Hospital Stays and Stupidity

For the past almost two weeks, I’ve been at the bedside of X, a loved one, during an extended hospital stay for a fever of undetermined origin. My main role, as my dear readers may imagine, was to keep the stupers (short for disarmingly stupid persons) at bay. Incidentally, X is now fine and home.

This hospital is world renowned and justifiably so. Traveling harpists float serenely from room to room entertaining forlorn patients, while the walls and corridors (of which there are many) practically burst with colorful pieces from Picasso to Frank Sinatra.

I’m happy to report that the physicians were exceptional; mostly concerned, cautious and vigilant at exercising thought before acting. However, here’s the problem: the number of doctors and residents attending each patient daily, is enough to successfully wage war against the city of Harmony, California (population 18). At any given time, there could be eight people in a patient’s room. And they didn’t communicate with each other. Add to that, the social worker, nurses, nurses-in-training, nurse’s assistants, menu planner, meal deliverers, blood drawers, room cleaners, transporters (not the Jason Statham variety, but the kind who chauffeur patients in gurneys to travel from floor to floor), and helpful volunteers, and suddenly the odds favor stupidity.

For instance, on Day 5, I decided I would no longer argue with overzealous residents who ordered chest x-rays with wild abandon. I decided to be quiet that day. Either that or explode with revolutionary outrage.  Apparently, my silence caused great worry. The social worker (who’d been keeping a close eye on me for days) feverishly raced up to ask if I was okay. I nodded. Then Dr. B (in charge of the resident team) who’d overheard the social worker, asked if I was certain I was really and truly okay. I told him I was rock solid. His response,

“Nobody is that solid. You really should seek some help.”

I absolutely did feel solid. Did I need help? I’d shoved aside inaccurate diagnoses and predictions of dire illnesses as being the cause of the fever and still managed to keep my head, even though such pessimism caused me great distress. Just how well did Dr B know me, anyhow? Did I show signs of strain? Or sure, my nail polish was beginning to chip, and I did wear the same red Lacoste shirt two days in a row, but I felt fine and knew the situation would soon be over.

Two days later, a virus was found to be the culprit and the Infectious Disease Specialist (whose very voice oozed calm and comfort) announced that X could go home. However, X did not go home because the other groups and specialists took three more days to reach agreement that X really could leave.

Was this stupidity or an acute state of caution? Does it really matter? What does matter is the ability to remain attuned to what’s important and to act accordingly.  If we act self-righteously, which I’m afraid I am guilty as charged whenever I believe that I know all, or if we constantly shift values to fit what we want, then we are not using our minds properly.



6 Responses to “Hospital Stays and Stupidity”

  1. MC says:

    Nice to read you again. I had a similar experience in the hospital with the doctors and nurses not communicating. I’d be taken off a medicine by the doctors only to have the nurses come afterward to administer it. I’d turn them away and they’d get mad. I think it is stupidity.

  2. Elaine says:

    Welcome back! You were missed. Oh my, 2 weeks in a teaching hospital you must have enough insight to be appointed to President Obama’s team on healthcare. Seriously I am so glad to hear no dire illness/prognosis with patient X, it had to be quite scary for both of you.

  3. Ferd says:

    Hi, Keli!!!!

    So glad you’re feeling rock solid. Just like my abs! (I wish!)

    For twenty five years I practiced traditional Internal Medicine with office and hospital patients. It really is a crazy system of communication, and the wheels can indeed turn slowly. I’m not surprised, especially in a teaching hospital, that it took three days for everyone to catch up to a decision on the chart.

    And you can add to your long list of players illegible handwriting as a potential cause of stuperity.

    Since Jan 1st I have been working as one of only two doctors running an LTACH (Long Term Acute Care Hospital.) Before I took the job, I made sure of several things. First, it is NOT a teaching hospital. Been there as a student and am grateful for the experience. Have paid back with years of teaching and mentoring. But now I just want to be efficient without the hassles, slowdowns, errors, etc of students and residents. Second, it is a “For Profit” hospital, so that there would be fiscal pressure on everyone to do a good job. Thirdly, as a hospitalist without an office practice, my personal presence in the hospital 12 to 15 hours a day would ensure face to face communication (and accountability) with our consultants. The ones who gain the most from this system are the patients. They get excellent care!

    Doing my best to stomp on stupers’ necks.

  4. Ferd says:

    Ooh! Sorry for such a long-winded and ego-centric response!

    BTW, through this site I have eMet Elaine, and am very grateful for that!

  5. Keli says:

    It’s nice to be read again. I was trying to be judgmental by labeling it stupidity, but I’m afraid the empty heads are always plentiful.
    Thank you, Elaine!
    I see you understand perfectly!

  6. Keli says:

    Your response was hardly ego-centric or long-winded. I’m glad you explained so thoroughly – we definitely lacked face-to-face communication with the main physician; the reason for our being there. Such communication would have been greatly appreciated. I have no doubt that your patients are lucky to have you.
    And I am grateful for your visits and comments!

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