Being the Patient

On January 7, I entered the hospital to have “elective” orthopedic surgery. It was elective in that my doctor and I chose when to do it. I didn’t have an accident; I had a condition where both knees were bone on bone, with no remaining cartilage.

I entered the hospital with faith in the medical team, and trust in my own ability to handle the operation and recovery. All went well, I’m told, not remembering much of that first day, except for my “failure” to stand up with assistance by the first night. It hurt so much, and I was scared. Scared after the surgery, questioning my choice to have both knees replaced at the same time.

The next day a female PT entered my room. When she heard my story of not standing, she assured me that she and an assistant would get me up, and not to worry or blame myself. She delivered on her promise, and I felt more hopeful.

On the third day, it still took a lot of help to get me up to standing. I was transferred to the rehabilitation hospital, where more fears confronted me. I felt alone and literally trapped in my bed. We were getting my pain under control, which helped a lot to build my confidence in my own ability.

I learned so much from this experience of being the patient. Mostly I learned to gratefully accept all the help the staff was giving me. I celebrated the little things, like starting to regain movement in my right quad. I learned to keep trying, over and over and over again, asking for a break and water when needed. I did not give up. Oh, I cried with discouragement a few times, and each time the OT or PT talked with me about what I was feeling. Usually it was fear of failure – I can’t do it, I’m not strong enough, etc. Each time we talked, the fear dissolved. Sometimes the actual breakthrough in movement or strength came the next day, but the worry was already gone.

My fear of pain medication and addiction resulted in a misguided decision to under report my pain and use Tylenol instead. My pain increased, and I was firmly and correctly told by the nurse supervisor to keep taking the strong pain killer for at least a month and then wean off of it, which would not cause addiction. I listened. Pain control equals more success in therapy.

I’ll be going home soon, with one more full day of therapy. I will continue to enjoy my favorite activity of walking around the halls of the facility. I love that today the PT and I figured out how to get up the four stairs to my porch (only stairs). We also proved that I am able to get in and out of the passenger side of my car safely. Those were my achievements today, and they were BIG.

I have certainly been humbled by this experience. I’ve been mostly successful at expressing gratitude for kindness and support. I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut when I felt someone was criticizing me (nurse assistants), but sometimes I snapped back.

Patience, gratitude, recognition of kindnesses given, sharing small talk and getting to know something about the other person – these were the gems that lit up my days.

Yes, it’s not easy being the patient, given pain, frustration, and fears. It’s not easy being a nurse, nurse assistant, PT/OT/assistant, dietary staff or custodial staff either. The smallest word of gratitude and appreciation goes a long way, and humor helps too. I’m glad for all the lessons learned.

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