Friday, May 04, 2007


On Monday I was discharged from the hospital after two weeks and two days, during which I had heart surgery for atrial fibrillation and a speeding heart rate. (If you don't know what atrial fibrillation is, it might benefit you to find out, but I hope you never have to learn.)

Hospitals are the best and worst places to be treated for a serious illness or injury.

Wherefore best?

Well, first, medical technology has made progress that is simply astounding, as I had occasion to learn. I underwent the Maze procedure, which is truly amazing (pun intended). Methodologies are constantly getting more precise and less invasive.

And you are always looked after. Lord, I must have been visited by doctors, nurses, physician aides, and technicians dozens of times a day, and it was sometimes more than I could handle. Now and again I wished they would just leave me alone (especially when I was awakened at night to have my vital signs checked and blood drawn for analysis). But all in all, when you're in a weakend and vulnerable state, it's comforting to know you're being monitored.

Wherefore worst?

Hospitals do not treat people as though they are people. In the hospital setting, you are a machine in a mechanistic universe, feeling like a car having a transmission replacement. I'm sure most medical personnel would acknowledge theoretically that mind and body are related, and that a person's state of mind is a powerful force that helps determine how effective treatment is. But in practice, at least if the hospital I was in is any example, that principle is discarded.

I had time to discover that a hospital is a huge bureaucracy run, like most modern organizations, by managers who put so-called efficiency first. You never see them because they're on some other floor, but they make the rules, and patient comfort (other than the purely physical sort) is the last thing on their minds.

This managerial style that is so out of touch with patients shows up in things large and small. At one time or another, I must have been seen by two dozen doctors, most of whom seemed to be dropping
by to follow regulations rather than taking an active interest in my situation. Some did not bother to introduce themselves. One's first words were, "It is against our policy to have the door completely closed." (My nurse took down the sign that said "Please keep the door shut" and edited it to "Please keep the door partially shut.")

Fortunately, my heart surgeon was not only a brilliant man who has helped refine the Maze procedure to avoid cutting the sternum, but warm and friendly -- and therefore reassuring -- as well.

You have a lot of time on your hands in the hospital, and there is only so much reading and listening to CDs on a portable player that you can do. So, whatever your normal practice, you inevitably find yourself watching TV. My room's TV offered the standard networks, plus lowest-common-denominator channels like Liftime TV and CNN Headline News, on the latter of which the same stories and video clips recirculate throughout the day. Oh, and several channels of the hospital's own, explaining various medical procedures and explaining to mothers how to take care of their babies, in English and Spanish. Tell me this: who, in the hospital for an operation, wants to watch shows about other illnesses and operations? But my guess is that some bright spark of an administrator decided the captive audience provided a great opportunity for "patient education," possibly with a little, how you say, incentive from drug companies whose products happen to be mentioned.

I don't want to sound churlish, and I am grateful to my caregivers for possibly saving me from an early demise. I know that, whatever its faults, the treatment I received was very likely better and certainly available quicker than had I been dependent on the national health service of a Workers' Paradise such as Britain or Canada. But the impersonality was troubling.

Incidentally, I saw no evidence of any room dedicated to prayer and meditation. You'd think many patients would want a setting conducive to pondering the Eternity some were facing. But this hospital, at least, was as Godless as any modern European state.

Just before I entered surgery, my wife and I talked of this and that. The last thing I remember her saying before I got my injection of anesthetic and disappeared for several hours was, "If anything goes wrong, you'll be taken care of." It was not, you understand, the medical profession she was referring to.


Mr. Spog said...

Glad you're back.

Vanishing American said...

Good to see you back and to hear that you came through your procedure all right.
Welcome back.

Rick Darby said...

Thanks very much! Rebooting this site is an important component of putting my life back together again, and I couldn't be more pleased that at least two of my readers were willing to hang in there during the hiatus from blogging.

Michael Blowhard said...

Great that you've gotten through, and great to see you back. A vivid posting, too. I went through some surgery six years back, and had pretty much the same reaction. On the one hand: thank god modern medicine is as good as it is. On the other: do I really have to feel like I'm a machine making its way through a factory?