An extended hospital stay compresses every aspect of your life.
You exist in a relatively small space that comes with necessary limitations. The outside world — even the hallway or the bathroom, if you are not very mobile — can seem unreachable. Watching TV — certainly the news, but even the commercials — is a reminder of just how small a patch of earth you inhabit.
Time slows down, delineated by the expectation of required events — meals, medicine, blood draws, IV infusions, dressing changes, tests, checks on your vital signs. These happen at all hours, disrupting your rhythms.
Meanwhile, the world outside continues at full speed. Your absence is duly noted, but things get done without you. It’s easy to feel left out, and left behind. Your emotions become self-centered, even as the support of family and friends overwhelms you with a gratitude you don’t have the energy to express. You want to not be sick and don’t have a lot of control over that. You want to think about what you’re going to do post-discharge, but it’s hard not to be consumed in the moment. In a complex full of several hundred people, you are predominantly alone. More than anything, you want to get out.
By the time most of you read this, I will have been in Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee for three weeks, and likely will be here for a few more. I don’t like being here and I miss life in the valley.
But I don’t resent my stay, I don’t resist it and I am determined not to lament the lost time. There are many dedicated health care professionals here and they want to help any way they can. I intend to be a fully engaged partner with them in my recovery, to do what it takes to get as well as I can as fast as I can. If the people who are taking care of me are, when the time comes, happy to see me go, I want it to be because I’m healthy and ready, not because I was a pissy patient.
Thanks to physical therapy and consistent — if incremental —healing, I am now allowed to rove the hospital without accompaniment, even go outside if I like. I can wear civilian clothes in the Transitional Care Unit, where I was transferred to a few days ago, after a week in the acute care surgical unit. I can buy a latte and a newspaper in the hospital’s main entrance lobby, or visit the cafeteria for snacks. The smallest things — walking; browsing the hospital gift shop; using the bathroom without assistance; getting calls, cards or visits from friends and family — take on outsized significance.
That is as close to normal as I can approximate and makes me yearn even more for the day I can return to the Methow community — a community where the true understanding of that word has been underscored in its attention to my sudden and sustained absence.
I still tire easily but am finding moments of energy to do some work. In some meaningful ways, I feel like I’ve crossed over to the opposite side of sick — a good thing, but a challenge to my notoriously limited patience.
Oddly, this is the second time I’ve been through such an episode — a virulent infection that required back surgery followed by weeks of intense IV antibiotics. Does it help to know the drill? Only in that I understand what’s going on and what’s necessary. I don’t waste time on “why me” introspection. Looking forward is the only workable frame of mind.
Most of the time I’ve been here, the immediate outside world, viewed through my small windows, looks a lot like the Methow Valley and the rest of north Central Washington did. An acrid scrim of smoke from the Canadian wildfires settled and stayed. Temperatures nudged 100 degrees.
Then on Sunday everything cleared up. I could see blue skies and lovely clouds. The temperature dropped and a breeze came up. Walking outside even for a few minutes reminded me that beyond the hospital campus lies the rest of the world. A world I am eager to return to. A world that, from here, seems limitless.