1. You’re forced to walk—even if you’re RAW from surgery. Just had your skull drilled open last night? Have a human pulled out of your abdomen? Have your appendix removed? Doesn’t matter what you’re recovering from, you’re forced to walk almost immediately. It seems like the most cruel and unusual punishment, but they do this to stop your body from atrophying, which it does shockingly fast when you don’t move. When I’d just had brain surgery and my nurse was my escort and cheerleader as I did laps around the neurosurgery floor—she faced me and dragged me forward with every step. It was almost worse than the surgery itself—all I wanted to do was lie lifeless in my bed—but moving was for my own benefit.
2. Everything beeps incessantly—and no one seems to care. The IV monitor is going off again! It’s happening again! Don’t you hear it? WHY DOESN’T ANYONE ELSE HEAR IT?!? Fuck. Forget sleeping, I guess. I’ll just lie here.
3. Medical professionals don’t bat an eye at anything—stab wounds, car wrecks, brain injuries. They proceed calmly in the face of unimaginable horror on a daily basis. They banter with one another in the ER to keep the mood light, and make patients crack smiles as they are suturing up their wounds. They are truly the heroes of the human race. (But doc, give it a rest with the jokes when the knife’s in your hand, ‘kay?)
4. Many interventions are performed at the bedside. From spinal taps to breast biopsies to intubation, many procedures are done at your hospital bed with the door open and another patient a couple feet away. Shouldn’t I be in a sterile OR for this shit? Are your hands even clean?
5. They pass out drugs like Skittles. Nurses would come to my room several times a day to assess my pain level on a 1-10 scale. Anything above 4 meant I’d get any meds I wanted. Ultimately, their job is to keep your pain as under control as possible, and they get an A+ for effort. “Can I offer you a percocet? A codeine? A tramadol?” Yes, all of it. But first please tell me how it is possible that I won’t die if I take all that.
6. You pick up infections faster than you can say “pass me the barf bucket.” I contracted a nasty intestinal bug about a week into my hospital stay, and let’s just say I didn’t leave the bathroom for about three days. For god’s sakes, keep your hands to yourself in the hospital and try not to touch your face.
7. Doctors make rounds insanely early, meaning you’re half unconscious when they tell you your treatment plan. 7AM: Okay, doc, you can stick a needle in my spine. 930AM: Wait, what?
8. Bodily functions are celebrated. If you’ve been constipated for days and get the urge to go, your nurse will cheer you on and shout with glee. If you’re catheterized because you can’t pee in the bedpan, she will be thrilled for you when you get it all out. If you’re vomiting, she will rub your back and tell you to get it all up. Can I get a congrats in real life for a good poop, please? A party, perhaps?
9. When you finally get to eat those crap-tasting graham crackers and flat ginger ale, all you taste is victory. “NPO” means nothing by mouth in hospital-speak, and when you’re nauseated, pre or post-op, and for a ton of other reasons, you’re forced to abstain from food. So when you see the nurse finally walking your way with those little plastic packages and a soda can, you know you made it through. I’ve never been more excited to eat cheap refined junk in my life. Even if I threw it up 5 minutes later anyway.
10. About that. The food. Sweet Jesus, is that food? It’s no secret that hospital food is gross. And while the U.S. is making strides to bring healthier food into hospitals, much of it is still stunningly unhealthy from a nutrient perspective, which is mind-boggling given the fact that sick people are the most in need of good nutrition. What I saw all around me defied logic and sense: Chocolate pudding was served to diabetics (maybe it was sugar-free, I’m not sure—but are artificial sweeteners really any better than sugar?). The only fruit I could get was in a can drenched in sweet syrup, and maybe a lone apple or orange that had seen better days. The deli meats looked, and tasted, like they were made in a lab. We can do better than this, can’t we? FLOTUS, can you hear me wherever you are?
In short, try not to get sick. But if you do, hang in there. Enjoy the little things. Steal an extra pair of hospital socks and watch a lot of cable. Make friends with the nurses and technicians and let them be your cheerleaders. Above all, have hope and hold on. Oh, and see if you can get your friends and family to bring you in takeout!