Image Hospitals are marvels of high-tech medical care. I know this better than previously because I spent a weekend in one recently - my longest hospital stay ever. I had to be rushed there in the early morning for what turned out to be intestinal blockage. I woke my wife at 4:00 AM to say we had to get to the hospital because I felt like I was dying. Knowing my aversion to hospitals, she knew it must be real trouble.

I thought I might have food poisoning, but luckily ER staff are smarter than guys like me.  It took only a CATscan to show the real problem. I was already drugged with pain meds, so I kept falling asleep. My wife was listening outside the door of the CATscan lab. She said the nurse kept saying, "Wake up, Mr. Zimmerman. Now hold your breath. Wake up! Now exhale!" She said the sound-track was funny, although the actual event probably wasn't. I was oblivious.

I had to have a stomach-pump tube inserted through my nose for two days to keep my stomach empty. I couldn't eat or drink. This relieved pressure on the intestine and allowed it to heal. The nose-tube was uncomfortable, but I got used to it. For visitors, it must have been a grotesque sight, however. Friends of ours (a couple) came to visit me. I was oblivious to their reactions, but my wife joked that the husband was obviously grossed out by the nose-tube and the pump. (It's always good to know you are providing entertainment for friends.) Nevertheless, the wife kissed me goodbye - showing that I'm either hotter than I thought or that she didn't have her glasses on. (I noticed she closed her eyes, so maybe that explains it.)

My sister - a nurse of 35 years - says hospitals are dangerous: "People die there all the time." I always thought she just meant death was inevitable where there are a lot of sick people. But she really meant that hospitals have too many people on their hands to look after all of them perfectly. Hospitals get accustomed to death, so no one thinks much about it when it happens. Sis says a patient alone in a hospital needs his family to make sure he gets the right care and medications.

Luckily, my wife and daughter kept watch over my medications and my treatment. They spotted some problems that would have been hilarious, had they not been so serious.

One of those problems was sugar. As a Type II diabetic, I control my blood sugar by avoiding sweets. Some hospital staff knew that, but not the staff in charge of my fluids and nourishment. The intravenous drip was a dextrose solution. Sugar was going directly into my veins! Of course, this elevated my blood sugar, causing the diabetes technician to inject me with insulin. (What's wrong with this picture?) We finally got the dextrose drip replaced by saline only. After I started drinking liquids, I was given sugared fruit juices. Same problem. Finally, I just had tea and broth.

The modern hospital is fully computerized and highly compartmentalized. Various functions are assigned to different technicians who enter patients' treatment data on the portable workstations they carry with them. A nurse administered my medications at appropriate times. The diabetes lady came periodically with her workstation to check my blood sugar and administer insulin. The blood-test lady came to draw blood. The vital signs tekkie visited periodically and registered my numbers in her computer. Another checked on my stomach pump and intravenous drip. It was all very efficient and impressive, except for the inevitable "devil" in the details.

That devil is coordination. There is none. No one schedules those functions with respect to a patient's need for sleep. Shakespeare wrote of "...sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care..." But the modern hospital is indifferent to a patient getting uninterrupted sleep - possibly the most critical aspect of recovery. This would be funny in a TV-comedy. In reality, it was so bad that it resembled a Marx-brothers skit. (A Night at the Hospital?)

During my first two nights I was so drugged that I fell back to sleep easily whenever I was awakened. But the third night I was no longer drugged. The night went like this:

10:00 PM. I fell sound asleep.

11:00 PM. I was awakened by the tekkie who gave me the medications I should have received at 10. (I know she wondered why I was annoyed.) I was awake, then, so I watched TV for 2 hours.

1:00 AM. I drifted off.

1:30 AM. The blood sugar lady woke me to prick my finger and then shoot me with insulin. I went back to sleep.

2:30 AM. The IV-lady woke me to change the drip, which was leaking. (As I was on liquids by then, I asked her not to reconnect it.) I slept again.

4:30 AM. The blood-sample lady woke me to draw blood. I dozed.

5:15 AM. A crew turned on the lights and moved furniture to prepare the other side of my room for a new patient. (It was not quietly done.)

6:00 AM. New patient arrived. As I was in the bay nearest the door, they brought him in through my side. He was in pain, so he made a lot of noise. (Not his fault, of course, but no sleep for me.)

6:30 AM. The medications lady returned. I gave up on sleep.

By then I was a little cross. Maybe I had 4 hours sleep, max, through the night. At 8:00, technicians came to take me to the X-ray lab. They cheerily asked how I was feeling. My answer would have been unprintable, so I just grunted.

The X-ray showed the blockage resolved, so the surgeon released me at 9:00. He was also very cheery. I told him another night in the hospital might have killed me. He seemed puzzled, but I didn't explain. The frequent wake-ups through the night were all SOP to him. Hospital staff work all night, so it doesn't occur to them that patients might need sleep. (Your sleep is not their job.)

All's well that ends well. I escaped from the hospital with my problem self-repaired, my health (somewhat) restored, and my spirit much lifted by the ministry of friends who called and visited me. I lost 5 pounds, too - a nice side-benefit. (Friends have advised against dieting that way in future.)

I appreciate the hospital care I received. It was excellent. But sleep wasn't part of it.


(P.S. I apologize to my readers for missing a column deadline for the first time in four years - excepting planned vacations. I'll try not to let it happen again.)