Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Scary Moments at Harborview Medical Center

I live in a suburb on the Eastside, across the bridge from Seattle. Our local hospitals' clients are mostly upwardly mobile, successful professionals -- which often frustrated me when I taught childbirth classes because too-busy-for-real-life Microsoft couples would often ask me for a one-shot Saturday childbirth class to accommodate their busy schedules. If you were in for a stay at one of our Eastside hospitals like Evergreen (where I visited the ER last week), you'd probably run into people a lot like me -- professional, educated, very busy with work and family, and with no time for being waylayed.

I chose to have my surgery with the most amazing world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Stephen Benirschke -- which meant that my surgery and my subsequent hospital stay would be at Harborview Medical Center. I'd never been to Harborview before because it's considered the Pacific Northwest's trauma center and not a hospital for things like childbirth and routine well-care. As the county hospital, it's also the place where those without insurance are treated. So, it houses both the country's best surgeons and the county's indigents -- sort of an odd dichotomy.

I spent 90% of my time at Harborview in my patient room on the 6th floor of the Meleng Building so, other than some time at the Ankle and Foot Clinic (where I encountered some interesting characters, one of whom insisted she was injured "on stage, dancing with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, that she had 13 kids, and that she caught both Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer single-handedly), I really only met my two roomies.

Marilyn, my first roomate, was pretty normal. The poor girl had come into some tough times lately, both situational/personal and medical. She'd had spinal surgery and from all we could tell, her life would look up once she recuperated from the surgery. Her two dedicated sisters visited her daily and, although I overheard a few sisterly squabbles (which was only disconcerting because one of her sisters was named Carol), she was sweet and friendly, even through her pain, and we became buds during the two long, painful nights we shared there.

At 1:30 AM on my third night at Harborview, Beth was brought into my room. She too had undergone spinal surgery, though hers seemed to be a bit more extensive than Marilyn's. All was relatively quiet until early the next morning when the discharge nurses came in, informing Beth that she'd being going home that day, the same day I was leaving. They could barely wake her for a second and then she'd fall right back to sleep, snoring! And they were trying to inform her of her legal rights to not be discharged if she didn't feel that she was ready.

Helllloooo?! Even I could promise you that there's no way she was ready to be discharged! She was in a complete stupor and not at all conscious enough for a casual conversation, let alone understanding her legal rights!

I wasn't sure what was going on with Beth, but she was obviously agitated, completely out of it, and obviously not doing well. And the nurses came in occasionally to give her even more drugs, apparently not really concerned that they couldn't rouse her! Huh? How could she possibly go home in this state?!

At one point, I heard Beth get out of bed -- and I don't mean slowly and gingerly. She was moving quickly and angrily... with a spinal injury and recent surgery! I looked up and saw her fly by my bed! "Where's the *&^%$ bathroom?" she asked me. I pointed to the bathroom and she quickly turned around and positively flew, stumbling toward the door! I was sure she'd fall, but she didn't. Just as I was about to call the nurses, the bathroom door flew open and Beth practically ran back to her bed. Within seconds, she was snoring again.

I must admit that I was a bit freaked out at this point! When the nurse came in, I told her what had happened and that I was concerned for Beth's safety. She woke Beth enough to ask her if she'd been to the bathroom. "No," Beth insisted, she had never gotten out of bed.

OK, so I'm a liar. (Not.)

I called Tom and Kat at this point to find out where they were and when they'd arrive to come get me. For all I knew, Beth would get up again and not be so lucky this time -- and I didn't want to see her get really badly hurt.

Beth didn't get up again. When I left, she was sitting in bed, slouched over, and unresponsive. I don't know what happened to her, but I have a feeling she didn't go home when she'd planned to.

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Anonymous said...

OK, so....just how, uhm, high were you?

Lorrene said...

Sounds like Beth was walking in her sleep or I must really be a pansy. I grunted and groaned for a week after surgery.

Goofball said...

now you got me worried about Beth! Would they really dismiss her if she hasn't had a clear conversation yet? Huh?

Were any of those spinal surgeries, the insertion of electrodes? My dad shared his room with a patient like that. But then you are realy not dismissed quickly.

How are you doing?

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