That first night in the hospital was devastating on an emotional and physical level. It was Christmas Eve. I was in the hospital with an infection of unknown origin at a time when my immune system had been compromised by chemotherapy and radiation. I anticipated fewer doctors would be working. I was suffering and hoping for pain management, but had yet to receive any medicines that relieved me of pain. I had no toilet paper and suffered from hourly bouts of diarrhea. My room’s floor already was splattered with blood and other substances that oozed from me. I was hungry and had not eaten for a day. I expected no visitors as my mom had already made it to the hospital once and found the experience overwhelming. Many of my friends were out of town. My cell phone had two bars and no charger. My room’s phone could only be used to dial within the county.
Nurse O came on duty at seven in the morning. It took awhile for her to get her patients in order. Once she did, I received some of the best care I would receive during my stay. She tidied my room, changed my sheets, located toilet paper, examined the radiation wounds on my left hip and dressed them, called for more pain medication, and located a toothbrush and toothpaste for me.
The doctors made their rounds. A resident or other young doctor presented my case to two colleagues and an attending physician. The attending wore a gown, mask, and gloves. He said little, once taking my hands in his and bowing over me several times while saying, I think, “My dear lady, my dear lady.” Blood culture tests would be taken to identify my specific infection. The infection had spread from the urinary tract to my blood. I would continue receiving a broad spectrum antibiotic by I.V. I could have morphine periodically. I would have a CAT scan to rule out causes of urinary tract pain other than infection.
The CAT scan took place. Other than that, I suffered concurrently from diarrhea and passing blood clots in my urine.
Nurse O left at 3 p.m. and Nurse E came on for the second shift. He was distracted. Coworkers would call his name over and over. He was slow to answer the call button. He had much to say about being away from his family on Christmas Eve. He seemed helpless when I informed him that my pain had risen from seven on a scale of ten to nine on that scale. The blood clots I was forcing to pass through my urinary tract were larger, more painful. At some point in the early evening I stopped urinating. The pain ratcheted up. I began to howl with pain. Nurse E shut the door to my room and ignored my pain for a couple of hours.
Nothing could have been worse for my mental health. I felt abandoned.
To his credit, Nurse E eventually tried reaching my doctors for help. He got little support. It was later in the 3 p.m.-11 p.m. shift when he returned to suggest a catheter. I wanted it. The pressure in my bladder had reached a feverish level. I panted like a woman in labor. I prayed in incomprehensible bursts punctuated by frantic tears.
Nurse E tried to insert a Foley catheter in my tormented urethra twice. He was unsuccessful. I was over the top in the pain scale of one to ten. To his credit, Nurse E left and went to find a much more experienced nurse. Nurse S and Nurse E spread my legs like they were breaking a turkey’s wishbone. They greased the rubber catheter. They got to business.
While I struggled (and failed) not to shriek with rising panic, someone tried to deliver a dinner tray. He was told to stay out. He kept asking, “Does she want the tray or not?”
I screamed, “No, I don’t want the tray!” The catheter went in and about 1000 ml. of bloody urine shot out, enough to half fill the catheter bag. I was unable to sit after that. The pain was terrible, like I was a worm on a sharp fish hook. There was not enough morphine to take the edge off.
As the nurses left, I rested flat on my back, the I.V. carrying liquids in, the catheter carrying liquids out, and my bowel still reacting to chemotherapy.
Life was so miserable that I tried to watch midnight mass on TV to remind myself about the season. It was not on any channel. That seemed strange. I had been in the hospital two days and was only just learning that my clock was off by more than an hour. I was completely disoriented.
It would get worse. This was, after all, only the frying pan, not the fire.