They say the most obvious place to be exposed to germs and get sick is a hospital. It is a little different on the BMT unit. Everything is very sterile here–everything is wiped down, cleaned thoroughly; everyone washes their hands constantly and there is no one up here that is sick–other than the kids themselves. However, the one thing that can not be sanitized and is left vulnerable is your mind. No amount of soap and water can protect your brain from exposures to what you experience here. Which brings me to a topic that is near and dear to my heart…and I guess my mind. A very real side effect of being in a hospital for a prolonged period–probably mostly for family members who aren’t fighting off an illness and therefore are more cognizant of the day-to-day happenings–is what I have affectionately termed “Hospitalitis”. I have a bad case of it.
I think it starts when you forget that the hospital routine is not a permanent routine and you feel like it will always be the way you operate; it becomes normal. And it isn’t all that bad. In fact, I think you can only get a full-blown case of it after you have succumbed to the reality that you are here and have eliminated most expectations of ever leaving. You face your worst fears about what you (or in this case, your child) has experienced, is experiencing, or may experience in the future. You let go of the word “discharge”. Your mind relaxes and you just “go with it”. It’s best described in the song “Hotel California”…”You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” It starts with you accepting the hospital and leads to some very bizarre side effects. Here are the symptoms:
1.) A New Language
Words that seemed incredibly foreign when you first arrived are now part of your vernacular. You begin to know what all the drug names are (both brand and generic if you are really paying attention). You use the words frequently and without hesitation. During doctors rounds, you begin asking probing questions that actually make sense. The doctor nods at you in appreciation. You can easily follow the entire conversation and actually correct information, if needed. You begin to feel as though you have taken nursing classes or med school classes. The hospital codes that are announced over the PA actually make sense–you know what type of emergency it is and where it is located. You are nearly fluent in the hospital lingo.
2.) A New “Family”
The doctors, fellows, residents, nurses, and nursing assistants know you by name and you know their names. They mention people during conversations that you would have never known at first and now you can piece all of the players together. You have met, talked with, and gotten to know so many doctors you actually know their first names instead of the nicknames you originally came up with like, “Dr. Five-o-Clock Shadow” or “That-One-Guy-Who-Always-Sits-On-The-Desks”. In fact, you are so used to seeing these people, you could actually envision going out for happy hour with them or having them over for Thanksgiving dinner and not thinking twice about it. You are confident enough to know who to completely trust and who to question. You learn that while the doctors have the highest level of education, the nurses have the most practical advice.
3.) No Fear of Bodily Fluids
If you felt a bit squeamish seeing bodily fluids upon being admitted to the hospital, it has become a thing of the past. If you have ever had a newborn child, you thought you would never talk more about your child’s poop than during that time. Now, you regularly talk about several types of bodily solids and fluids to large groups of people and in fine granularity. It phases no one, including yourself.
4.) A New Level of Assertiveness
Upon arrival, things are so foreign you don’t even know where to begin. You assume everything everyone is telling you is accurate because they say so. Little by little you begin to get familiarized with things. You start by silencing the beeps on the machines. Then you start to know what numbers to look for in the print-outs. Finally, you come to the realization that you, as a parent, are more constant in the room than any other person, even doctors or nurses. So while you aren’t as educated in the field as they are, you are well aware of what is considered “progress” and what is going on. You begin to feel empowered to weigh in on what you feel is in your child’s best interest. You no longer feel helpless to make decisions. You might actually find yourself saying things like, “That’s not happening unless…,” or, “Until this happens we’re not doing that,” or my personal favorite, “You need to leave the room.” That last one is a real indicator that Hospitalitis is in full force.
5.) Sense of Humor on Seemingly Not-So-Funny Things
Suddenly, things that were not so humorous or only mildly funny are a complete hoot. For example, I thought it was so funny this morning when I brought in a bottle of Lime Izze into Reece’s room. Izze is a natural soda made with juice and carbonated water. The lime version of the drink looks like a bottle of beer. For some reason, I thought it was so funny to be drinking it at the hospital, especially while pregnant. Normally that would be smirkable best, but at the time I thought it was pretty creative. Nurse walks in, pregnant lady in a hospital is drinking what looks like a bottle of beer, nice. Another example is the video I posted last week that was about all of the things cancer patients say. If you missed it, you can check it out here. If you can’t laugh about some of this stuff, it will make you that much more bitter. However, in my experience, laughter and humor are some of the final symptoms of Hospitalitis. You have to be in a hospital for quite a while to see beyond the immediate seriousness. You have to come to terms with the reality of the situation before you can see or accept any irony or satire. You have to completely accept what is happening and be done with the I’m-fooling-myself-and-nobody-else stage.
6.) The View is Different
This is actually one of the best side effects from being here. All those little rules you used to live by seem to not matter so much. I no longer worry that my kid will be inactive because he watches t.v. The t.v. is actually an activity at this point. My “No Guns” rule is completely gone as a Nerf gun is a source of entertainment. The kicker is the whole organic/chemical-free craze that is going on and that I have to some extent bought into. I am not saying I don’t want to eat organic foods–I do still buy them and I think they taste better. However, once you have allowed toxic chemicals to be dumped into your child’s veins, you begin to take a different view on this whole organic phenomenon. It WILL be okay to eat the non-organic produce if that is what we do. My child won’t get cancer because I bought a gallon of regular milk. I know this is a hot topic in many circles of people. I’m just saying on this end, the view is different.
There may be more symptoms, but these are the obvious ones. It’s probably enough to paint an accurate picture.