Last week, we entered the hallowed ground of American healthcare. On Tuesday, as I was on day 2 of driving home from Savannah Matt called and said he didn’t feel good. Ok, that’s weird. It’s pretty rare that Matt doesn’t feel good INCLUDING when he brought the c-flu home from work one day and was a walking super spreader event all on his own. That time, he went to bed early and woke up the next day feeling fine.
This time was different. I rolled in after lunch and he had already canceled his work trips for the week. He stayed awake long enough to kiss me hello and then passed out for hours. I woke him up a couple of times to drink water and some bone broth and he went right back to sleep.
The next day was better but he complained of a tweaked calf and groin on his right leg and said it was a little swollen. Ok, what I’ve learned in the last week is that when the hothunkyhubs tells me something is swollen, I need to actually look at it (yes, that sounded dirty, no way around it.) But when you use words around here such as ‘tweaked’ and ‘swollen’ we automatically go to a muscle belly tear, even a small one and that’s normal enough in this house that it’s not even a blip on the radar.
By Thursday afternoon, after still walking around with a painful calf, Matt came into the gym and said that if it still hurts tomorrow he wanted to go into Urgent Care. Whoa, this is different. Something’s wrong. I asked if I could reach out to our neighbor who is a NP and a flurry of texts ensued. I was concerned about a blood clot as was she but she also brought up cellulitis, a serious bacterial infection. Uh oh, that one got my attention even more than a clot. My daughter had a serious blood infection in middle school and nearly died so I was far more concerned about infection than a clot (yes, I’m aware of how serious blood clots are and have experienced a loved one with a clot. It’s bad, in my experience, infection is worse.)
Our NP Angel neighbor said to go to the ED (remember when it used to be called ‘ER’ like, there was an entire television show called ER but suddenly we now say ‘ED’ like it’s different) immediately. She also sent us to a nearby suburb instead of the ER close to us to avoid the shit show that the largest hospital in Wisconsin can be. We walked in, were seen right away and once Matt put on his hospital gown and I saw his leg, I knew we were in the shit. Even writing this could make me cry, it was bad. Angry red all the from the foot to the groin and at least twice the size of his other leg although I’d go out on a limb and say it was 3x the size, especially down near the ankle.
A short time after Matt’s ultrasound, the nurse came in and stated there was no blood clot. She didn’t use her happy voice. This meant he had an infection and it was terrifying. Now, there IS some positive works around this. The first is that Matt has never been hospitalized before which helped him stay pretty upbeat throughout the ER. Another is that Matt is big and strong and completely confident in his ability to fight infection and to be fair, I took solace in that also. I already knew that he would be admitted so we started talking about the most important fact facing us in this moment as a married couple, how do I get him food since he hadn’t ate since noon. For realz.
As they were preparing where they were going to put him, one nurse came in and stated that unfortunately visiting hours were over and I wouldn’t be able to go upstairs with him. This got Matt’s attention, how was I going to bring him food if I couldn’t get in? ‘Dunno’ kind of felt like, ‘not our problem’ and now their perfectly pleasant patient was turning into hangry bear and good luck with that upstairs. I was 3 miles down the road on my way home when I got a call from Matt, “The charge nurse said you can bring me food, she’ll work it out with security.” Ahhhh, smart charge nurse.
Three pounds of steak & rice from Chipotle later with a happier Matt and a happy charge nurse, I headed home. Alone. Well, I had puppy and he helped some but the uncertainty that comes from a medical crisis is dark. If you know you know. It was a sad night and exhausted, stressful sleep came in bursts. Some of my stress came from knowing Matt didn’t realize what he was facing spending a night in the hospital and in fact when he said in the ER that he just needed some sleep, I tried to gently (ok, Jules version of gently) tell him that you do not sleep in the hospital. He smiled but he didn’t know and bless his heart, he thought I was being dramatic.
When I came back to see him Friday morning, breakfast sammiches in tow, he was tired. Still positive, but tired. That tiredness didn’t improve until this morning after he slept for 10 hours in his own bed.
Nearly 40 years ago, I was a candy striper (spell check wants me to add a ‘p’ to that word, uhhhh no thanks spellcheck) at North Memorial hospital in Minneapolis. I was put on the stroke/coma floor which was not very fun and actually pretty scary for a teenager whose first exposure to illness of others is on a nonverbal floor. I entered one coma victims room to clean up a bit and her family was visiting and praying for her. I tried not to be in the way and then noticed one of the pictures on the window sill was of one of my Sunday school kids! Super crazy. The woman DID eventually wake up which was nothing less than a miracle. OH, there was also a nursing strike when I volunteered so I got to walk through a picket line of people screaming at me for going in and I’m all, “I’m clearly a kid, what the fuck.” That was my first experience with unions, not super positive.
What I’ve learned in the last week is that hospital protocol has changed very little in 40 years since I was a candy striper. When I told Matt that he won’t be sleeping much, again, he thought I was being dramatic. Nope, dead on. It is shocking that we haven’t applied what we’ve learned, healing comes in good sleep. Every athlete on the planet knows that sleep is priority number one for good recovery. Number 2? Nutrition. Again, the hospital protocol fails Americans. The food served has not changed in 40 years. Now, look (shit gets serious when you say ‘look’), high school Jules adored eating 3 kinds of cake down in the cafeteria during my break and sneaking juice and cookies all shift long but I wasn’t in there trying to heal.
Luckily, Matt had someone bring him pounds of beef showered in salt (ya need salt dudes, even in the hospital) and salads from home so he wasn’t eating garbage all day although I did concede on breakfast sammiches each morning cuz they make him happy and full and he needed some of that.
To reiterate, every athlete on the planet knows that sleep and nutrition are THE most important factors in your training program yet our American hospital protocols take a monster sized dump on that notion and do what they’ve been doing for decades, prevent sleep and feed you absolute shit.
When Matt’s hospitalist doctor said that Matt needed to follow up this week with his primary care physician, we laughed and asked what that is. He didn’t seem too shocked that we don’t have a doctor which, to his credit, was refreshing. Why would we need a doctor, we’re not sick. Yes, Matt got sick and we’ve been exposed to the complete and utter failure of healthcare in America. This is the fault of everyone involved in healthcare. Medical professionals who don’t speak up, systems, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, politicians, administrators…everyone but the people all those groups are fighting to dictate how they will care for you and for how much. It’s mind blowing.
When I was 17, my fairly active mother fell from a bike while she was exercising my brothers sheep dog. One broken leg surgery plus staph infection later and she officially entered the world of, “I received a lot of love and care from this surgery so I’ll have an additional 20 more before I die.” Sounds fun, eh? She was addicted to the doctors appointments, the specialists, the 2 gallon sized baggies full of different medications and the attention they brought. No bueno. What’s worse is that she was the American healthcare system’s best friend, unlimited visits with good insurance. (In 2018, Bernard Tyson, then CEO of nonprofit health care giant Kaiser Permanente, made nearly $18 million dollars per the Google. Don’t try telling me non-profit hospitals don’t care about money, someone tried to do that once. Lol.) In fact, add ‘non profit status’ stipulations as part of the system that works against the average American in healthcare. It’s bottom line baby and if you’re not contributing to it GTFOH with your bad self.
When Matt was finally released, we had to go and pick up his pill form antibiotics to continue his progress at home. It was “called in and all ready for him” according to the nurse. Nope, it took 3 visits and a creative pharmacist to understand that if they didn’t have the large sized gel caps to make his prescription, she could put each dose in 3 smaller caps and sent him on his way. When he went in this morning to get his blood checked in the location (including exactly where to park) according to the email confirmation, they told him he was in the wrong place. They ran the test anyway but the experience tells me that it was up to their discretion to send him on his way and figure it out or actually help him. Kinda bullshitty.
What I’ve taken away from the entire experience is A) get big and strong and yes, big is subjective but a 145 pound male with ankles smaller than my wrists better have a competitive weight class listed behind your name or you’re likely just small and weak (I call it the Brookfield dad condition, they’re all over the place over there) and you’ve opened yourself up to the reality that you may not survive a completely survivable condition. B) you better know how to get healthy after an unhealthy episode and your doctor has no clue how to do that except hand you pharmaceuticals. Don’t know how? Find someone.
The last thing I’ve learned or at least have confirmed, is that the healthcare system in America is stacked against you if you are an average American. You will be harassed/bullied/given attitude (Matt’s ER NP gave me kind attitude when I asked if they’d be checking for a blood infection. “Why would we do that?” 5 minutes later a different nurse was in the room taking blood cultures looking for what could cause a blood infection. I didn’t point it out to the NP, that was your mulligan, you don’t get another one;) If you need to go to the pharmacy 3 times to get your life saving/sustaining medicine, you better make sure you have a car and the ability to take off of work to do so while someone watches your kids (I watched the puppy for Matt, I’m giving that way.) You also better make sure you have the tenacity to ask tough and direct questions of everyone involved because very few people in the industry appreciate being disagreed with. Stand firm, this is your life.
I’ve been reminded of the absolute goodness of people. The nurses and caretakers, our amazing neighbor who is stopping by later to check on Matt’s leg who has been tireless in checking up on us throughout it all and giving me important questions to ask. Matt’s parents who have been so supportive and our many friends who’ve checked in each day to make sure BOTH of us are okay.
I’m grateful that healing, health, and strength is a foundation of our living together, I couldn’t imagine living with someone who would hand over their health to a one trick pony “professional” who hands out meds like orange and yellow jellybeans and tells you they’re the best part of the jellybean bag and will cure what ails ya. Partnership with a doctor/nurse practitioner/nurse is paramount to moving forward in health. It’s going to take you a while to find one who is open to listening but when you do, it will be worth it. Probably, I’ve never found one which is why I also don’t have a primary care physician. Oops.
Lastly I’m grateful the hothunkyhubs is still around and we can look forward to celebrating the twins birthday; our granddaughter’s 2nd birthday; a Savannah wedding with our besties, and whatever else happens when he’s feeling up to it ( yes, that sounded dirty, no way around it;)
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breath, to think, to enjoy, to love.