A Month in the Hospital and Why I Feel Lucky

I have ignored this blog for nearly 12 weeks. Not because of apathy, as is often the case; no this time I actually had a good reason. On January 17, 2014 I collapsed at my home, completely unable to pick myself up or even walk. After being taken to a local hospital, doctors told me I was functioning at less than 10% lung capacity. One of the specialists later said that my inability to take in oxygen was so bad that another couple of days and I might have actually died. So collapsing turned out to be a life saver.

Unfortunately it also meant a long hospital stay. That same night, after arriving at the emergency room a very nice internist came in and asked if I’d ever been intubated. After that, I vaguely remember a needle that was meant to sedate me, and then…nothing. I spent the next three weeks in a living hell. Because I was knocked out, I was deep in R.E.M. sleep, and had horrific dreams – dreams of which I was keenly aware, and even prayed (to the extent that I could) that if these are dreams, please let me wake up. When I became convinced that they were not dreams, I prayed for death – perhaps some time I will write about the dreams, but not now. Suffice to say, an affirmation of how real these dreams seemed can be seen in my awakening. Part of the dreams took place in California, and when I awoke, I was convinced I was at a hospital in Los Angeles. When the ICU nurse told me that my ex-wife had called to check on me, I broke down, wondering a) how she had found me and b) amazed that she cared enough to track me down. Of course I then felt like a complete doofus when I found out no, I was still in Houston, maybe ten minutes from home.

The time in the hospital was no joke. While sedated and intubated, I was hooked to a ventilator, which did almost all of the work for my lungs at the beginning (the numbers were 10% me, 90% ventilator to begin). As the numbers began to increase in my favor, the doctors began to discuss the idea of weaning me off of sedation and seeing how I might do without the ventilator. I guess I made that a moot point by at some point waking up enough (and long enough) to pull my tubes out. That was a fun decision since I really irritated my throat, something that me still makes me speak with somewhat of a scratchy voice, even several weeks since being released. But make no mistake. As hellish as the dreams were, as much as I did not want to be intubated, and as much as I disliked the notion of being sedated for three weeks and a grand total of a month in the hospital, it saved my life.

In the end, the doctors diagnosed me with pneumonia and H1/N1 – I was pretty sure I had the flu beforehand, and had been living on a daily regimen of Dayquil at wake up, and Nyquil at bedtime. H1/N1 is no joke – a friend of mine had a family member die from that while I was in the hospital sedated, and doctors spoke of “if” I woke up rather than “when.” So I know, I am a lucky man.

Given that I feel lucky in that regard, I need to get to the task of rebuilding my life. It will not be easy. It hasn’t been easy. But I’m taking in solace in what one friend told me while I was actually in the hospital. Life is not limited to one act. There are second and third and fourth acts. And I’m slowly realizing that those acts are up to me to make.

13 Things I Learned While Stuck in the Hospital

  1. Nurses have seen everything. There is nothing you have, and nothing you can do that they haven’t seen.
  2. With number one in mind – get over your modesty. People in the hospital are going to see you at your worst, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
  3. A hospital is a bureaucracy. You may think you’re special – you’re not.
  4. Do what your doctors tell you to do – you may think you know better. You don’t. Case in point – mine said “you’ve been in bed for three weeks, and sedated at that. If you try to stand up on your own, no help, no support, you will fall.” Those words came to mind when I was crashing to the floor because I thought “screw it, I’m getting out of this bed and…”
  5. The television is on ALL THE TIME. And here’s what I realized – most TV fare is worse than I realized, and even out of the hospital I watch too damned much of it. I realized this of course, while watching tv. But it was PBS, so that’s okay (ha).
  6. We all need to go outside, every day. You cannot simply be inside, and close yourself off.
  7. We should all write down our thoughts, every day.  Especially while I was in the hospital I was thinking, all the time. I realized when I came home I forgot much of it, and wished that I had written it down.
  8. Read something, every day. Doesn’t matter what. My brain felt like mush while I was there, and there was NOTHING to read, and I felt trapped. So just read – turn that TV off and read something.
  9. All illnesses mess with you in some unanticipated way. Mine turned me into an emotional basket case. I was watching Michael Sam (the defensive lineman from University of Missouri) speak to ESPN about coming out as gay, and his teammates talking about what it meant. One teammate spoke at length about the kids who will see it as an inspiration, not just to have the strength to come out, but to not kill themselves, and I started crying like it was the end of Old Yeller. But hey, it happens. Embrace your emotions.
  10. There are second chances and second acts. Even when others won’t give them to you, give yourself a break – don’t give up on yourself, because then it IS over.
  11. When you lie about something, you’re screwed. It’s going to come out eventually, and you won’t be able to control it. Even if you think it was the right thing, even if it was lying by omission, you’re screwed. And there isn’t a damned thing you can do. Except not lie the next time around.
  12. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – at the end of the hospitalization I couldn’t even stand up by myself. It sucks to admit you need the help. But those who love you will actually help you.
  13. Those people who love you? There’s no way around it – tell them every day that you love them.
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