Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thoughts on Medicine and Health

Yesterday I went to the ER for chest pain. After the initial rush (shortness of breath, chest pain, and being six months pregnant moves you to the front of the line, evidently), I was stuck in a room without even a call button. I had an X-ray, an EKG, and a CT scan to see whether there were any problems with my heart or lungs or whether I had any blood clots. I seem to have disappointed the doctor with my normal readings, and he sent me home with a stern injunction to see a real doctor—not just a midwife. His diagnosis? Chest pain.

Last night was excruciatingly painful, as I could not find a comfortable position for sleep. I caught a little in Teddy's rocking chair, a few minutes on the couch, another while leaning/lying on the bed until my knees gave out, then sitting up with my legs crossed until my legs fell asleep. I finally got a lovely hour and a half lying on my belly (so you know it wasn't the usual kind of comfortable already) with pillows all under my front, terrified to move and exacerbate the pain ... which makes it a little difficult to relax enough to sleep.

This afternoon I was able to sleep for a glorious two hours. (Interrupted twenty minutes in by Teddy, who then napped next to me.) I was on my back, with the chest pain not gone, but not as terrifyingly *present* as it has been these past two nights. (The first night I made it through by being propped up on the sofa.)

Tomorrow afternoon I'll find out what a chiropractor can do for me. (I've never been to a chiropractor, and had some muddled mental image of an acupuncturist.) What with all the contortions last night, I'm sore all over. The midwives had originally suggested I see a chiropractor for an alignment before labor because I had such a tough time with Teddy, possibly due to the rods in my back. Then I was referred to her because the baby likes to be head-up rather than the preferred head-down position*; a chiropractor would be able to make sure the ligaments and what-not are nimble enough so that the baby can be turned before and during labor. Then all this chest pain crud, which my midwife thinks is either gas (gasx doesn't seem to help), or something stretched due to the bout with food poisoning last week.**

*A breech birth, with the baby remaining head-up would necessitate not only a hospital birth but surgery, due to Florida state law. An alternative is living out-of-state, but with a due date of "the week before Holy Week," that's not appealing either.

**2011 is a bit more exciting than we'd expected. I won't be eating hot dogs any time soon. Also, my first first-hand experience with food poisoning ... at six months pregnant ... and my husband feeling miserable, too (he got better quickly) ... and Teddy, poor love, only throwing up while he was asleep ... I thought things would get slower after the Theophany craziness, which this year included the funerary viewing of a priest the day before (and an extra four hours' drive).

In any case, I meant to write about medicine and health. When we went to see the midwife after the ER doctor had released me, I felt safe. These were people who knew and cared about me. One of the aides asked whether they'd felt my gallbladder, and my midwife quickly jumped in: "They don't like to touch people." I realized that that was quite true. I'd had all these people coming in, giving me a sheet of paper or asking for my credit card, asking me my name and date of birth, not introducing themselves for the most part, whisking me hither and yon—I literally had to ask directions for the exit because nobody told me how to leave—and not telling me how to contact a nurse if I needed one. (The one lab technician who left me with a call button didn't bother to see that it wasn't actually plugged in; fortunately he was kind enough to give my nurse the message that I'd like to see her.)

I don't like hospitals because you cease to be a person. You put your own health and, necessarily, your trust in people who view you as an object of tests and procedures, who are only interested in making sure *you* fit *their* perspective.*** I sent Teddy and Fr. Peter home for lunch, which was scary for me, as I like to have another adult present at all times when I'm in the hospital. (I'm sick and scared, especially without a diagnosis, and I want someone whom I *do* trust to look out for my best interests.) I'm six months pregnant and had only had toast for breakfast (there was Orthros and Divine Liturgy and not much time for more), and was admitted around lunchtime. I was fed because I'd asked for a drink of water; I couldn't get that myself because I was all tied up to the bed with wires and had no idea how to put the bedrails down.

***I wonder whether people have this view of the Church, and how we can work to change that.

I'm still angry at the doctor who released my father from the hospital when his numbers looked fine. (The nurses were horrified to learn he'd been discharged; they knew my father wasn't well enough to leave just by looking at him ... he was readmitted two days later via the emergency room and died in the hospital.) I'm afraid of hospital errors like what happened after my back surgery: I took morphine orally, the nurse wrote it on the chart, I threw up everything, and the shift changed. I didn't have morphine for two hours despite my mother and father's begging, because "it's in the chart" ... fortunately, I only have a nightmare remembrance of that, but that's a "10" on the pain scale for me. There was the hospital nurse who came to take the stitches out of my hand. For stitches, there's a knot, the thread goes through the flesh, and comes out in a knot on the other side. She was supposed to cut one knot, then pull the thread out. She cut *both* knots off, and then had no way to get the thread out. I had my dad resterilize the tweezers and keep her off of me and I took out my own stitches. (And this was when I was still recuperating from back surgery.)

So that's some of the history of why I never want to be in labor or give birth in a hospital. I will drink crazy drinks, I will take weird vitamins and minerals, I will try papaya enzyme (tastes pretty good, actually). I will turn to my midwives and listen to their referrals to chiropractors. We can talk about God and about my husband's being a priest without being awkward. They are not afraid to share their faith with me. That's how I know they see me as a person.

**Disclaimer: There *are* wonderful people who work in hospitals, and I am grateful for their care and their help. I just can't automatically rely on everyone in a hospital setting to see *me* the way I can at the birthing center.

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