Monday, July 6, 2015

Becoming the patient: 3 nights in an Indian isolation ward.

In the last four days I have been pumped with
3 or 4 different antibiotics,
some antispasmodics,
a few different antiemetics,
the generic acetaminophen and ibuprofen,
a holy ton of normal saline,
and so much more…
That’s a lot of drugs for a self proclaimed “drug free zone”, but, let me tell you, this week I am praising Jesus for modern medicine.

It all started with a stomach ache.
Just a little one, ya know?
We were on a bus- fourteen hours from Narsapur, heading to a big hospital for a sweet and sick little boy (we’ll call him M.)- so maybe it was just some motion sickness.
We had gotten up before 4 AM, so maybe it was just from being tired.

And then, it got a little worse.
And, ya know, things started moving.
Nothing I couldn’t handle.

And then I got a little headache.
And then the headache got a little worse.
Manageable. No biggie.

And, then I started to run a little fever and get a little nauseous.
Okay, better just take some time to rest this afternoon.
So, like a good, tough, American, medical professional, I popped some aspirin and went to bed.
I’ll be better in the morning, I thought. 


At about 11:00 PM, Annie woke up to hear me groaning in my sleep. She woke me up and I could see the worry in her eyes. She felt my head and quickly started wetting tissues with cold water and laying them on my body.

After about 45 minutes of failed attempts to break what we're estimating was a 104+ degree fever, she took my pulse & insisted we go to the casualty unit (ER).
I fought.
No, I’ll just sleep it off. I’ll be fine.

She didn’t listen.

Her friend, a doctor at the hospital, drove across the city to pick us up.
It’s hard to explain the days that followed, because they have been such a blur, but I consider myself a royal guest to the side of healthcare that most healthcare professionals don’t get to see. Granted it was in a foreign hospital in a third world country, but I got to be on the other end of the needle, the cuff, the palpating, and questioning, and, let me tell you friends, it has changed me for the better.

I will always remember the waiting in a cage-like area, on a hard chair, half passed out, high fever, and stomach pains from hell, while they got me admitted.

I will always remember being wheeled on a stretcher through masses of people.

Never will I forget the fear in people’s eyes as they looked at me & I began to realize that I must be worse than I thought.

I will not forget feeling so miserably out of control of my own body.

When I go to start an IV back in the states, you can be sure I will remember the three attempts it took to get one on me, and the burning fire of the infected line that developed after a day.  I will not forget the feeling of becoming a human pincushion, stuck over twenty times.

When my patient needs an arterial blood gas draw, you better believe I’ll remember that that one-that one- is the worst of them all.

When a patient comes in and crashes, I’ll remember what it felt like to be completely dependent on others when I got up to go to the bathroom, causing my BP (and body) to crash.

I’ll remember the embarrassment of throwing up on the floor and myself because no one could understand my frantic waves for a bag.

I’ll remember to close the curtains before I give someone a shot in the butt, and I surely won’t sit and rub the site afterwards with all my strength, because that just stinking hurts.

I’ll remember the bedpans- the dirty, metal, bedpans.

I’ll remember the humility of not being able to lift my head for a drink and having to have someone bring the bottle to my mouth.

For the next patient I see in isolation, I’ll remember the people wearing masks and gowns, and acting as though I was untouchable.

I’ll never forget the fan that tried mercilessly to make up for the lack of AC, and the constant three days of soaked-with-sweat sheets and gowns.

I will not forget the night nurse who was there to do her job, and the day nurse who took an interest in who I was.

I will remember that, in India, the hospitals- and pretty much everywhere else- are BYOTP: bring your own toilet paper. I had forgotten mine. (Thank God, Annie had a pack of tissues! It's the little things, people.) 

When a patient needs a test and doesn’t understand why, I won’t forget the nurse who came to get me for a chest X-Ray- though I had no known problems with my chest- being unable to explain why I needed it.  I won’t forget being too tired to argue.

When my patient is in a gown, I won’t forget what it feels like to be wheeled to radiology in a half-see-though, white, stained gown, past hundreds of people.

I won’t forget the staring. To the people that stood within two feet & just stared, the woman who stood in my doorway and stared, the crowds that stared- I won’t forget any of you.

When I wheel a patient somewhere, I will remember what it felt like to sit in that gown, looking and feeling like straight up hell, while I waited in a metal wheelchair, in a crowded hallway, for an x-ray I didn’t really need, for twenty minutes or more.

And when my patient is waiting desperately for discharge, I will remember what it felt like to be told, "No. You have to stay for some more time." 

This is the smile that I genuinely thought would convince people I was ready to be discharged. I can see now why it didn't work. 

But, let me tell you what else I won’t forget:

I won’t forget Angelee who dropped what she was doing and drove across town in the middle of the night to pick me up.

I will not forget the constant cycle of Annie’s friends who came and stayed by my side when Annie had to go be with M. I will not forget them sleeping in chairs, or bringing me crackers, or talking about life just to get my mind off things.

I will not forget the kindness of the attendant who, through his mask, kept telling me I’d be okay, and wanted to know all about my life as he wheeled me to isolation. That one, he was an angel, I’m sure.

I won’t forget the pictures of Jesus and postings of scripture on the walls, leading all the way to my room.

I will always remember the perfect peace of being close to Jesus through the whole thing, and the atmosphere shift that happened when I started playing worship on my phone. 

I won’t forget the luxury of being able to hear my mom- a familiar voice- after the first day settled down, even if it was only for five minutes.

When my patient is NPO and begging for food, I won’t forget the glory of that one, beautiful, single breadstick-my first food in three days.

I will remember how funny the whole situation became by the third day, and how Annie and I were laughing so hard that two nurses came running because they thought something was wrong. 

And most of all, I will remember every. single. touch. I’ll remember the rubbing my back & holding my hair back while I dry heaved…and heaved…and heaved, and the touching of my arm and assuring me everything would be fine, and the holding my hand during the second, third, and fourth IV attempts. I won’t forget the hands that held me steady when my BP kept bottoming out, or the nurse that patted me on the shoulder and laughed when I proudly announced that I hadn’t gone to the bathroom all night & was now ready for discharge.  I won’t even forget the hands on my feet when someone was checking for edema.

I will remember it all, both the good and the bad, because both have made me a better nurse, a better friend, and a better lover of Jesus.

Even in the midst of chaos and sickness, Jesus is good,
fear has no place,
and His peace is overwhelming in a heart that’s close to His.

P.S. I’ve been discharged and am doing much better! Resting, mending, and hyping my body up with some probiotics at a nearby house until we take the train back to Narsapur tomorrow.

Doing good, friends! I'm doing good! :) 

P.S.S. There’s also a story about a drunken rickshaw driver that picked us up after the hospital stay, but I’ve put my family through enough torture these last few days, so we’ll keep that as a story for another day. J


  1. Oh my dear sweet granddaughter! You just got a crash course, PhD in the true purpose of nursing that you could not have learned any other way. But you passed! And you know exactly whose kid you are. :)

    1. So true! Glad to have passed the test. Wouldn't want to have to retake it. :)


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