Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 31, 2006

ICU - or do I?

At times, I was suspended 20 feet above the nurses' station, watching and listening as the nurses did their paperwork and talked among themselves.

At other times, I was strapped to the mattress, hanging upside down. Doctors would come and go, leaning underneath the bed to check me over and make their pronouncements on my condition. I saw their lips moving, but struggled to hear what they were saying. My ringing ears and throbbing head kept me from understanding their words.

I was irritated by the rocking bed I was on. Its purpose was to keep me from getting bed sores, to keep my blood from pooling and to help keep my lungs clear. All I knew was it felt like my face was squished against one side or the other. I wanted to punch it, but I was helpless to change positions on my own and unable to communicate my discomfort.

The feeding tube in my nose and breathing tube in my throat were also sources of irritation, making my nose and throat scratchy and dry.

Added to all that discomfort was the fact that I was seeing double. I couldn't discern if there were four people at the nurses' station or eight. My left eyelid wouldn't close so part of the time that eye was covered with a patch to prevent it from drying out. That ended the double vision, but since I am nearly blind without my glasses and even blinder with only one eye, it was just one more irritation to deal with.

I became determined to remember as many details as possible. I was going to do an investigative piece on the hospital and the inhumane treatment it was meting out - as soon as I could figure out how to get out of the darned hospital bed. But how was I going to keep track of all of it if I couldn't see straight or couldn't write anything down? There I was - an investigative reporter about to uncover a great example of malpractice and no way to do it!

I was in an intensive care unit, unable to walk, talk, write, eat or breathe on my own. I was at the mercy of these doctors and nurses who kept poking and prodding me and talking about me in hushed voices.

Then the tide turned. The last night in ICU, I was particularly alert. A young man was brought into the stall next to mine. I couldn't see much since it was fairly dark. But I could make out from what the staff was saying that the man had overdosed on some drugs. The treatment involved pumping him full of a charcoal slurry to absorb as much of the drug as possible. A nurse stayed at his bedside, monitoring his condition all night.

It wasn't until later, when I was in a regular hospital room and starting to improve, that I realized that much of what I experienced in the ICU were hallucinations induced by the medications I was receiving for my strange auto-immune disease.

When I was finally able to communicate with husband Art, I told him I hadn't liked the ICU nurses much and told him how badly I had been treated. He laughed. He said the people in the ICU were among the kindest he'd ever met. He also told me that the incident with the boy and the charcoal was not a hallucination and the young man had been luckier than the patient who had occupied the bed before him. That middle-aged man had an uncontrollable infection and was rolled out in a body bag the day before.

My hospital experience was nine years ago and now it is time for my investigative report. And the result is . . . I feel pretty darned lucky I had medical people who really knew what they were doing even if it didn't seem that way at the time.

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