The Pain Hotel
On October 11th, 2023, I had shoulder replacement surgery, the reason I took a writing hiatus from my classes and my Substack and Facebook postings. It’s three and a half weeks later, the surgery went really well and I’m healing. Our bodies were designed to do that. That’s the good news. But my overnight stay at the hospital was far from good news. It was shockingly bad.
I’m in the habit of keeping the details of my private life, private. When I write a blog, I sometimes use events from my life story to make my point in a spiritual or general sense, that’s usually as far as I go, but something very disturbing occurred during my hospital stay that I feel moved to write about. I don’t really want to. As I sit here this morning, I’m trying to avoid it, to put the pain in the back of my mind and wait for something else to surface that will be more palatable, but that isn’t happening. In fact, the longer I sit, the more clear it becomes that I have to excavate this personal story to get to the larger story and find some healing, and writing is my way of doing that. So here I go.
I didn’t expect to sleep well that night after surgery in the Pain Hotel. Everyone knows that no one sleeps in the hospital and if the exhaustion doesn’t get you, the terrible food will. But nothing could have prepared me for what actually happened. The oxygen machine in my room was beeping constantly because it was defective (something I had to point out to them repeatedly before they believed me and changed it out), the window shade was broken and apparently unfixable as the bright night lights streamed in on my face, a doctor I had never seen tried to talk me into taking IV narcotics which I didn’t need or ask for, the kitchen delivered me a slab of rubber chicken which I couldn’t cut because I didn’t have the use of my right arm and I had to wait until 11 PM for them to bring me my meds. As for the rest of the nightmare, it’s TMI, too personal to talk about. Just trust me that you wouldn’t want any of it happening to you.
In the morning, when the same mystery doctor came into my room and told me he thought I should stay there another night for absolutely no reason, I stared him straight in the eyes and told
him, “That isn’t going to happen.” And then I had a strange and somewhat disturbing reaction. Or maybe it was a welcome one. I felt a stirring in my solar plexus as if something was trying to burst out of my body. It was like the invisible version of the angry creature in the movie, “The Alien,” that broke through a man’s rib cage and exploded in an aggressive rage. I seemed to be watching from the background as I heard myself yelling and swearing at the nurses and the attending doctor. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t yell or swear at anyone, (at least not out loud). I respect the nurses and while it was a shock to be yelling, it oddly felt like the right thing to do because no one was listening to me. Someone had to stand up for me and I was the only one there.
Back in the eighties and nineties, when I spent time in hospitals, caring for AIDS patients, I advocated for them. If there was something they needed, I went to the nurse’s station and made sure
they got it. If they were being treated less than compassionately, I took the offending party to task. If they were uncomfortable and the food was terrible which it usually was, I went to a nearby deli and brought them something to eat that appealed to them.
That was AIDS, at the time a devastating and incurable disease, so when I was undergoing shoulder surgery three weeks ago, something they called “a routine procedure” with a one night hospital
stay, I figured there wasn’t enough time for something to go so amiss. I figured wrongly, it turned out. And since I was alone and completely out of control, I guess the raging creature in my body had to step up and become my advocate if I didn’t want to drown. It proved effective as the recipients of my anger backed off and started listening to me. All the while, I couldn’t help but think about anyone else who might be more shy and timid than I was. What did he or she do to take care of themselves? It was a sobering thought.
In an effort to get discharged legally, (I would have gone AMA, against medical advice, if it was necessary), I lied about my bodily functions, I demanded different nurses and I threatened to file a report if they didn’t clear me to leave. I remained on the edge of anger until the powers that be finally called in the physical therapist to make sure I could walk up and down the stairs so they could discharge me. When a friend and a nurse wheeled me into the elevator and outside to the parking area, it felt like I was getting out of jail. It shouldn’t have been like that, but from what other people have told me, it’s unfortunate that my experience was not a “one-off.”
As I continue to review what happened, I can keep on complaining and endlessly retelling my story about the Pain Hotel. I wouldn’t blame myself if I did, because there was a lot to complain about, but I’m noticing that the more I retell the same story from the same point of view, the worse I feel. I’m not suggesting that I should shove my
feelings into the background and expect them to go away. I don’t believe in doing that. But I do believe in finding a balance between feeling my feelings and doing what I can to stop the negative brain loop, the experience of repeating the event in my brain over and over until I get lost in the darkness.
My healing continues to be an emotional rocky road. I wish I meant the ice cream, but I don’t. I imagined that I’d be bouncing around by now, driving and taking long walks. Once again, I was wrong. I have to remind myself that I’ve been through something difficult and it will take as long as it takes to heal. One of the good doctors said to me, “Healing takes time. Your body has undergone a great insult.” I can relate to that. The important part is that the surgery was successful and I’m getting the range of motion back in my shoulder. I’m healing physically and now I have to heal emotionally. After all, we were born that way.
By the way, when a friend comes by with lollipops and ice
cream bars, it works wonders!