Better Hospitals equal Better Care

I was already in the hospital when I had my stroke. I had been admitted to Emory University Hospital suffering from Congestive Heart Failure the day before, and a pacemaker had been enplanted to regulate my heartbeat. The nurses had been really good about letting me rest during the night, but now it was time for me to get up.

If you’ve had a major operation, you know that you just don’t “hop up.” Scratching my nose hurt, so why in God’s name should I even think about getting out of bed? But if you lay around too long fluid begins to collect in your lungs, and you’re on your way to pneumonia. So let’s get moving, young man!

It’s actually a bit easier than it used to be. When I was at the University of Alabama/Birmingham in 1977, they kept the fluid out of your lungs by coming to your room twice a day and slapping your back a couple of dozen times, then making you cough until you spit up into a cup. Today’s heart shaped pillows and cough bears are so much better!

So they sit me up, and slowly help me turn until my feet are hanging off the bed’s edge. Because of all the wires and tubes I have coming out of my body, this is more complicated than it sounds. There are two, and sometimes three, nurses involed in this operation: one to hold your arm and give you someone to brace against, and the others positioned behind you to keep all your wires and tubes from getting tangled. I ease myself up, take two steps, turn slightly, and settle into the chair.

The nurses turned on TV, so I wouldn’t have to just stare at the wall. The Montel Williams Show was on, so I blame him for what happened next. Apparently I am allergic to Montel Williams.

I was sitting there when my foot fell asleep. I didn’t even notice it at first, but when I did I didn’t give it much thought. My foot was under me at a funny angle, and I didn’t feel like wiggling and working it out. So I just let it ride.

A nurse walked by my cubicle and wished me a good morning, and I said good morning in return. She slammed on the brakes and looked at me and said “Smile for me.” I’ve never turned down a request for a smile from a young lady, so I gave her my best smile.

“We need to get you back in the bed right now,” she said, and rather than taking it slow and easy, that 100 pound nurse yanked me up, spun me on her finger, and slam dunked me in my bed. In a minute there was a doc leaning over me, flashing a little light into my eyes.

“So how we feeling?”

“I had a pacemaker put in yesterday, so I’m tired and sore. Other than that, pretty good.” Obviously, I wasn’t getting it. A few moments later, I was on my way to a CAT scan and my parents were being called. When they arrived, they were told that I had had a stroke, but it didn’t appear to be major. As for me, it seemed that my right side had just “turned off.” And within the hour, I was moved from recovery down to the ICU Unit.

There is a small community hospital near my home (not the one where I get my blood drawn). They seem to take a “weekends belong to us” approach: Just a few weeks ago a friend of mine became suddenly ill on a Friday afternoon. She was taken to the Emergency Room of this community hospital and admitted. Her doctor ordered some tests to determine the problem, but none of the tests were performed until Monday morning… when all of the regular staff got back from enjoying their weekend. It seemed to me that if something serious had happened to her over the weekend, she would have just had to cool her heels until 9:00 AM Monday morning.

My stroke happened early on a Sunday morning, yet the response to my needs was instantaneous. The nurses were on the ball, the CAT scanner was warmed up and ready to go, and the Neurologist was in the building. The patient (me) didn’t have to wait on anything.

When an ACHDer (when anyone, actually) begins thinking about what hospital to use as their primary care facility, they need to consider such things as weekend staffing. Do they seem to be “Open 24 Hours” or do they work bankers hours? Talk to your friends who have been a patient there over the weekend. If you happen to know someone who is on staff at the hospital, speak to them. Because health emergiencies don’t follow the clock.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: ACHDer’s in the New York City area, there are two meetings coming up that will be on of interest to you: The first is an Educational Meeting on Heart Failure and Adult Congenital Heart Defects at 6:00 PM on September 9, 2008, at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, in Room 213 on the 7th floor of the Milstein Building. The Milstein Building is located at 177 Fort Washington Avenue in New York City. If you’re coming, you are asked to bring a snack to share if possible.

Also, there will be an informal dinner with Maggie Lichtenberg, author of “The Open Heart Companion,” at the Viceroy Restaurant on September 17 at 6:30 PM. The Viceroy is located at 160 8th Avenue in New York City. Each attendee will pay for their own dinner.

For more information or to RSVP, e-mail Heather at

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