September 14, 2010 by David Gillaspie
I waited until the midnight hour, but not for my love to come tumbling down like Wilson Pickett. I just didn’t want to bother anyone.
But I couldn’t breath. Was it the old air conditioner? Was it the birds and plants in the open-air restaurant? Was it Legionnaire’s Disease?
It was something, and I waited as long as I could, way past the midnight hour.
Then it was time to go.
The difference between getting sick, and getting sick in another country, is what you do about it. At home I have inhalers and steroids. If I have a breathing issue, it doesn’t last long.
This was different.
When it comes down to fixing a health problem, you have to trust the people around you. Inside the hospital I had people around me, but I wasn’t sure what they were saying. All I knew was I couldn’t breath right.
The Spanish medical staff took an arterial blood sample from my wrist, then hooked me up to an IV. For the next five hours I sat in a narrow room with ten other people in lounge chairs. We all had IV tubes plugged into our arms.
In the hallway an old man thrashed around in bed with a bad dream. Was it a dream about the knock on the door during Franco? He sounded stressed, but no one woke him up.
Some advice for those in my shoes: You are in the system, so let the system work. If you don’t need medical attention, then don’t ask for it.
I got more than I asked for.
I did four days in a Spanish hospital where I shared a room with others. Visitors came for them and lit cigarettes in the room. I was on oxygen, but it didn’t matter.
Part of my treatment was an x-ray. I moved when they shot it, but that didn’t stop them from looking at the image and deciding I had a major problem. It looked like I had a light switch in my chest. There was a light switch behind me when they took the x-ray, but I didn’t know the word for light switch.
Things changed after that. A light switch in the chest cavity is not a disease, but if the staff see it as a disease, what is the treatment? Install a new one?
What if someone came in for a liver transplant? Would the staff tape a chicken liver to the patient and tell them to wait for it to take hold? Would I end up carrying a backpack with a tire pump inside? Thankfully, no.
Every healthcare delivery system is different, but all strive for the same results: patients getting better.
I wasn’t getting better, but I didn’t blame Spain. I had a bug, not a real bug, but some sort of respiratory infection. I went through a cycle of anti-biotics, I think, then sunk into the same hospital funk I’d have anywhere else. I came in for one thing, but stayed for another.
If my problems were in another language, at least my solutions were all-American. Once I felt strong enough I asked for a release. Since the docs didn’t come in over the week-end, I made my request on Monday. The more the staff seemed to think I was headed the wrong way, the better I felt.
What was the wet spot on the floor that the staff placed chucks over, then more chucks until four of them sat in a damp pile? Didn’t matter, I was leaving.
Why did the cafeteria need three beer taps? Didn’t matter, I wasn’t having any.
Who allowed smoking in the hospital rooms? It turns out smoking was the visitor option, and it isn’t allowed.
My brush with death, and it felt like a brush, clarified a few things: We all need more help than we’ll admit. The help we get is not what we expect. Once we decide we don’t need more help, we’re on the way to recovery. That seemed to be the secret to Spanish medicine, and maybe all medicine.
If you are a patient, and you are conscious, be your best advocate. Help the nurses and doctors and staff as much as you can. Help your roommates. Don’t let the opportunity to reach out, even when you’re reaching out yourself, pass by. The difference you make when you need a difference-maker on your side, reveals your character.
In the world of healthcare, the difference between a good result and bad might depend on you, even when you are a patient.