Lessons from a Cardiac Unit: A Patient’s Perspective

A girl with an improved and slightly new mitral valve sits here today typing. Surgery was inevitable so instead of being afraid, I scheduled it as soon as I possibly could. I figured it was better to get to the healing sooner rather than later.

That week in the hospital was difficult  because the recovery effort is. This was no holiday. The day after heart surgery I was expected to sit up in a high back chair and three days after that the expectation was to walk. And these were things that I expected from my stay. I’m familiar with the cardiac unit: I had watched my stepfather recover during his month in the cardiac unit. What I wasn’t expecting was the education about being a patient that I would get. Here is what I learned in during my week in the cardiac unit.

There should be a Patient Code of Conduct.

In the myriad of papers that are part of the hospital admitting process, there should be a Patient Code of Conduct that each patient must sign. I cannot begin to list the rude behavior that I witnessed as a patient, but the incident that give me this idea was this: I was in the step-down unit and there was this older gentlemen who decided to yell obscenities  into his cell phone as he walked up and down the ward (something you are expected to do often). It was vial and didn’t help promote an environment for healing—one that is positive and peaceful. As I listened to him ( there was no way not to) I came up with the Patient Code of Conduct.

Until hospitals take that idea and run with it, be aware of your actions and how they may affect the other patients around you. This is true whether you are a patient or a visitor.

Your nurse and aide are your partners.

One of the most difficult things about being in the hospital, especially ICU, is that you feel powerless. There is not a lot of things that you can do for yourself and nearly everything is dictated to you. However, if you talk to your nurse about everything that is happening—from medication to tests to physical therapy—those activities can happen more on your terms. (Sorry, the 4 a.m. blood draws and vital readings are not one of them. I’m still waking up at that hour unprompted.)

For instance, during my first night, one of the meds I was given was for anti-nausea. I threw up nearly all night until I asked not to take it. After a few hours of dry-heaving, I noticed it was worse after taking the med. Sure enough, once I stopped taking it, I stop throwing up. From that moment, the nurse and I talked about my treatment more. Now, I am not suggesting you go against your doctors orders. Be aware, ask questions, and play an active role. Only you know how you feel.

Treat everyone you encounter with respect.

Yes, you feel like hell. Yes, you’re in a bad mood. Yes, you feel helpless. All of these things does not give you the permission to treat anyone—whether it is the porter to the doctor—like shit. When my stepfather was in the hospital, he was so mean to everyone that the nurses were concerned he abused my mother. It was bad. Also, his chart said “MEAN” in red caps: Nothing like being labeled a son of a bitch to make people approach you with their guard up. Kindness and respect will get you farther in this world and studies have shown that these things can even help your health.

Leave the smartphone at home.

The moment my cell phone came into my room, the restfulness dissipated. Sure it was helpful to text wants and needs to my mom and M. but the draw to check email and social media were strong. (Granted, this may say more about me than anything else.) Luckily, I had brought enough reading material to keep me busy but Bejeweled Blitz called out once or twice.

And one final thought: Re-admittance is common. 

One night when I was talking with my night nurse, she told me that she saw a lot of people return to the unit—more than half of the patients! I can’t even imagine going through recovery and then have to go through it again. Healing is difficult. Eating right and exercising is a whole lot easier, and less painful.

Time for me to take a walk; I’ve got healing to do.

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