There and Back Again: What I Pack for my Hospital Stays

I don’t want this blog to turn into a showcase of my ailments, but I did want to share that I’m going back in for yet another operation on Wednesday the 20th… in case anyone’s keeping track.

It also occurred to me, while I was writing a list of things to pack, that it might make sense to share that, too, in case anyone might make use of it either for themselves or for choosing useful hospital gifts.

I’ve had five operations and five recoveries (You really want those to match up, btw). Most of my recoveries were at least a month long, if not longer, so I pretty much know what I need, what I like, and what I can leave behind.*

Here goes:**

Essentials:

Purple GlassesGlasses.  I don’t bother with contacts in the hospital.  I can’t wear them into surgery and they’re a pain in the tuchus to deal with afterward—I won’t be able to get to a sink at first and my hand-eye coordination (pun intended) will be shot anyway.

Robe. Nurses and PT staff will most likely want you to move around, bless their sadistic hearts, unless it’s contraindicated by your condition.  I can’t stress how much easier and less exposed it feels to walk around in a long, comfy robe, rather than in a second thin hospital gown worn like an inadequate jacket. Plus, vinyl-covered chairs, (wheeled or stationary) can be flippin’ cold or dangerously adhesive.

Lost SocksSocks-with-treads or soled slippers. See above, re: “blessed sadistic hearts”: hospital floors are cold and slick.  The hospital does usually provide socks, but if you’re vertically challenged like me, hospital toilets and commodes can be too tall without thick-soled slippers… just saying.

Q-tips. I know it’s weird, but ears don’t stop producing wax when you’re recovering and you can’t get regular cotton swabs for love or money in a hospital.  And when you want one, you want one. All the staff can give you are those swabs on long wooden skewers, which frankly scare me to death.

Lip balm.  Hospitals don’t supply this, either, and my lips get really dry, especially if I’m put on liquid restriction.  I like Hurraw! lip balm the best; I use mint, because tooth brushing in the wards can be sporadic.  I also like Glamour Dolls lip jelly; it doesn’t wear off easily.

Hand cream and/ or body lotions. Hospitals make me itch and they smell funny; or is that just me? Either way, I’m bringing my second favorite  Crabtree & Evelyn magic to brighten up my aura.***

pencilpaperhand1-w640h480Pen and notepad. There’s always things to write down–phone numbers, test dates and times, things I keep forgetting to ask my doctor—and never anything to write it down with. This time, I’m going in armed.

Phone and extra, extra long charger cord. I use my phone for reading, music, calling my parents, texting friends, playing games, etc., and being hospitalized doesn’t change that.  So I’m not kidding about the length of the cord: my phone is my mental health lifeline, so I get antsy if it has to charge outside of my reach, just because I’m not allowed to pull the plug on my nearby wound vac or feeding pump. Nurses also hate being called into your room just to fetch a phone. Trust me.

My fairy godmother.  Because love and hope (and dear friends who send fairy godmothers) are the very best medicine.

20170918_162941

Thanks, ‘mausi!

_____

Good-to-haves

hair-brush-clip-art-29Comb or brush. The hospital can usually find one of those cheapo plastic barber combs, but I like my brush better and it doesn’t take up much room. My hair is short, but I might still toss in some headbands, and/or hairpins, if you’ll be staying a few weeks; like ears, hair has its own agenda.^

Toothpaste. I’d only bother if you need special toothpaste, like Sensodyne. Otherwise, the hospital will give you a tube of the basic stuff. Same with a toothbrush—leave the electric one at home; it’s too high maintenance and the vibrations won’t be kind.

DeodorantDeodorant. Your condition may vary, but I’m usually not allowed an actual shower more than once a week, if that, depending on my medical baggage. Sponge baths are okay, but sometimes, it just doesn’t  cut the pit funk. The hospital will provide a roller ball deodorant but it might as well be sticky water for what it does. I’m bringing my industrial strength spray Dove.

Dry shampoo. Sponge baths come with the option of a sort of showercap shampoo; they wet the inside of a lined, soap-infused showercap thing and massage it on your head.  It…works?  Sort of?  I’m bringing my Ouai dry shampoo foam as an alternative, though they’re still welcome to massage my scalp!

Micellar water and cotton pads.  The hospital does provide baby wipes on request, but when it comes to cleaning my face or behind my ears, I prefer micellar water to plain water or regular soap.

14055372411033652634crutch_Jh.svg.hiMoisturizer and eye cream. So, so extra. But again, I get dry and itchy—and if I’m going to use micellar water, anyway, what harm is a little, light skin care? Give the aging, sick woman her crutches…

Shower stuff. In the event that I’m actually allowed a Real Shower™, the first thing I want is a razor and the second is a decent bath gel that rinses well. So I bring my own.  If your personal hair care products aren’t optional for you, bring travel bottles (I suggest leave-in, mist conditioner). Oddly for someone who has Opinions about dry shampoo, I don’t usually bother.  The hospital stuff is good enough for me.

Nail file and clippers. Because I can’t bring painted nails to my surgery  (something to do with oxygen monitors, I think), these really aren’t optional for me, not the way my nails shred.  The tube of cuticle oil might be, but I don’t care.

Glass nail file

_____

Optional/Entertainment

I already have my phone, and the TV in my hospital has some serious premium channels, but I’m adding my headphones, in case I want an audiobook or to play something at a weird hour. I’m also bringing a print book I’ve been desperate to finish (if I can hold it) and my knitting, because it wads up small and my hands stiffen up if I don’t exercise ’em.

20170717_141909

I could bring my coloring books and pencils, Sudoku, puzzle books, etc., but I know I’m going to have trouble sitting up enough to use my tray table at first. If I want them, I’ll ask my husband later.

_____

Forget Thems

1basic-iv-gown_smStreet Clothes. Gowns are provided. Underwear, in my case, can get in the way of bandages and drainworks.  I’ll be staying a week or more and I could change rooms at any time, so why bother cluttering up the place? My husband will bring me clothes when he comes to take me home.

Makeup. Nope.  Don’t want or need to bother. Nurses and loved ones don’t care. And honestly, if I’m well enough to want to struggle with eyeliner,  I’m well enough to go home.

comic-book-swearing_3421243Work. I always think I’m going to write or edit but I’m usually too tired—or in such pain, I just keep hitting that morphine button. If I do come up with an idea, that’s what the pen and pad are for. I refuse to beat myself up about it.

_____

If there’s anything you think I missed, let me know–quickly, please!

I obviously won’t be posting for a bit, unless my recovery is a lot quicker than anticipated.  But I promise to be quicker about it, this time!

___________________________

*Until I give in and beg my husband for whatever it is I thought I wouldn’t need. It happens.

*Please note that this list is how I roll with my own recoveries from my own particular condition, which centers mostly on my lower front torso.  Take what makes sense to you and leave the rest at home.

***My first favorite is Gardeners Hand Therapy. It’s heaven, but unscented.

^I lost a lot of hair last year (lord, 2016 righteously sucked) because of a med or two, paired with a pretty heinous weight loss.  The hairpins helped me cover up the thinning patches until it grew back.

Advertisements

So. That happened…

It’s been a while since I last posted… a year and nearly ten months, holy cow…but I have one hell of an excuse.

I think.  You be the judge:

If you haven’t read my last post or you don’t remember it, you might do that now.  I’ll wait.

Yeah, so it turns out that the pancreatitis thing wasn’t over yet. In fact, at my very next checkup, the doctor took one look at me and ordered me directly to the nearest ER. Who had me airlifted for emergency surgery to a hospital an hour away.

The surgeon, the incredible Dr. S, did her best to piece my insides back together–from what I was told later, it was a bit like tatting lace.  Things had melted to other things and had to be pried…well, never mind.

That was September 4th.

Since then, I’ve had five major surgeries (only three planned), about twelve procedures under general anesthesia, and countless adjustments, stitches, rebagging (think ileostomies and colostomies) and retubings. At one point, I was sporting approximately eight drains around my waist, a hula skirt from hell.

Coincidentally, my torso looks a bit like target practice for a small, hungry shark packing a twenty-two.

I spent around eight months in various hospitals, under various levels of sedation and the really good painkillers.* Not to mention various Dante-like circles of PT, learning to sit up and maybe do a little walking, as someone followed me with a wheelchair, just in case.

When I left the first hospital, for a specialty one nearer to home, the nurses and staff lined the corridor and gave me a standing ovation… because (i was told much later) most of them weren’t sure I would make it.

That changes a person, knowing that kind of thing, even more than the 140 pound weight loss (I didn’t eat anything by mouth for a long time), or my new 4-inch belly button. Or having to resign from my beloved job (who am I, if I’m not a librarian?)

I couldn’t write for the longest time, either, even after I came home, this time possibly for good, two months ago.  I was tired and empty and in quite a bit of pain.

But bit by bit, I’m getting stronger. I walk a little every day, sometimes without my walker.  20170202_090039I no longer have a stomach tube and am down to six medications, only one of which is longer than my thumbnail.

Money and insurance are worrisome, buy I’m working on applying for Medicaid and Social Security.  I’m also looking for a stay-at-home job that doesn’t involve stuffing envelopes or fraudulent practices.

And better yet, I have incredibly supportive friends who have stuck with me through all this mess (including those of you who keep asking me when I’ll be blogging again–this is all your fault!)

And I’m writing again. Maybe not well, but there are words now, and sentences, and maybe stories, too, however rusty and convoluted.

And I am here. Battered and bruised but not beaten.

How have y’all been?

________________________

*It is a terrible thing to put someone with a fraught imagination on heavy drugs when they have no outlet.  At one point, and I’m not kidding, I refused to wear my socks because I was convinced they were pregnant…and when they died in childbirth (because they aren’t built for it, obviously), I tried to convince the nurse to call a funeral home so they could have a decent burial.  She’ll be telling that story for decades; I should be getting royalties.

Living with Pancretitis: Beats the alternative…

So. You might have noticed that I haven’t been around here since last Sunday.

That’s because I’d just scheduled my post at We WriWa on Saturday when the worst pain I’ve ever felt grabbed me under the belly and bit down hard.

I just came home from the hospital yesterday.

My pancreas, for no discernable reason—seriously, they don’t know why—decided to dissolve itself with its own IV funenzymes and by the time this was determined, I was sustaining heavy renal damage.  The only treatment was to not feed me, while pumping me full of  gallons of fluids and antibiotics and calcium and drugs and, one assumes, liquid exhaustion.

Frankly, it’s difficult to sit up enough to type, or want to. I’m still having trouble eating—I’m lugging 24 pounds of fluid I didn’t have four days ago.  It saved my life, but it’s terribly uncomfortable now and there’s only so much I can do to get rid of it without ruining my electrolyte balance and going back to the ER.

I have bruises like blackened bananas up both arms from IV needles and blood draws and shots. I have a regimen of six huge horsepills a day.  Dude, we aren’t talking about the diarrhea; I can’t.

But I’m alive to be embarrassed and cranky and in pain. All my loved ones, more than I thought I had, stepped up to help save me.

I’ll take it and I’m grateful to be alive to do so.

I reserve the right to complain about hauling my  water weight to the bathroom every twenty minutes, though. I earned that.

Bruising

The Time You Need

Once upon a time, nearly seventeen years ago, my husband mentioned that the cat of a friend of his had produced a litter of kittens and was looking for homes for them. Long discussion short, he brought one home.

TobyThis little, dark gray scrap, dressed in white shirt front and spats for the occasion, sat at attention, his tail neatly wrapped around his feet, for the next day or two in our spare room, refusing to give an inch to catnappers, even though he was swaying with exhaustion, his green eyes closing every few seconds before snapping open.

We named him Toby, though he had a lot of nicknames over the years: Tober, The Tobes, Tobias Eater of Toes, Howler Kitty, and Bean Brain.

By the time I was carrying Jane, he had forgotten his old life and had taken up his role as Firstborn Son and Heir Apparent. He stretched around my distended tummy, and when Jane poked out a foot, he poked back at her. He wasn’t impressed with her during those first introductions, and spent several months elated when we took her out with us and utterly disgusted when we brought her back. I’ll never forget his face when she took her first steps: “Holy $#&%! You didn’t tell me these things were mobile!”

Typing!He acted exactly the same way when Sunny appeared—there’s a reason we dubbed him Bean Brain. But to the kids, he was part of the family and was always included in school drawings, a small, gray, betailed blob next to Mommy, Daddy, Sister, and Me. Sunny put him in her genealogy tree project last year as an adopted sibling with his own dotted line.

Cat Butt BagHe never met a glass of water he didn’t try to tip over or a blanketed foot he didn’t try to gnaw. He’s the reason I know that a jab to the eye does make you see stars—red ones—and that it hurts when a cat butts your shoulder with the top of his hard, little head when you’re trying to sleep through his bout of the Sudden Terminal Itchies.  He liked to shove things off my desk in the middle of the night, just so I’d wake up and keep him company.

But over this past year, I couldn’t help noticing some changes, though I tried my best.

He couldn’t reliably land onto the counter from the kitchen table anymore, and when he failed, he didn’t bounce up for a do-over. He couldn’t hit the litter box when he was standing in it and it took him a lot of effort to climb in and out—so much so that he rarely bothered. The levels in his food bowl weren’t changing and he didn’t seem to care for wet food or any of his favorite forbidden people treats.

A few days ago, I realized that he weighed less than a full coffee mug and I could feel his bones wherever I touched him. His hind heels were wearing through his white boots and his swagger was worn to a painful hobble.  He couldn’t sit down on my lap, because his hind end didn’t fold anymore and he stopped sleeping on my pillow, because the mattress was too high for him to jump.

He no longer did his nightly opera solos and would disappear from his usual haunts for the whole day. Sometimes two.

I’m not new to the ways of cats. I know what all this means.

Yesterday morning, I called the vet and made the appointment.  I spent the afternoon telling myself I was doing the right thing.

My husband told Janie before I came home from work and she cried and snuggled with Toby until her eyes nearly swelled shut.  “Why?” she cried.  “Why do people have to end?”

I told her that I didn’t know.  But that I was glad we’d given Toby a good home and loved him while he was here, because that was so much better than never knowing him at all.

“Yes, but he’ll be gone.”

“I know.”

“Why can’t we just keep him here until he . . .”

“Because we have a responsibility to take care of him,” I said, not entirely to her.  “He doesn’t know what’s happening to him and we can’t let him suffer just because we don’t want to let him go.  That’s not the right kind of love.”

“Oh, God, Sunny,” she said.

“I know.”

“Don’t tell her.  I mean, let her ask first.”

“If you think it would be better that way.  I won’t tell her until she’s home from camp.”

“Good.”  She teared up again.  “They won’t hurt him?  At the vet?  Don’t you let them hurt him!”

I told her that the vet would take his pain away and he wouldn’t hurt any more.

His pain,” she said. “What about our pain?”

“Time and good memories and hugs,” I said, giving her one.  “They work slowly, but that’s what we have.”

“This sucks, Mom.”

“Yes.  It does.”

Toby HelpAnd it did.

My husband cleaned the pet carrier last night and I put a towel in it early this morning.  After a search that wasn’t helpful to my state of mind, Toby was found and put into the carrier with no fuss, but he let me know the car ride upset him.  It was the first time he’d made a sound in a week and I almost turned to car around—if he could complain, he was okay, right?  That’s the Wesson way, right?

An elderly woman was waiting outside with her barrel-shaped dog.  She smiled as I passed by and said that the weather was beautiful after all the rain we’ve been having.  I said something agreeable and went in.

The receptionist was gentle with both of us and gave me a form to fill out to keep me busy.  Toby rubbed up against the vet when she examined him, friendly, if wary of her probing fingers, and unable to get his hind end to line up right.  He kept going back into his carrier and looking up at me; he was done here and wanted to go home.

So did I.

The vet told me that she could do bloodwork, if I wanted to make sure, but from his general appearance, he had thyroid and kidney problems, which would be chronic.  If she was right, there were treatments, but those would maybe give us a couple of months together, with shots and side effects, ending back where we were.

I signed the papers, marked my preferences for his cremation—I didn’t want his ashes, or a commemorative paw print plaque, I wanted my Toby to be healthy and playful again—and told them I wanted to be present.  I was the one who’d made the decision.  I would be there to see it through.

They took him away for a moment to prepare him with a catheter and I grabbed a handful of tissues and called myself terrible things.

An assistant brought him back, wrapped in a blanket and angrier than I’d ever seen him in his life, but I rubbed his neck until he calmed down, his hard little head pressed against my stomach, like he’d done when he was small.  The vet came back and he tensed up again . . . then relaxed, all at once . . . and was gone.

They told me to take as much time as I needed, and I wondered, not for the first time, if there was some way we could be offered that kindness before the final partings.  And maybe we are, if we’re smart enough to spend it wisely, with spilled water glasses and midnight howls and gnawed toes and fond exasperation.

As I left with the empty carrier and a handful of soggy tissues, the nice elderly lady was just coming in.  She took one look at my face and held the door for me.

Her dog bumped my legs with a cheerful doggy grin.  “Rocket!” she said, pulling him away, but I told her he was helping, too.  “Bless you, honey,” she said.

My husband was home, waiting until the last possible moment to leave for his class so he could give me a hug.  Then I cried for a while, sat down, and wrote this out.

Is it overshare, a 1300+ word, detailed  eulogy for a cat?  Yeah, probably.

But the choices that led up to this post were made for him.  This one is for me.

Time, memories, and hugs are what we’ve got.

And I’m going to miss him.

 

Random Thoughts on the New Year

In the tradition of starting the way I wish to go on, I overslept by several hours this morning.  Then I hopped on the exercise bike* for a while and then showered.  I drank a glass of water and then had some coffee with milk.

This is all being placed under the heading of Taking Care of Myself, which is my theme of 2015.**  Even the milk.

There were several bright spots in 2014, including meeting a few dear friends face-to-face for the first time (Hi, Marion, Lyra, Laura, Lisa, Amy, Dee, and Luis—and also Sherry, because seeing you is always wonderful!), finishing the draft of a novel and receiving some terrific comments on some stories I’ve written in the past.

But those lovely moments were more the exception than the rule.  And I think, looking back, that this was mostly my fault.

I was anxious last year.  Worried and self-conscious and depressed and burnt out.  I experienced several disappointments and disappointed myself in the handling of them.

The biggest reason for this was that I kept holding myself to personal standards I could not possibly meet, and didn’t realize that my mistake wasn’t in failing those standards, but in holding myself to them in the first place.

How can I possibly care for myself when I’m too busy beating myself up?

So I’m going to try not to do that this year.

This year, I’m holding myself to different standards:

I’m going to sleep more without guilt

Sleep QWERTY

Who says sleeping is a waste of my time?

Behind too sleep deprived to function is a waste, too, right?

___

 I’m going to read a little every day

Inside a Book

Why mess with an excellent track record?

___

I’m going to write every day.

Jane Writes

And whatever I write and however much I write will be enough for that day.

Doesn’t mean I can’t improve on the previous day’s efforts.

Does mean I’m not allowed to beat myself up for “falling short”.

___

I’m going to follow Anne Lamott’s anti-diet.

Stop and Eat the Dandelions

I’m throwing out my food journals and exercise journals and apps and scales*** and so on, and will be making my own decisions about what makes my body feel right.

As my nutritionist told me:
“If you need a calculator to tell you how much food you “deserve” to nourish yourself . . . something is wrong.”

___

I’m going to get  up and move a little every day.

Bubble Wrap Dance

And whatever I do and however much I do it will be enough.

Because moving, like writing, is one of those things that gets better with practice.

 ___

I’m going to be the best parent I can be for my children—
not for other people who might be watching.

Rock Star Parenting

I am only beholden to my kids to be a good parent, not to anyone else, strangers or relatives.

If I get it wrong—and this is where the impossible standards will rear their smug-ugly heads, I’m sure—we’ll sort it out in their therapy sessions, later.

 ___

I’m going to be kind to others
but set my own limits.

Zap Sign

Not because I think there should be limits to kindness, but because it isn’t kind to carry people if you can teach them to walk, instead.

And kindness given out of obligation can slide into resentment pretty quickly.
And then into guilt about that resentment.
And then . . .  yeah.

 ___

I will stop apologizing for not matching other people’s assumptions about me.

‘Snot my problem I’m not what you expected.

dorothy-parker-quote-i-shall-stay-the-way-i-am-because-i-do-not-give-a

And to be fair, I will stop assuming that I know what those assumptions are in the first place.

That one’s all on me.

 ___

And the big one:

I will stop blaming myself for not getting all of this right all the time.

Broken cup

 Because that’s another impossible standard I can’t maintain.

 ___

These aren’t resolutions, exactly, but I’m resolved to give them a try.

You?

_____________________

*This is a lie.  There is not enough grace in my body to hop onto anything, much less an exercise bike with a high, extra-wide seat (plan ahead, I always say) that has been wedged between two sold pieces of furniture.  I have to hop several time on one foot to get off the blessed thing without falling face first onto my printer, but that’s not grace, that’s gravity.

**The theme of 2014 was the Year of Health.  I bought and used the exercise bike and dragged myself to the dentist and the eye doctor—the latter just under the wire—and was informed that I have, as Jane gleefully put it “anti-diabetes” or “hypoglycemia” as my doctor and endocrinologist put it.  So now, I also have a nutritionist who is one of the cooler people I’ve ever met.

***Except the food scale, because I use it to weigh ingredients from a couple of my British cookbooks.  And also letters.