Happy Hospital Hell

I always assumed we were pretty far along the historical spectrum of medical knowledge. Long gone are the days of leeches and bleeding and humors. Can the days of Star Trek scanners and nanobots be that far away?

Then my wife went into the hospital six times over a four-month span. And I now realize that, while we might have progressed beyond whiskey as the primary antiseptic and painkilling tool, we’re still a long way from holographic doctors phasing through your body to grab the kidney stone before solidifying to pat your ass on the way out the door.

I’m going to try very hard to not turn the Happy Wombat blog into vitriol. Let’s see how good my fiction-writing abilities are.

Prior to the 1:00 AM wake-up call my daughter gave us a week before the agreed-upon arrival time (“Hey, what’s all this water doing in my way? Push!”), my wife had never been in a hospital. Other than “just visiting.”  And really, Monopoly needs to change the jail to a hospital. And what the player needs to roll to get out should change every turn.  “Oh, I know yesterday we were paying very close attention to the doubles, but these test results indicate that dice adding up to seven will put you back on the path to Marvin Gardens this turn.” Besides, how many people really visit jail?

The delivery went fine. An hour after they gave her some Pitocin, she was pushing, and an hour later, we had a healthy six-and-a-half pound daughter. The baby, thankfully, has been the picture of health. But once she was out of her mom, things went a little sideways.

My wife had a massive fibroid that we found during the pregnancy. “Massive” must be a medical term, because every nurse, doctor, and ultrasound tech who saw it said, “Wow, that’s a massive fibroid.” Or “I’m surprised you could get pregnant with that massive fibroid.” Or “Seriously, it’s blocking a fallopian tube, so your eggs weren’t even making it to the uterus half of the time.”

This information might have been useful when we were trying to get pregnant. Instead, I had the pleasure of, um, pleasuring myself into a cup. With that came an affidavit that probably made the last Pope resign – “I, the undersigned, promise I masturbated to produce this sample.” The rest of the rules were extensive and comical: do not collect specimen into anything other than the cup, do not put in your pocket, do not expose to light, do not pass Go!, do not slow down for any yellow lights, do not make eye contact with the tech you deliver it to.

So we knew there might be some issues because of the Massive Fibroid (trademark pending), primarily a risk of excessive bleeding. There was supposed to be extra blood on hand, but it never showed up. The baby’s fault for showing up on a Saturday when the main OB/GYN was not on call. What we didn’t foresee, which in retrospect we or someone with a day or two of medical experience should have, was that perhaps the fibroid and the placenta might not play nicely with each other.

Nobody is sure what happened next.  Either my wife tried to deliver the fibroid, which we had been warned ahead of time would be bad, or the placenta was stuck to the fibroid. The result was lots of blood and no placenta. The placenta seemed to bother the OB the most, but everyone else was concerned that the blood wasn’t stopping. This was the moment I was very happy we were not still living with 19th century medical technology, because I’m sure my wife would have bled out.

But instead, I was being asked to make some momentous decisions. My wife was going to be separated from the baby, meaning that I was in charge of the half-hour-old. Because the law and the hospital and health insurance companies don’t know what to do at this point, I could either admit the baby as the patient or having her admitted as an abandon. Naturally I opted for the former.

Unbeknownst to me, this triggered a health insurance nightmare.  The plan had been to put the baby on my insurance, not my wife’s. But once the baby became a patient at the hospital, well-baby went out the window. This double my wife’s deductible, so we had the joy of paying for much of what happened next. As far as I can tell, the baby’s currently covered on both of our plans, but who the hell knows?

Because my daughter was the patient, my next twenty-four hours were spent in pediatrics, not post-partum. This meant sleeping in a toddler bed about three inches longer than my body. I was also wearing jeans, having thought that I would have time to go home and change after the birth. Add in the two hours of sleep I was operating on, plus quickly learning why it is called a mothering instinct, not a fathering instinct. One fun part, though, was seeing the nurses not quite sure how to deal with the father in charge. They kept asking me how I was feeling and if I wanted any Jell-o or water. “No, I’m fine, my body didn’t just suffer through a live birth. Do you have any beer?”

But my day was a piece of cake next to the recipe for my wife. A dash of ultrasound, a dollop of sedative, swirl in a little radiation, and set to baste in the ICU. The radiation lab stopped the bleeding. The ultrasound checked for both the fibroid and placenta. Turns out the ultrasound needs blood flowing to the region, so the results were inconclusive after the radiation. Probably should’ve done those two things in the opposite order. Oops. As for the ICU, nobody seemed sure why she was there. But where else would you put the woman who has been awake for twenty hours, recently gave birth, and is now beside herself because she can’t see her baby, other than right next to somebody that is up all night with paranoid delusions?

The next day, my wife was allowed to move to pediatrics to actually, you know, see the baby she had birthed. Three days later, mama and baby were released. I was at work, so I missed the whole thing. Had we known more than an hour in advance, I would’ve tried to be there. When a patient is going to be released is an amorphous target, but once it’s set in motion, it’s fast. “We want to keep you here, we’re going to keep monitoring you,” changes to “you’re released, now get the hell out of here because we need that bed” faster than a Denny’s waitress. Turn and burn, baby!

Two days later, she was back in the hospital.  Her body really wanted to deliver that fibroid! When it started coming out on the toilet, she freaked out a bit, but then calmly decided to go to the emergency room. At the emergency room, they asked her a whole bunch of questions based on her medical history (“so we notice your hemoglobin was a little low after delivering the baby”) but nobody seemed concerned with the bodily tissue dangling from her lady-parts.

They also asked if she felt safe in her home. I assume this question is required by law, and that is a good thing.  However, they asked her that question with me sitting right next to her. This certainly violates the point of the question, if not the letter of the law. The comedian in me wanted to crack my knuckles, look menacingly at her, and say “Oh, you feel safe.” Fortunately, right brain convinced left brain to save it for the re-telling.

Once admitted, we stood around waiting for her OB (her actual one this time, not the on-call one) to finish office hours. One tech did take an ultrasound – a vaginal ultrasound five days after giving birth. It showed nothing, probably because the thing it was looking for was HANGING OUT OF HER. I could see it, one of the nurses could see it, but somehow the tech who stuck a wand up past it didn’t notice.

By the time the doctor showed up, we had been in the emergency room for five hours. She then, still without looking at the area in question, assumed it was the placenta and began making plans to admit my wife to the hospital for placenta accreta. Then she looked at it. Oops, turns out it’s not the placenta, it’s the fibroid, something we silly non-medical types had assumed a while ago. The doctor then decided she needed more time to figure out what she’s going to do, so she put the fibroid, which had been hanging between my wife’s thighs for a quarter of a day, back inside her. I wondered if this was the most sanitary thing to do, but again, figured I should just keep my stupid plebeian thoughts to myself.

Around midnight that night, they removed the fibroid without much problem. Bear in mind this was something we were told repeatedly, both during the pregnancy and the delivery, could not happen without so much blood loss as to potentially kill my wife. Everything we had been through that week was to keep that fibroid from coming out. And now it was out, as if nature and the human body knew better than medical professionals.

But we still weren’t done. She kept having fevers after coming home from the fibroid procedure, so she returned.  This was the only time out of the five post-partum trips to the hospital when we didn’t have to go through the emergency room. I had assumed the emergency room was for, I don’t know, emergencies.  You don’t call 911 because of a jaywalker, right? But the emergency room isn’t 911. Most of the doctors cannot admit people to the hospital. So they send you to the emergency room. And the person that’s there for a legitimate emergency, like a fibroid hanging from her hoo-ha, is just going to have to wait because Dr. Not-in-Network really wants a temperature check.

This trip, the OB decided to bring in an Infectious Disease (ID) doctor. Over the next five days, he put her on about fifty thousand different antibiotics. Thus began the hospital procedure we’ve come to know, and why I’m convinced the medical profession still doesn’t know shit. The phlebotomists come in to take your blood about 4:00 in the morning, the doctor comes in at 7:00, looks at the results, says “well that didn’t work,” changes one thing (Antibiotic #6 for Antibiotic #5), then waits twenty-one hours to see if that magically worked. If it didn’t, they change one thing and wait until the next day. Of course, they hadn’t diagnosed her with anything other than fevers. Nothing was in her bloodstream, but why should that stop them from randomly prescribing antibiotics? He’s an ID doctor, so he will use the ID treatment regardless of whether or not the patient has an ID. We don’t ask running backs to pass the football, do we?

After a few days of this, the OB went back into the uterus to make sure there was no lingering fibroid or placenta. Neither of them was there, but afterward my wife’s fever went down. While the doctor was checking around, she cleaned up the uterus with an antibiotic spray. She later explained that the uterus is, understandably, sealed off from the rest of the body. So unlike, say, the kidney or the liver, where bacteria or other contagions would enter the bloodstream and be seen in the daily blood draws, if they were in the uterus, they would stay there. This also means that no amount of antibiotic delivered through an IV would reach and cleanse the uterus. I guess the ID doctor didn’t know that. Or maybe he just thought there’d be no reason for a uterus to be infected just because it had a fibroid that had been hanging out in the open for six hours put back inside. He’s an infectious diseases dude. You wouldn’t expect a Senator from California to pay attention to what happens in Nevada, would you?

For the third time, she was released from the hospital and, this time, we actually felt like we were clear. Until she got a 104-degree fever accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting. This was new. But hey, at least we weren’t abusing the emergency room this time. And the good news didn’t stop there – this  was entirely unrelated to the pregnancy, the fibroid, and the uterus.  Woo-Hoo! Unfortunately,  it was C-Diff, which is potentially deadly. What is C-Diff? It’s when you overuse antibiotics, so you kill off all of the good bacteria in your system. Oops! Who could have guessed that randomly throwing medicine at an undiagnosed problem might have bad consequences? Well, you came in with a runny nose, so we amputated your foot. Hopefully you don’t mind.

Want to know what they use to treat a problem that was caused by overuse of antibiotics? If you answered more antibiotics, congratulations! You can be a 21st century doctor! If you answered whiskey, go back to 1860, you Neanderthal!

We earned almost a month of reprieve after the C-Diff joy. Since then, she’s been back twice. The first time was because her gall bladder was passing stones, which allegedly is common in new mothers. Something, something, when pregnant, the body does something, something, which causes the gall bladder to something, something stones. They needed to endoscope out the gallstones, then remove the gall bladder in a separate surgery.

But nobody would touch her because she was on blood thinners. Why was she on blood thinners? Oh, did I forget to mention she had a blood clot? She got it on the C-Diff trip when they put a picc line in, which is like a surge protector for multiple IV lines. She needed it because both arms were bruised from too many IV’s.

This was also where the proprietary bullshit between the different branches of medicine reared its ugly head again. The hematologist doesn’t want to take her off the blood thinner, the surgeon won’t touch her until the gallstones are already out, the internist won’t remove the gallstones until blah, blah, blah. And a new ID doctor’s wearing a trench coat in the corner, saying “Hey, I got some great antibiotics over here for ya.”

Meanwhile my wife is turning yellow enough to get a walk-on part in The Walking Dead because a gallstone is blocking her liver. And all anybody will do is wait until the next blood draw at 4:00 AM tomorrow

Somehow the magical Oracle brought the warring factions together to remove everything gall related, and nine days later she was back home, having already missed a quarter of her daughter’s life. But dammit, that jaundiced look didn’t go away. Why the heck isn’t the liver getting better now that the evil gall bladder that was bullying all the other poor organs was gone? It couldn’t be that they had just been guessing at why the liver was overproducing bilirubin like it was cornering the market on canary-colored crayons.

One more trip to the hospital for “observation.” Once again through the emergency room. Hey, she’s already missed Fourth of July, our anniversary, and our baby’s first day at daycare, what’s one more indefinite hospital visit?

As always, the true heroes of the medical profession, the nurses, provided an answer.  The off-hand remarks made by the people that actually spend their days in and out of the patient rooms are much more helpful and enlightening than the Almighty Edicts delivered from upon high by Hugh Laurie wannabes once a day.

“They’ve got you on Xarelto while you’re having liver problems?” one asked.

Why? Is that a bad thing? Yep, blood thinners can cause liver problems. Have I mentioned “oops” yet?  So the hematologist reluctantly takes her off of Xarelto and, magically, her liver gets better. So she is released with… Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?… Another blood thinner! This one, we promise, won’t affect the liver. But it did. And as a bonus, she also had to shoot this one directly into her stomach.  Fun stuff.

So she gave herself shots for two weeks and the yellow came back to her skin. No relation, whatsoever, the hematologist assured us. I’m sure a liver specialist would blame it on the nonexistent gall bladder. And the ID Doc would have some pure antibiotics straight off the boat from his guy in Thailand.

With family photos approaching, she tried something kookie-crazy and took herself off the shots for a few days. What do you know? Her skin color faded. The hematologist actually said there was no connection. Now, I might’ve hyperbolized a few things for storytelling purposes, but I guarantee you this is legit. When confronted with a clear pattern correlating blood thinner to skin color, she assured us that there was no causality whatsoever.

Uh huh, whatever you say. Just like your body can’t deliver a fibroid. And antibiotics cure everything. Thank God we’ve come so far in our medical knowledge.

So now my wife is just going to take some aspirin to keep the blood flowing, while hopefully giving the liver a chance to get better. If that works, she might be able to go back to normal. Maybe even knock back a little whiskey. I hear that cures everything.

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