in the past remove a couple of small cysts from me and who had once removed my Grandma Osterman’s gallbladder. I was only in this double room for a couple of hours until they finally moved me to my private room.

When I was in the ICU, they had me on an inflatable air mattress with a pump that constantly adjusted the pressure. Its purpose was that I would not get bedsores. I asked them for a similar air mattress in the new room but it took them another day to get it and it wasn’t the same kind of air mattress from the ICU. Still it did a pretty good job of keeping me comfortable.

After all the moving around from room to room I was pretty tired. I spent lots of time sleeping.

Up until now I hadn’t had anything to eat and only water to drink. For a couple of days they wanted me on nothing but liquid diet. That meant stuff like broth, tea and some sort of frozen stuff called “lemon ice” which I didn’t dare touch. After having to drink all of that lemon drink garbage before my CAT scan I didn’t care if I never tasted lemons again for a year. I don’t drink tea but they did bring me some coffee upon request. I think there was also some kind of Jell-O. Whenever it was they were giving me didn’t settle very well. I had some nausea problems but part of that I think was from the morphine. I mentioned earlier I never felt any kind of a high from the morphine but when they would first inject it into me I would always get a wave of nausea. That’s not the pleasant experience I would have expected.

The respiratory therapists would come in every four hours or so and give me a breathing treatment. The nurses were in and out as usual but for the most part I was able to get lots of rest. Except for all the moving the day was pretty uneventful which was a blessing.

In the next installment I make new friends who are good in a crisis.

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