Pound a Pillow For Me TODAY
I’m going to apologize in advance to you that this wi not be my typically well-edited essay. I HAVE to write it write now – it came to me at 1:00 a.m. this morning, but I am so weak due to my current illness that I can barely type. BUT I NEED each of you to read it, and to pound a pillow for me. Why? Beause I’m so full of anger and I need to let it out – I’m too weak to pound a pillow so I need you to do it for me. Before you get the pillow . . .
I practiced as a Registered Nurse for over 32 years in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. I graduated in 1984 with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the College of St. Teresa, a small all-women’s college which at the time was in Winona, MN. As nursing students we spent our first two years in Winona, then once accepted into the nursing program moved to a dorm in Rochester, MN where we were educated by our professors via the Mayo Clinic System in Rochester. In addition to the word-class nursing education, the college was based on the holistic theory of care – every person matters, no matter what their age, station in life, what they’ve been through or what they are going through. An ear infection is as important as a brain tumor. Whenever encountering a person, we were taught to enter their space with graciousness and light. They even taught us to say this to people living in homeless camps: “May I enter your space?” and, if granted, then: Tell me about your home.”
I have carried this world calss education and value system with me in every woalk of my life, and most important to this story within my nursing career. I have sat at the bedside where parents are told, heir tenneage child in a coma, that their son or daughter will be quadripalegic for ther remmaineer of their life due to the diving/skiing/motorcycle/cliff-jumping whatever accident. I have again sat at the bedside when the child, after four weeks or so of comatose status comes to and has absolutely no memory of the accident, let alone that they’ve been in the hospital and are now comatose. Unable to move any muscles at all, all they had was their voice and you can’t imagine the lamenting screaming coming from them.
I have held the hands of many people crossing from this life into wherever they believe they are going. I have death with the most outrageous case of denials in family members when they just cannot let go, but have to.
And, now we’re getting closer to needing the pillow – did you pick it out yet? one of my most important goals was to always have the patient and family as well-educated as they could be for whatever they were facing. I have prepared people for surgeries as radical as having an entire hemisphere of their brain removed to reduce seizure activity, to educating on how to take an aspirin a day. I didn’t want any patient to be caught unaware of what they were facing.
As most of you know I have recently been going through a health crisis of my own. In the last month I have been at Abbott Northwestern three times, each time via the emergency room. The third time was yesterday. I knew I had to go back yesterday, because I was showing signs of an acute short bowel obstruction – which for those of you that are not in health care can turn into a life-threatening emergency in a matter of minutes if it becomes complete. But because the infection that I have is so rare most doctors have never even heard of it, I wanted to check with all of my specialists before I went so that I knew exactly what to say to get the appropriate treatment. Once I had the right verbiage (which I wrote down) off I went.
Once I met the MD in the Emergency Room, I felt in good hands. He listened to the entire story, which now takes me about 30 minutes to tell in highlight form. He had heard of the infection but didn’t know much about it. He decided to order an immediate x-ray and call infectious disease. So far so good.
Once the x-ray results were in, he told me there was something showing and this first thing he wanted to do was an enema. If that didn’t work, more tests would be ordered. Needless to say, it took 4 hours before they finally gave the enema, and it didn’t work.
In the intervening time, shift change had taken place and a spunky little gal came in introducing herself as Maggie, my evening nurse. Maggie looked to me as though she’d be just as comfortable hanging out in the back of ninth grade basic English after having smoked a joint around the back of the school.
“How long have you been with Abbott,” is my standard question now for anyone who cares for me.
“Twenty-four years old! Just graduated! Started here two weeks ago and I LOVE it!” she happily replied. Her sparkle, as cute as it was, did not transfer into me. She informed me we were just waiting for a call from radiology and off i’d go.
“What should I expect, Maggie?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” she said. “Iv never had one myself.” Great, I thought.
Over the years I have educated, sent for and taken care of post-procedure possibly 100 patients that have had the test I was going for. If I weren’t a nurse, id have had no clue, and even by being a nurse, as it turns out, I had no clue. It is a procedure that isn’t used as much nowadays due to CT and colonoscopy, and is called a Barium Study of the lower bowel.
NOW GET YOUR PILLOW
About five minutes later, in walks Maggie, having refreshed the cute blue bandana that wrapped around the tippy top of her head making it look like some part of a Halloween costume, and a young man named Jesse.
“We’re off!” Jesse announced in a high-pitched, cheery voice. The two of them unplugged the bed, and rolled me out into the hallway.
HAVE YOUR PILLOW NOW. FROM HERE ON HIT IT WHENEVER YOU FEEL LIKE AS MANY TIMES AS YOU CAN. I NEED YOU TO. I WANT TO FEEL YOU DOING IT.
“And how long have you been with Abbott, Jesse?” I ask as he takes the first turn at about 40 mph.
“Two weeks” I’m a tech and I LOVE it here!” My God.
For those of you who have never been to a large hospital, it can be a very confusing place. But I know Abbott quite well, due to my recent hospitalizations and the fact that my mom had all of her pancreatic cancer care and treatment there.
“And, may I ask, why does it take two of you to take me to this test?” I asked.
“Because I have no idea where this place is, and Jesse does so he’s going to show me!” Maggie says with a jump in her step. At this point we get off the elevator and Jesse swings the cart around, whipping my head off the pillow. This infection has caused severe pressure on the inside of my head and neck and one wrong move shoots it to a 10+ on the 1-10 scale for ANY type of discomfort.
“Whoa!” Remember about my head and neck pressure!” I say, though no one is listening.
What’s crystal clear is that Maggie and Jesse are on the joy ride of their life, with me on a gurney on the main floor of Abbott. Jesse picks up the speed, I can tell Maggie is having a hard time keeping up with him, and takes a corner where a pedestrian is walking. He would’ve taken my mom down, had it been her wobbling her way to one of her CT Scans r chemo appointments.
Down the halls we go. Back through the same halls we go. One radiology department after another passes through my vision. We nd up in the main lobby, where guests are checking with the desk for room numbers to visit their loved ones.
“I’m the patient and I’m a little confused,” I say. “We keep passing by the same stuff over and over. One of you needs to tell me what’s going on.”
Guess what? Jesse doesn’t know where this department is either. This he tells me – at which point I notice a tremor in his face and gleam in his eye and I hope to God he’s not ramped up on something more than adrenaline. He then turns me 180 degrees out of the main lobby, whisking my head pressure right back to a ten, right back through the same hallway system we’ve been through at least twice now. The two kid are having so much fun: Giggling, skipping almost. They’re on a joy ride and they’re planning to make it last as long as they can so they don’t have to go to the ER. I think about shouting for help from a passerby, or shout into an open doorway, but the infection has infected my vocal cords so I have no volume to my voice.
“Hey, kids, how about this? Let’s swing back to the main lobby and get some directions,” I suggest.
But no – because just at that moment Jesse sees a hallway we have not yet explored. “I’ll bet you anything this is IT!” he gleams. I’ll bet, I think.
They wheel me down a darkened hallway, truly an abandoned area, that comes to an end. There are spare wheelchairs, an old housekeeping cart filled with the most dreadful smelling cleaning solution. There are no overhead lights on.
“I think this is an abandoned hallway and it’s very creepy I say. This can’t be right.” But, low and behold there is a double door 90 degrees to my right that is closed, but has been determined by Jesse and Jesse only that I need to go in. there is not a single solitary other person around, just me, Jesse and Maggie.
“How’re we gonna get the door open, Jesse?” Maggie bounces up on her sneakers, hardly able to contain her excitement over the mystery of how to get on the other side. I can see through the window of the doors that the place is abandoned. No lights on, no people.
“Gotta be a way inside!” Jesse chirps loudly. My blood pressure has been running high throughout this illness and has not yet been addressed. Maggie had checked it right before we came down and it was 178/92, a critical number for any number of risk factors. I could only imagine what it was now.
“I found a button on the wall! This’ll probably due it!” No luck. “Here’s another, and what do you know one side of the door swings open. Since the gurney was positioned at a 90 degree angle, they had to turn me tightly to get through it and it was about an 1/9” wider than the gurney. Once inside, the door shut behind us. Jesse locked the brakes on the gurney. Still no sights on, still no sign of any other human being in the entire area.
“Now what?” Maggie chirps at her fearless leader, Jesse.
“Not sure,” Jesse answers. And at that they both hop off into the depths of whatever room I’m in as if they’ve just started the walk on the yellow-brick road. I have no idea where I am, I am all alone, no idea how to get help if I need it and am critically ill. I start to cry, but no I can’t do that for the pressure in my head. I then realize I had inadvertently left my cell phone in my lap. I can call 911 if I have to. Possibly my blood pressure came down two degrees at that thought. During the past month, I havehad to learn how to mediate on the spot to get myself through these types of situations, and so I closed my eyes and took my dogs on a walk around our park.
I have no idea how long I laid there, but out of the depths come the two of them with a man who is approximately sixty and is a carbon copy of the dad from Honey I Shrunk the Kids. CARBON COPY. At least he’s an adult, I think.
“I’m Jeffrey,” he says to me. Then to the kids: “I’m not sure what you’re even doing back here. It’s just lucky you found me back here finding something.”
“Yeah, well,” says Jesse. “I guess we didn’t quite know where we were going.”
“I’ll take her from here,” Jeffrey remarks and back out the door. Maggie and Jesse skip off as my new guide takes me back down the halls approximately 1 block from where we were. This is when I learn it’s not called radiology at all, it’s called fluoroscopy. He takes a sharp 90 degree turn, wheels me into the room where I see a hard, flat table with x-ray looking machine above and below it.
“You’re going to lay flat on that table,” he tells me, a fact I’ve already determined. Oh, my head pressure is going to sky rocket, I think. I can tell he’s on the nervous side of life, which is not helping me at all. Like I said, carbon copy in all ways of the dad from Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
“How long?” I ask – thinking if I know I can start planning my meditation idea now. No idea, he tells me. Could be ten minutes, could be a half hour. He tells me the MD is ready to go, so all he has to do it get me on the table and in position and we’re ready to go.
Off the gurney, onto the cart, onto my left side with my you know what facing Jeffrey. Just him and me in the room. I saw the bag with the barium solution in it hanging on an IV pole as I made the walk from one place to another. I also saw the size of the tubing, as tough as a garden hose, that was going to be used to insert it. My God.
Jeffrey guides the tubing in, then tells me he has to blow up a small water balloon inside of me to hold it in place. That hurt, but went away as soon as he was done.
In walks the doctor, who exclaims immediately to Jeffrey: “Why didn’t you do a scout x-ray?!!” Jeffrey explains that he was old he didn’t have to do one and they have a little tif, at which point she leaves the room.
“Sorry, Joan,” nervous Jeffrey says, I was told I didn’t have to do a scout x-ray but the MD wants it so we’re going to have to do one. I’m going to need you to lay on your back for it.”
“With this tubing coming out of me?” I say?
“Yep, no big deal. Won’t hurt a thing for you to lay on your back with that in there.” Maybe not for his purposes but let me tell you: pain to the maximum. I’m trying to mediate, can’t.
The next thing is to insert x-ray cards or whatever they’re called, into the slots on the underside of the table. While I’m guessing Jeffrey has done this before, it’s clear it’s been a while. I’m writhing on that table while I wait. One of the cards falls to the floor. Jeffrey I shaking, sweating. He finally gets it placed, leaves me to hit the button while I hold my breath. But wait = this isn’t just a one-time x-ray. He needs to do it three times. Repeat this paragraph three times. Possible this portion took twenty minutes – I have no idea. What is my blood pressure is all I can think about.
Finally done with that, he rolls me back onto my left side and says the MD will be right in, which she was. “Have I had this test done ever before?” she asks. To which I reply no, tell her immediately about my head pressure issue and that my BP was 178/92 before I left the ER over a half hour ago. She makes no remark on either of those issues, and proceeds behind me. this is where I learn (as it’s being done) that Jeffrey will unclamp the barium, which will flow into my body while the doctor runs the fluoroscope machine over the top of my body, watching where it goes, where it does or doesn’t show blockage etc. Sounds awful, but it actually was not that bad, considering.
About ten minutes later, the MD announces she’s done – doesn’t say a word to me and heads out the room. Back to just me and Jeffrey. Still flat on my back. Still no check on how Im doing, no BP check, no questions to me at all.
“Okay Joan! Now what I’m going to have you do is lay flat on your back again. I have to repeat all the x-rays we took at the beginning while the barium is still inside you. Ive got the hose clamped so no barium can escape while we do it.”
“What? I say? Jeffrey, I’m so sorry I just can’t do it. I really can’t,” I plead. Is there any other way?” Nope.
When I had entered the ER at about 10 am my abdomen was distended approximately 4 inches. I looked like I was about five months pregnant, carrying high. And my husband will vouche for that. As I rolled over onto my back I glanced down at my stomach and suddenly im 9 months along, carrying high. Instant fiery pain rolled into my body that felt like a team of flame-throwing dancers were on the case. Jeffrey left me to go get his first x-ray card and by the time he came back all I could do was scream, in my weak voice, “Oh MY GOD!” Over and over. Repeat the same x-ray process as before, three times again, now with a fireball of barium burning inside of me. I started to seat profusely. I started to shake. There was nothing to hold on to, not a side rail, not a grip to be found. I held my hands together and screamed, “Jeffrey, where are you? I can’t take it!”
“I have to run each image before I can do the next,” he tell me. “Which means it might take longer than it did last time.”
After the second one is done, I know I’m going out. The stars that from when your’re going to faint have long passed. All I can see it darkness. I pray for my family, my friends. I pray for my new grandson who I have yet to meet. Then I tell myself DO NOT STP SCREAMING, It’s the only thing keeping you here. And so I scream over and over, “OH MY GOD”. Over and Over. I have no idea how long it took. No idea at all. “Jeffrey, are you there?” I scream at one point. “Im having severe chest pain!” I shout, in my quiet voice. No response.
Finally, mercifully, Jeffrey announces he’s got all his images. He has no nsight into how poorly I’ve tolerated this entre thing and how close I was to coding. I don’t even know if they have a crash cart in the room but I do know he would NOT know what to do. He rols me over onto my side, unclamps the tubing and the barium flows back into the very bag it came in. I feel reief immediately, but I have not stopped sweating. My hair is plastered to my face, the lightweight sheet underneath soaked, my gown soaked.
“Just gotta finish up some charting, and then we’re back to the ER, Joan,” Jeffrey tells me, proudly.
“Jeffrey, before you do that. Ive got to have a cool cloth for my face. I’m telling you I almost didn’t make it. I know you don’t believe me, but I didn’t. a cool cloth, Jeffrey, can you manage that? Pease, I’m begging you.”
“Sure thing, Joan!” He moves over to a sink I can’t see, runs some tap water over a washcloth and hands it to me. I plastered it over my entire face. Not cool, but at least wet. I pushed it into my mouth and bit down on the cloth like a bear ripping apart a salmon. While he finished his charting I finally stopped sweating. That when the wetness of myself and all that ihad around me set into the chills. I hope I’m not going into shock, I think, knowing there is no use to alert Jeffrey who clearly cant hear me from where I am anyway. I try, but can’t, meditate. But I can breathe. And that is what I do. One long, slow breath in and out, one right after the other. Breathe, I tell myself. Breathe.
As I’m laying there, I realize I’m also laying in what can only be assumed is some leakage from the barium. It is starting to burn my skin. I try to reposition, fiind out that the tubing and the whole works is still on the table with me. I wait for Jeffrey.
No surprise that Jeffrey is slow at charting, but he finally finishes and announces all I have to do is get up off the table and back on my gurney and away we go.
“Jeffrey,” I say. “I hate to tell you this but ive got to clean up. I’ve got to get to the bathroom and get this barium off of my bottom. NOW.”
“Oh, how about if I give you a towel?” he suggests. He goes back to the sink, gets a bath towel, gets a corener of it we, sets it on my belly and tells me to clean up as much as I want. He stands there and watches me do it. My God the sudden loss of dignity in all of this, but truly,he’s going to watch me?
I do the best I can, then just as im ready to try sitting up, he suddenly realizes he forgot to chart something. And off he goes. at that same instant I HAVE to get to a bathroom. I sit myself up, and see there is a bathroom RIGHT THERE.
“Jeffrey!” I shout as loudly as I can, straining my voice to the limits that are byind what have been recommended for healing. “I NEED YOU NOW!”
He hears me, I tell him it’s an emergency and I don’t even know if I can stand. He gets me step stool to get off the table and honest to God I nearly went down on the way to the toilet – maybe ten steps away. He leaves me in the bathroom alone. I have no idea if he is right outside the door, but am guessing not. I expel what I can, then stand at what runs out to be filthy sink and dunk my head as low as I can into the cool water of the faucet. I let the water run over my yface, forehead and keep myhands inside the bowl of the sink for a few minutes. Such relief, I may as well having been having a massage. I don’t even dry my face or hair, just leave the cool water on my face as I step out. And then, I realize, I’m going to meet my grandson after all.
I step out, no Jeffrey. I had no idea what had happened to my glasses or my cell phone so I wander around the room until I find them. I get meself settled onto my gurney and I send an immediate text to my husband, who has been waiting inn my ER room the entire time: “Mother (****)!!”
Jeffrey, now done with all tasks announces he will whisk me back to the ER, tells me he doesn’t have time to get me a clan gown but ill get one back in the ER.
“How long you been working as a nurse in this department?” I ask as he wheels me, at least safely, back to the ER.
“Oh, I’m not a nurse, he says. “Just a tech.” My heart almost stopped. The little teensy monitoring that was being done while I was in that room wasn’t even by a registered nurse.
The good news: the barium released the blockage and that is no longer an issue. An, upon that news, they couldn’t discharge me fast enough. I returned to the room at around 6:30 p.m., John and I were home by 7:00. Never rechecked vital signs, asked me how I was feeling. Hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since 8:00 a.m. But trust me, I was ready to get out of there.
But what, my GOD, has happened to my profession that I loved so dearly? That I poured my heart into and loved every single minute of – from my first clinical to my last home care patient four years ago. My God. What. I will be reporting these issues to Abbott, of course. But I can’t do it right now because I’ve got to focus on healing. So please: POUND THE PILLOW AS MANY TIMES AS YOU CAN. I NEED YOU TO. I WANT TO FEEL YOU DOING IT.