Humor Helps the Medicine Go Down: On My Recent Short Stay in the Hospital

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

What I observed during a recent short stay at a local hospital was that certain things are quite different from when I was there for a short stay twenty years ago. Enhanced technology has caused some of this change, of course.

Also, in a growing economy and population, the inevitability of construction noises for hospital add-ons might play an occasional, new role in a hospital experience, as it did mine.

Other things, however, remain much the same, such as medical acronyms (MAs) and abbreviations which can inspire one to also make up one’s own personally helpful acronyms and abbreviations, and the food.

To start with, on the technology side, upgraded machines and diagnostic programs help us get faster treatments and live longer, of course. However, this next modern innovation has got me the most excited the past few years. There are now computer platforms called “patient portals” that allow 24/7 access to one’s lab reports so that at any time day or night even non-medically-trained people like myself can have more—and fast–access to those MAs and abbreviations.

This makes it easier to comprehend what’s going on and/or to obsess over the report and proceed immediately to OMSs (Online Medical Sites) for more “information”.

WARNING: as a rule, health professionals are not fond of OMSs.

Doctors and other medical professionals tend to give you a “frowny face” when you admit you access such sites, similar to the “level 3 face” on a chart depicting ten degrees of pain by increasingly stressed-out-looking emojis that are portrayed on the white board near your bed, the same white board that includes other information such as blood pressure and pulse rate numbers so that you can also obsess about them.

That is, of course, if you are that kind of person.

But back to MAs and abbreviations. There are many, such as the following (useful in my particular case):

NPO: Nothing By Mouth, as in food or drink–which spanned days one and most of two, for me.

IV: Intravenous–for fluids and meds on those medical occasions the doctor deems you NPO, and for several other purposes, which spanned all four days for me, although it seemed a lot, lot longer.

LD: Liquid Diet, the next food phase, which I would abbreviate as WCLBIVA (Woman Cannot Live By IV Alone).

For the unaware (and be thankful), these are foods that do not make your GI (Gastrointestinal) system frowny, as it were. So it’s a good thing, just not a good enjoyable-meal thing.

While at first, you are excited that such LD “foods” include chocolate pudding (I mean something chocolate can redeem any “meal,” right?), ice cream, and soups you favor, after about two days, the excitement fades.

Seriously fades.

Your taste buds rebel, as well as whatever the digestive mechanism is that craves CRUNCH, and when those food commercials come on the cable channels accessible in every room (thanks, again, to technology), it seems there is a lot of crunch out there.

It doesn’t matter which channel, either.

Even OPB has those cooking shows, and nature channels have those wilderness survival recipe shows (if you enjoy activities such as grinding any available nuts with a hefty nearby rock on a flat chunk of wood to make some “Random-Berry Pie Crust” in the wild).

Even news and specialty programs insert commercials for food.

Did you know, for example, that just now, as advertised about every fifteen minutes on CNN, ABC, CBS, MSNBC and FOX, and even the sports and home improvement channels, you can zip down to some local taco place, I forget which, and purchase this great big, double-hard-shell meal with lots of oozy, drippy cheese, many colorful chopped raw veggies and, what looks to be 40% fat, fried ground beef, which is all being marketed using powerful zoom-in lenses, bright lights, and Music for Exciting the Salivary Glands, or whatever the music genre is called.

The stuff of either food-porn dreams or nightmares.

Not to mention home shopping shows that sell gadgets like “The Amazing Zippo Air Cooker,” or something like that, and “Fry Baby, Fry!” or something like that.

Of course, it’s not just about the cooking gadgetry.

When you’ve been in the hospital for two days recovering from a GI thing on an NPO or a LD or even the food stage next up (see below), it’s NOT the gadgets you go for.

It’s all those meals you can make or prepare with them.

Meals like the double-hard-shell taco, others involving tabletops full of every kind of colorful raw and cooked produce, sizzling slabs of meat charring on grills, and of course all things that snap, crackle and crunch. Especially the crunch foods that, when you are now desperate to transition “up,” please God, to the LRD (Low Residue Diet) due to good GI behavior, maybe, just maybe, you will get to eat some of that jaw-working crunch you have been craving.

And by “you” I mean you who, like me, may have been, by day four, reduced to scribbling copious grocery lists to employ ASAP (the usual meaning) after you have been sprung from the medical facility detainment center (MFDC) and have healed enough to be able to eat real stuff—even stuff you don’t need gadgets for but that you can just shovel into your mouth with both hands, at will.

Food of the kind of substance and density around and among which you can actually use those sharp incisors and sturdy molars God intended them for.

That is, if you are that kind of eater.

But you will never write these kinds of things down for your doctor–not even on the little writing pad helpfully left for you on your bedside table on which you are encouraged to list anything you might wish to ask or tell your doctor–lest he or she call, STAT (right away), for the on-call psychologist who might put you on some kind of emergency, food-craving-intervention (FCI–just another little abbreviation I made up to help distract myself from the commercials).

HEADS-UP: on the LRD, however, although the taste palette is expanded on this food list, there is still little crunch involved, unless one considers toasted white bread or those little curd chunks in cottage cheese akin to anything that might satisfy the need to feel and hear some hardy grinds, snaps, and crackles.

So on to my final observations regarding my recent, short hospital stay experience: the new-construction noises added to, of course, the usual sounds of bells, whistles, beeps, buzzes, various thumps and bumps, and in my case, the occasional emergency alarm system shriek being, coincidentally, tested on my exact floor. For a goodly while, too, to make sure it really works:

  • The construction sounds seemed, remarkably, to have emanated from some activity just on the other side of the thin, plate-glass of the windows in my room (and even on the other side of a fully enclosed ER station, my first location);
  • and—also remarkable–it seemed like it was the very same workers, doing the very same job outside my regular room on the third floor!;
  • the noises brought to mind several big, muscled, construction workers enthusiastically hurtling a number of humongous metal pipes from the top of a directly adjacent rooftop onto the pavement below. At random intervals. Necessitating yet another attempt to adjust to a more comfortable sleeping position on an ER “bed,” while also tethered to various tubes and IVs. By the way, I suspect these would be beds that are not made for sleeping anyway, if not somehow extended, tending to be too short and narrow even for average human sizes from the 17th century (the reader will forgive a bit of exaggeration, here, I am sure), as useful as they are for staff;
  • but for noise variety, their colleagues were also doing things that created the loud screeches and clanks of yet other kinds of large, raw, metal materials scraping against each other at random intervals as well, accompanied by the sounds of gonzo construction equipment emitting  deep “machine growls” and sonic boom-like sounds doing whatever they were doing to the brick and steel outside my windows and perhaps even to the subterranean rock beneath the earth’s crust, there, activities necessary to complete the project AND perhaps to, I don’t know, win this year’s “Construction Noise Grammy” (look up gonzo machine noises on the Internet and you’ll see what I mean); and for a GOOD sound, last but not least;
  • when I did finally achieved a normal state of tangle-free repose relatively free of machine prompts alerting anyone who might, say, then appear to draw four vials of blood, or insert an IVPB (intravenous piggyback device that allows the nursing staff to hook the patient up to more than one IV at a time, in my medical lexicon also known as SPEs  [Sharp Poky Events–everything nowadays is a medical “event”]), I recall the much-anticipated sound of the doctor saying, “Well, the labs look good and you can go home now. You just have to wait for the staff to take out the IV, go over your home instructions (especially the list of foods on the LRD), and be sure to call your own doctor for a follow-up in ten days.” With this pronouncement I am pretty sure I also heard, if memory serves, the Hallelujah Chorus playing in the background…

I asked a nurse, while she was performing another SPE thing, if getting used to the construction noise is kind of like becoming “nose blind,” or so used to certain smells they are no longer discernible; I asked her if the staff was just becoming “sound blind” to the construction that, I heard, had been going on for many months.

She scrunched up her face a little (which resembled something like the fifth pain emoji on the white board) and replied, in the kind of professional, “let’s just get ‘er done” attitude, with a determined smile—the same look and attitude I had encountered with most of the staff who cared for me very well so that I could get home fast and resume looking up the acronyms on my exit lab reports and go grocery shopping–”No, not really. But you put up with it.”

Just kidding about the Online medical sites, if my doctor is reading this.

And thus my observations on my recent, successful, short hospital stay conclude. Except for one.

The coffee did resemble warm dishwater, as I remembered from my previous stay, but I AM NOT COMPLAINING.

At the point I went off of NPO, the coffee could have come out of a CLSC (Certain Liquid Specimen Container), no questions asked, and I would have been just as happy.

And thanks, everybody at the hospital, for understanding my need for a lot of humor to aid the healing process that made me frequently talk so much while you were maintaining that determined smile so that I could now be home after just four days, healing, sipping real coffee, sleeping well, and feeling very grateful, generally speaking, for modern medical care.


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2 Responses to Humor Helps the Medicine Go Down: On My Recent Short Stay in the Hospital

  1. pmb says:

    Hey, yeah, come to think of it, sis! Didn’t think of that.


  2. Carl Gordon says:

    “Grin and bear it” at a whole new level. Enjoyable read. So glad you’re better 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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