Post Hospital Syndrome

NB: This post is supposed to be an overview of what it feels like post admission, and not a description of any specific condition which may or may not be known by this name.

As those who follow my Facebook feed might know, I spent the last few days admitted to the hospital. The persistent Crohn’s flare which has been plaguing me for the last few months finally wore me down to the point that I went to seek help. I wasn’t expecting to get admitted. The medical marijuana I have been smoking has been keeping me from getting as bad as I have in the past. Mostly I was hoping to get some prednisone, go home, and hope things improve.

Then, something unexpected happened, they actually took me seriously. The ER doc called for a GI consult and the moment she saw me throwing up bile into the garbage she told the nurse to give me some gravol and admit me. They would put me on IV steroids until I was stable enough to take it orally.

I was in the hospital for five days and now I’m back home.

Coming home from the hospital is always an experience. After days of being locked up in a little room with no privacy and yet insufficient human contact, it feels like you are somehow outside the flow of things. Like you exist in a space outside of the rest of the world, and your day is spent trying to figure out how to rejoin the flow. It always such a surprise at how exhausted I am post admission.

I laugh that I feel like a day old kitten, but the truth is that it’s not a joke. My hands shake, and I can barely carry my own bag. The doctor once told me that it takes about one week to recover for each day you spend in the hospital. It seems like a lot. After all, didn’t I just spend the last five days sleeping most of the day?

Admission to the hospital is traumatic to the body. The lack of movement starts to atrophy your muscles almost immediately. The longer you stay, the more of your body turns to jelly. Getting out of the hospital doesn’t magically make that muscle come back. It takes time to regain that strength.

In addition to losing muscle, you are constantly being pricked with needles. The Crohn’s has destroyed my veins which means that drawing blood or putting in an IV is always a chore. It takes several needle sticks, and sometimes the veins run out of blood before they got enough. Just yesterday, a nurse spent a significant amount of time, digging around in my arm just trying to find something. Not only didn’t he succeed, but I didn’t even bleed once he did pull out the needle. All that digging and he hadn’t even hit anything.

Mr. Burns with a needle going straight through his arm

When they got one of the senior nurses to give it a try, she shocked all of them by telling my veins to “fuck off” when the vein looked like it was about to run out of blood… again. It turned out it was a faulty tube.

I saw tears in my nurse’s eyes when my IV fell out before my Remicade arrived, and they realized they would have to try and stick me again. They couldn’t understand why I was laughing, but their consternation was just so darn sweet, and sometimes laughter is just better than tears. Also, everyone managed to miss my Simpsons quote when I told them to “try this arm, I saw some blood in there the other day.”

Laugh though I might, every one of those sticks leaves me covered in bruises. Every bruise is another injury that my already exhausted body has to use energy to heal. That’s not even thinking about the skin irritations caused by the tape holding all those needles and tubes in place.

The sleep I got at the hospital wasn’t so much rest, so much as it was a drug induced haze. I slept because I was too drowsy and bored to stay awake, rather than because I was actually getting any actual rest. People wander in and out of your room all the time. There’s the people bringing you “food” regardless of whether you will actually be able to eat it or not. There are the cleaners who come by to make sure contagion is kept at a minimum, nurses, doctors, and hospital administrators. You are startled awake constantly.

Getting home, you are in your own bed, and in your own house. There is a comfort that is missing at the hospital. Perversely however, that’s when you realize just how much the drugs they were giving you were affecting you.

I spent 5 days getting dilaudid and gravol every 4 hours. Then suddenly, nothing. There is a period of withdrawal while your body chemistry tries to reset suddenly and get back to normal rhythms. It also takes time to relearn what normal means for me, since for the last few days I’ve been kept as a certain chemical standard. I’m also not in the same state I was before I went in to the hospital, and that takes adjusting as well.

The next few days are going to be strange. I will feel energetic but exhausted all at once. I will want to get out and do things, be active, experience things, but the thought of getting up from my chair will seem overwhelming. I have to take it slow, but I also have to work at getting back into the swing of things. It is a delicate balance, and the punishment for getting it wrong could mean me having to go back to the hospital.

I need to remind myself that it is ok to take it easy. That there is nothing so important that it cannot wait for me to get my strength back. And it is good to remind myself that there is a good reason why I feel this way, and that it doesn’t mean that I’m a failure. I live on to fight another day.

Bonus:
While alternating between napping and writing today, a poem popped into my head. I don’t write as much poetry as I used to, and I’m convinced I am not very good at it, but I thought I would share it nonetheless.

My body is a battlefield

Its tender landscape pitted

Scarred with the craters of outrageous fortune.

Here the blood red rivers flow with poison

Feel how the earth quakes and shivers

My hands, once so steady

Shaking like the ground

As bombs fly

See these craters here

Permanent reminders of the endless

Penetrations of cold metal

For my own good, for freedom

But still forever marred

Forever marked

Exhaustion, so profound my very soul cries out for rest

Tired, so tired.

A battlefield

But I live

To fight on

Another day

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