Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hospital Experience #6: Friendship

This is my sixth post on my recent experience at Ochsner Hospital - having a cardiac catheter ablation procedure to correct a heart arrhythmia. Previous posts have described the experience and reflected on particular aspects of it.

This post will be about the importance of friends and their support during my hospital experience. I include family members here as well because I don't have an immediate family. Once I left my parents' nest, I never did marry or form a family of my own. My family consists of my sisters and brothers and their children, all of whom live in their own homes. This makes my family members seem more like friends.

Here are some of the ways my friends supported me.

ACCOMPANYING ME. I find that it is crucial to have an accompanying friend when undergoing a hospital procedure. Merry was my accompanying friend. Merry's presence helped tremendously to reassure me while strangers (the nurses) were doing things to me.

I have specific proof, from a visit to the emergency room about ten years ago, that a friend's presence is measureably calming. At that time, I went to the emergency room because of odd pains in my left arm (which turned out to be nothing serious). However, anxious as I was, my blood pressure was found to be quite high. My sister Maria was called to come be with me. When my blood pressure was taken again, shortly after Maria's arrival, it had come WAY down. I know that this was because Maria's presence allowed me to relax.

An accompanying friend also provides an extra pair of ears to get information from the doctor after the procedure. At this time, the patient isn't exactly in her best and most alert state. Merry certainly did this for me. I had given her a list of questions that I wanted to ask the doctor, and Merry asked every question and recorded the answers.

Merry also provided practical assistance. For several hours after the procedure, I had to lie flat enough so as not to bend at the hip. My head and chest were slightly elevated (using the elevation function of the hospital bed), but I was not to lift my head. I could eat and drink but needed to do those things slowly and preferably with some assistance. Merry very sweetly fed me a banana lunch and held a cup of water for me to drink, so that I could have a mid-day meal.

OFFERING HELP. It felt very good to know that friends were there to help me if needed. I had more offers of help than I needed, but every offer let me know that I was supported - a very encouraging feeling.

I especially want to mention David, who was all set to drive me home from the hospital on the morning following the procedure and to keep an eye on me during my first day and night back home. David had set aside that whole day and night for me - only I was unexpectedly allowed to return home on the same day with Merry and didn't need anyone with me, since the ablation part of the procedure was not performed. (The procedure did locate the source of my heart arrhythmia but did not ablate it because the arrhythmia turned out to be in a non-ablatable location.)

I also want to mention Donna Glee, a registered nurse living in North Carolina and a life-long friend, who very generously offered to come all the way to New Orleans to accompany me throughout hospital day.

And I want to mention Ellen and Paul, who very kindly offered their home as a place for me to recuperate, if needed, when I came home from the procedure.

THINKING OF AND PRAYING FOR ME. It was wonderful to know that friends were thinking of and praying for me. Some even told me exactly how they were doing this. My brother Danny, for example, said that he was lighting and burning a candle for me right then and there.

CONTACTING ME. Quite a few friends contacted me by phone or email shortly before the procedure to assure me of their thoughts and prayers and to remind me of their offers of help.

There were some surprises in this. Kate called me the day before the procedure to let me know she was thinking of me and to check once again to see if there was anything I needed that she could provide. Kate is the Chair of the English Department at Loyola University New Orleans. Kate and I get together for lunch about once a year. Kate is not a close friend (though I certainly enjoy her company), and she has time-consuming responsibilities as a department chair. I was touched at her heartfelt expressions of concern.

People who are not mentioned elsewhere in this post and from whom I also received encouraging messages - in person, by telephone, or through email - include Annie, Barbara, Carmen, Debbie, Elaine, Ellen (a different Ellen from the Ellen who offered her home as a place for me to recuperate), Jim, Joe, John, Judy, Julia, Kathy, Ken, Lola, Marcia, Marcy, Marsha, Susan, and my IUP-ABD Club buddies from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania - Daniela, Deborah, Gail, and Janet. Deborah actually emailed me a positive vision of how well the procedure would go - she wrote out a story of the positive things I would do and how well I would feel, something tangible and vivid for me to imagine.

VISITING ME. David (a different David from the David who had planned to drive me home from the hospital) came to visit me in the hospital on his lunch hour. This was very encouraging. I would have had a couple of other visitors if I had stayed overnight as expected - but I was unexpectedly allowed to go home the same day.

PROVIDING INFORMATION. This can be done by a knowledgeable friend. Donna Glee, a registered nurse, provided me with extremely helpful information based on her medical knowledge. This information greatly reassured me and provided tips that helped me to have a more comfortable experience.

KEEPING VIGIL. This is a very special and time-consuming thing that can be done for a friend in the hospital. It involves consciously being present in spirit with the friend when it is not possible to be present physically.

Merry, for instance, could not be in the procedure room, but she kept vigil in my hospital room while I was having the procedure.

Yvonne could not be in New Orleans, but she kept vigil for me in a unique way from her home in Colorado. A pianist, Yvonne played and sang healing music for me throughout the actual time of the procedure, stopping only when she received the phone call that the procedure was over and that I was fine.

LISTENING DEEPLY. Several friends did this for me in the days and weeks before and the days following the hospital experience. They listened to my feelings, asked helpful questions (as in "Karen Ashley, what exactly are you afraid will happen?"), helped me adjust some of my thinking (as in "Karen Ashley, I think you increase your anxiety when you repeat those 101 stories you know about everything that can possibly go wrong in a hospital"), and helped me process the experience and its meaning for me.

Those who did this include David (the David who had planned to drive me home from the hospital), Donna Glee, my sister Janet, Merry, and Yvonne.

BEING READY FOR AN EMERGENCY. What a comfort it is to know that things will be taken care of in an emergency. In the case of this recent procedure, everything went well and there was no emergency, yet several generous people were willing to step in if things had gone seriously awry. This was extremely unlikely to happen, but you never know.

Three generous people have been willing to take on the heavy responsibility of making decisions for me and handling my affairs if I should be incapable of doing so myself or if I should die. Richard is my medical power of attorney person, Merry is my back-up power of attorney person if Richard cannot act as such, and Janet and Richard are co-executors of my will. It feels so good to have this taken care of.

Phoebe, a priest at Trinity Episcopal Church, was willing to be on call in the very unlikely event of something going wrong during the procedure. Let us say that my heart had been damaged or that I had had a stroke during the procedure - or that I had gone into a coma or even died - all very remote possibilities, but still marginally possible. Phoebe would have come - most importantly to be there with Merry. Merry is a calm and calming person, but it's hard to imagine that Merry wouldn't be somewhat freaked out by a catastrophe happening to me during what was supposed to be a fairly safe procedure. Friends and family members would also come right away in such an event, of course, but they would be emotionally upset, whereas Phoebe would be a steadying presence. It's wonderful to know that a priest will come if needed.

William, the priest I know best, would have been available for this, except that he was out of town the week of my procedure. However, he reminded me that the spiritual and practical resources of the church were available to me and saw to it that my name was placed on the church's prayer list, that Phoebe would be available, and that the church would be ready to help in any way needed.

Truly, I am richly blessed with loyal and supportive friends. I am grateful.

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