Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Lesson in How Bedpans and Humiliation Go Hand in Hand

Pithy wisdom doesn't come easily for me.  It's probably because I learn my life lessons through long, meandering experiences that are usually fit for a comedy routine.  The life lesson in this particular ditty is to stay away from hospitals if they can possibly be avoided at all, and certainly to stay away from bedpans!

After my surgery this month, I was catheter-bound for the better part of a month.  This was actually a rather enlightening and wonderful experience for me given that I have a tiny bladder and generally restrict myself to tiny sips of liquid throughout the day so I can avoid constant bathroom usage and the interruption of my important little life with such trivial matters as evacuating my pea-sized bladder.  As a result, I have gone through most of the 47 years of my life severely dehydrated.

During the catheter salad days, I drank to my heart's content.  (Regrettably alcohol wasn't on the hospital menu, but the medication sort of made up for that.)  Every drink that was offered, I availed myself of.  Water, apple juice, tea, coffee, Coke.  It was like a whole new world of hydration.  My headaches went away, my face plumped up (there may have been other reasons for that!), and I just happily let the "Gucci" (as my physio called it) do all the catching, feeling sorry for my roommates who had to trouble themselves to leave their beds.

The day before departure, however, the nurses told me I would have to give up my Gucci.  I would no longer have my trusty companion hooked to the bed and to my walker (which I almost ripped out on a few occasions as I exited the bed, forgetting what was dangling on the side).  It was like losing an appendage, literally!

After the removal, I went into serious training mode: severely cut back on my fluids, going as long as I could between toilet breaks so that I could avoid the arduous and all-too-frequent task of us heaving myself out of bed and painstakingly using my walking frame to guide me to the far-away toilet.  I felt like a geriatric character from Cocoon, only I was wearing my Croc no-slip ballet slippers, support hose to guard against pulmonary embolism along with the ever-present corset to reign in the errant back that had just received a number of titanium screws.  In short, I was a sight for sore eyes.

Already home and looking surprisingly glamorous
compared with my hospital horror show.

I dealt with my new, inconvenient life with bravado.  Suddenly, I was the Rambo of the ward, displaying incredible strength in the face of great adversity.  On my first trip to said-bathroom, I managed to shuffle there in five minutes and 38 seconds.  The accompanying trip back took just over three minutes, probably with the prospect of the reward: a warm bed instead of a cold, hard, porcelain seat.

The next time I visited the lavatory, it took about four minutes to get there.  Each time, I grew more gazelle-like in my pursuit of the toilet.  The Olympic records just kept piling up.  Nurses and my visitors kept congratulating me: "Good job, Leah.  You're such a little trooper,"  or "I don't know how you do it!"  It was like I was at an awards ceremony each time I emerged from the toilet.

The whole affair was, frankly, humiliating.  I mean, I was just going pee.  It's not like I was a three year old just learning how to use the potty.  I'm a forty-seven year old woman used to wearing heels and dress clothes and commanding some degree of attention for more important things than taking a whizz.  Also, making it to the toilet that is 10 feet away in five minutes is nothing to congratulate a person on.  I mean, really.

On the night before I went home, a new roommate arrived in the next bed.  She was a very proper, very fit, very attractive woman about the same age as me.  For the greater part of the week I had worked very hard to maintain my positive energy in spite of my hardship. (For those of you who saw me in mid-tantrum or mid-sob, I assure you that these incidents were few and far between.  You may have even dreamed them.)  Suffice it to say, I worked teeth-grittingly hard to keep a smile on my face and to be as non-diva-like as possible during my stay at the all-too famous, falling-far-short-of-my-expectations Mathilda Hospital.

For any of you who know me and find me the slightest bit diva-like, you might want to reconsider your opinion of me after hearing about my new roomie.  "Where are my magazines, Darling?  Didn't I tell you to pack them in my suitcase?  Well, damn it, Darling, now we'll have to call the amah and have her deliver them up here because I am not going to be left in this hell hole without my magazines.  Get her on the phone now, would you?  It doesn't matter if it's her day off.  Does THIS look like a day off to you?"

"Where are those damn nurses anyway?"  (Admittedly, something I thought often enough myself.)  You'd think they're having their own little Christmas party while we're rotting in hell over here.  I need some pain killers.  Honestly, I've never seen such poor service."  (Neither had I, but by now I had reconciled myself to the fact that I wasn't in a hotel.)

It went on and on.  She berated her rugby playing teenager over the phone for not wanting to come and see her and having nothing to say to her; she demanded dinner, though she hadn't actually ordered any; she called the ward "low class" and insinuated her fellow roommates seemed to fit that category as well.

Most of the time, the curtain between our two beds was kept closed, for which I was thankful, but we had a few moments of face time.  I felt embarrassed for being less than coiffed and for my unkempt lump of a body, shrouded beneath a filthy blanket covered in potato chip crumbs and chocolate stains from my furtive, unsuccessful attempts at sneak-eating.

You can't see the build-up of plankton on me and the blankets, but it's not a pretty picture.

Later that night, after I'd had my evening medications which included some drugs that sedated me fairly heavily, I realized that nature was calling.  I was shaky on my feet and had already made about eight trips out of bed for the toilet.  I didn't feel up to it, but I knew I wouldn't be able to go to bed unless I evacuated my bladder.

For those of you who have not heard of a commode, it is a portable toilet, often on wheels, that you can hoist yourself onto from a bed.  It has a removable bedpan.  Embarrassingly, we now have one as a piece of furniture in our cute little home.  (At least it folds up and can be hidden away during the day.  It also doubles as a great shower chair so I am not complaining.)

Whatever the case, the drugs had set in, and I didn't even feel that I could get myself onto the commode so I asked the nurse if she could just slip the bed pan under me.  If you've never had invasive back surgery, it's hard to imagine the pain of lifting up your lower back to accommodate a bedpan.  The manufacturers of said-bedpan apparently think it's find to give it the same dimension and depth as a toilet and haven't considered softening it up a bit to bear the full weight of human beings who are unlucky enough to have to heave their asses onto it.  The pain was not very conducive to peeing.  Neither was the nurse looming over my bed expectantly waiting to hear the requisite tinkle.

As politely as I knew how, I asked her to go away and told her I'd ring for her when I was ready.  Meantime, I realized the angle at which I was lying (flat), was also not conducive to emptying one's bladder.  I started playing with my mechanical bed, trying to ease it up so I was in more of a sitting position.  With each hissing groan of the bed (which apparently needed to be oiled), came an accompanying groan from me.  Hydraulic groan.  Leah groan.  Hydraulic groan.  Leah groan.

On and on it went.  For all the pain involved in positioning myself and my bedpan, all I could think about was the judgmental, perfect woman on the other side of the curtain, no doubt sniffing with disdain and rolling her eyes about the noise and indiscretion of it all, and while she was trying to get her beauty sleep no less.

All of my hard work had somehow landed me at nearly the top of my bed which was now in a nearly upright position thanks to all my finagling with the controls.  It was as if I were perched on top of the spire of Christ Church Cathedral with a bed pan still suction cupped to my buttocks.

I realized two things at that moment.  One was that I was trapped and that I was going to need help getting down; two was that I was going to have to close the deal.

In order to close the deal, so to speak, I needed to start some of my own hydraulics.  So the squeezing began.  With each squeeze of my kiegel muscles came an adjoining complaint from my apparently-underused bowels.  So it was now: squeeze, fart, groan in pain, then suck in the groan which was seeming to echo in the silent, dark room.  The action of trying to contain the groan resulted in a sort of whistle (coming from my mouth).  So the pattern began:  squeeze, fart, groan, whistle, blush.  This went on for some time to no avail.  In the process of my humiliating hike up the bed, I had also pulled a great many muscles in my upper body whilst trying to throw myself into yoga positions all the while with a host of hardware built into my bones.

After about five minutes of agony from body and mind, I pressed the button (which gave me yet another pulled muscle) and admitted defeat.  I had NOT closed the deal, and I was stuck on the pinnacle of my hospital bed with a bedpan securely adhered to my cheeks. I've often longed to be famous, but I couldn't help think that if the paparazzi would have got hold of something like this along with said-roommates comments, it would be enough for any celebrity to overdose.  (Of course, a celebrity would not have been in a ward room enduring this public shaming.)

Eventually, the nurse ambled in, rather roughly pulled out the bedpan which emitted  a loud sucking sound as it dislodged itself from my ass, and pushed me down the bed, as if I were a sled and the balled up sheets were snow.  It was an excruciating ride.

"What?  No pee pee?" she said, staring accusingly into the empty bedpan with the florescent lights now shining heinously on my guilty face.

I heard the woman beside the curtain sigh.

"No pee pee, " I conceded.

Yet I knew I wouldn't sleep unless I managed to squeeze something out.  If there is a hell, I was in it.

"It looks like we're going to have to put you on the commode, then," she said briskly.

I muttered something about being embarrassed as she manhandled my recently fused body onto the commode and strode from the room.  "I'll be back in 10 minutes."

Well, the clouds broke open and the stars aligned and I was able to do my business with a minimum of noise.  Apparently, angle IS everything.  Who knew?  Given that I was unable to reach the call button and that I had succeeded in less than two minutes (Olympic peeing record!), I thought maybe I could just pole vault my own way into bed, using the commode handles and the hospital bed bars.  This was a big mistake.  But that's another story.

Isn't the name of my blog New Start Every Day?  My new start is to start looking for some serious alternatives to being in a nursing home at some point in my far-away future.  I'm going to re-watch Marigold Hotel and perhaps plan a family trip to India to clandestinely investigate options on the Sub Continent.  I will also start looking more seriously at our already-discussed future retirement in Thailand.  That way, we could afford to have some lovely person empty our bedpans from the privacy of our own home, and not have to worry about judgmental roomies we didn't choose and nurses who have better things to do than wait for me to pee.  Just sayin'.

Here I am drugged and bored and taking pictures of myself, hoping
something flattering will show up.  I wonder if people in nursing homes do this?


  1. thanks for sharing your story and in such a lighthearted way. My not so elderly mother has moved in with me because I want to save her from a nursing home. She is immobile and toileting is the almost consuming bane of our lives.
    I was searching google for how to use a bedpan when I came across your blog. Thanks again - it made me smile.