If you've been to the hospital recently, see if you recognize ...
It takes a special kind of person to watch people scream and bleed for 12 hours at a time. I'm not sure if hospitals are good at finding those people, or if working at a hospital turns you into one. But you don't really understand these people until you're there, in pain and at their mercy.
I found this out recently, when my girlfriend's appendix exploded. We live together, so it's not one of those cases where I could just send some flowers and wait for her to let me know she was back home. We share everything -- same house, same vehicle, same bills, and when one of us gets sick, same hospital room (for those of you who care, she's doing fine now).
Except now, everything she sees is Prince.
But during the hospital stay, we encountered members of the staff who had each advanced to some different stage of total apathy. Also, they were all named Lori. I'm convinced that they're all named that, all over the world. It might be spelled differently from Lori to Laurie, but each of them are in your hospital right now, fucking something up.
If you've been to the hospital recently, see if you recognize ...
We met this one at registration. We had been in the emergency room for about an hour when she walked in with a rolling computer cart that I immediately recognized would be a perfect World of Warcraft mobile command center. Just wheel that shit right into the bathroom and punch hotkeys from the shower. I made a mental note to steal it later.
Anyway, my girlfriend, who we'll call Emily for the purposes of this account, was so out of breath from screaming and crying that she couldn't speak for herself. So I would have to speak for her.
I told Lori that over the last 10 minutes or so, Emily's pain had grown tenfold, that it seemed like an appendix situation or maybe a tiny elf she swallowed was now trying to shoot his way out. So you know, we could really use someone down here right away to at least try to get that pain under control. Lori looked at me in a way that made me think she was going to reply in Russian, and said instead, "I'm just here to get some registration information."
"We'll be with you as soon as you scream your information to Lori."
I focused all of my frustration into a very violent sigh and said, "Sure, I understand. However, she should have been on the road to the hospital an hour before we finally did. It's a 35 minute drive. Then once we got here, she's been laying in this bed, unseen by anyone at all for over an hour. If you can't get someone in here yourself, at least point me in the right direction so I can."
She then promptly ignored everything I just said and started asking Emily about her address and insurance information.
Yes, Lori, we'll gladly give you the information you need. We'll give you so much goddamned information, your computer will need a new hard drive. You'll be able to ghost write Emily's fucking biography and option the film rights. Just ask for it while in the presence of a nurse who is pushing the plunger on a syringe full of morphine. Fuck, at that point, we would have settled for crack. But I go around asking the people in the waiting room for crack and suddenly I'm the unreasonable one.
Is there some great reason why pain medication can't be administered while waiting for the doctor to get free? Maybe. Probably, even. But if so, that information wouldn't be coming from Lori. Not her job.
Don't misunderstand my point here; I know that Lori sees dozens upon dozens of people every day who think they're the experts. And I know she gets worried family members barking orders at her, and she's learned to just let that roll off of her back. But ... doesn't the pain still count for something? In a hospital? Isn't there some kind of primal sympathy that kicks in at the sight of another member of the species writhing and screaming in pain? I try to think about how much screaming you have to hear before you become completely numb to it.
I'm guessing a long, long time.
This is my first hint of just how much it sucks to stand on either side of Lori's computer cart.
It turns out the appendix did in fact rupture.
Luckily for us, it held together until surgery, so it was easier to control the disaster than if it had happened an hour earlier. That was what kept Emily from having to spend a week in the hospital fighting off infection. The downside is that once the surgery was over, we were stuck with our second Lori.
Or maybe this one was spelled Lorrie. Either way, she was the one administering the pain medication, and the way she explained it was that the I.V. stuff was the most powerful and would kick the pain's ass. Or there was a pill that didn't do quite as much. So Emily chose the more powerful of the two. That's one of those non-choices -- like choosing between cold pills or "Maximum Strength" cold pills that are the same price. Why the shit would anyone want less relief? So for a full day, that's what they kept her on.
We paid her an extra 20 to slip a little vodka in there.
They had told us that she would most likely be released the following morning, so when that time came around, Lori entered and told us that we had to stay a second night. Wait, what? Why? Because we chose the I.V.
Lori told us that before Emily went home, she had to be on the pill form of the meds, and had to walk a whole bunch up and down the hall. Oh. Well, thanks for fucking letting us know that now instead of 24 hours ago, Lori. Is there any other treatment we should guess for ourselves? Are you going to come back tomorrow and tell us that we have to stay another night because Emily forgot to write the required goodbye speech that you never told us about?
Leaving is kind of a big deal there.
We asked her to bring us the pills. "OK, I'll be back in about five minutes." She came back two hours later with a pillow for the woman in the next bed. We asked about the pills, and she said, "OH! I'm sorry, I'll be right back with those!" Thirty minutes later, Emily was hitting the "Call Nurse" button like a coked-up spider monkey playing Contra.
Lori heeded that call 15 minutes later, and when she walked in, she asked in a pleasant voice, "Did you need something?" By this point, Emily was nearly immobile. Even sitting up in bed caused so much pain, it brought her to tears. It suddenly came to the nurse that there was something she was supposed to be doing here, now what was that?
"Oh, my gosh, I am so sorry! I'll get those pills to you right now."
"But first ..."
From the time we asked for them until the time they went into my girlfriend's face hole, four hours had passed. Again, I understand that Lori is busy. We live in a small town, so we don't have an enormous hospital with an abundant staff. But goddammit, one of her main jobs is to keep up with her patients' medications. So barring the switch to the pills, it would have at least been time for some sort of medication in that four hour time-frame. Right?
The next time Emily's meds were an hour past due, I tracked her down behind the front desk, spreading gossip about how shitty someone's birthday party was. That's when I realized that the Lori situation was actually worse than I thought. To us, this is a major life crisis. To the Loris, we're just white noise -- a background buzz that occasionally complains. When we leave, some other crying, complaining couple will take our place.
It turns out that our lunch person was another Lori, I think this one was Laurie, or maybe Lauree. On the first day, she brought Emily a menu and asked her to fill it out. We did, and The Lunchmaster disappeared in a pillar of flames. Thirty minutes later, she reappeared with another menu. We explained that we had filled one out already, and she said that one was for lunch, but this one was for the evening. Oh. We felt stupid and filled that one out, too. She praised Satan, unfolded her wings and flew off down the hall -- a trail of fluttering bats in her wake.
So Emily's lunch arrived, and just like clockwork, The Lunchmaster Lori appeared with yet another menu. We asked what that one was for, and she said, "Tomorrow's lunch." OK, well, there's always a chance that we might have to stay another day from some unforeseen complication. We filled it out. Then Emily looked down at her lunch and noticed it was the exact opposite of what she ordered.
"Wait, this isn't what I wrote down on my menu."
"Oh," The Lunchmaster said in a rumbling, demonic voice. "I never got a menu from you, so we just sent up the regular stuff."
What? We handed you the menu, personally. We don't expect you to remember every single patient in the hospital, but you made a special trip up here, and we put the fucking thing in your hand. You didn't have a giant pile of them. It was the only menu in your possession.
"I made it myself. You should eat it while I watch."
Regardless, Emily just ate the meatloaf because we were pretty sure that whatever she brought up would also be meatloaf. There's a point in Lori's life where, fuck it, everybody gets meatloaf.
Lori from the midnight shift. Oh, how we worry about you. And believe me, there is a lot to worry about. She told us all about it.
You see, Lori is on her fifth 12-hour shift back-to-back. She has two kids at home, and she's not seen them in five days because work has been so demanding, and she's had to cover for another nurse because she got the flu, and there's a wedding she's supposed to attend this weekend, but she's probably not going to make it because the hospital scheduled her for -- LORI, IT IS THREE IN THE FUCKING MORNING.
Every time she entered the room, my mind did this.
Every time we saw Lori, we heard about a new catastrophe in her life. And when she exhausted those stories, she moved on to her neighbors' catastrophes. That's not a joke. By around 6 a.m. at the start of day two, she was telling us about her neighbor's kid who was probably going to be held back a year in school because his reading wasn't up to par.
Really? That's too bad. Maybe you should pull out an entire set of encyclopedias and read them to him in one sitting. Because you obviously have a severe mental problem that prevents you from throttling your conversation down to just the things we give a shit about: 1) Where are Emily's meds? 2) When can she leave? 3) How long do you wait after an appendix removal before it's OK to fuck? 4) Is anal OK? 5) Will a penis this size reach the appendix? Here, let me show you.
Apparently Lori, pushed to the brink by the demands of her job, had no one else to talk to. Like a lonely cowboy confiding his worries to the cattle as he rustles them along, knowing they're not listening, but needing to get it out.
Everything I've told you so far doesn't even compare to the worst Lori of all. That's the one who tells you exactly what you want to hear, even though she knows for a damn fact that it's bullshit. Sometimes, it's something small like, "This won't hurt a bit" before she jams an ice pick into your arm. Other times, it's something that's devastating to your morale and recovery.
That's the one we had right after we got settled for the first night's stay. Emily had developed so much pain, and the medication wasn't cutting it. When she told the nurse, Lori explained that they inflate your abdomen with a gas when they're doing the surgery, and it was trapped air bubbles. And even though it hurts like hell right now, they pass pretty quickly in the form of farting. She said within a few hours, the bubbles would pass and so would the pain.
The next morning, not only did they not go away, but she was in even more pain than the night before. Emily told the surgeon what Lori had told her, and the guy looked at her like she had just said that she was promised a third arm to be attached to her asshole.
He said that half of that wasn't even remotely true. The gas was most definitely causing the pain, but it doesn't just go away on its own, and it absolutely doesn't come out from your ass. You have to walk it out. The movement causes the bubbles to work their way up, and then they just dissipate through the skin. But laying there and waiting for them to just go away was about the worst thing a patient could do. Kind of important, because as it turns out, if we had known that right off the bat, they could have had her up and walking within just an hour or two after surgery.
While I encouraged her from a more comfortable position.
The bullshit information she passed on combined with the lack of information from the other Lori, ended up causing us to stay an additional day (and if we'd been among the uninsured, that extra day would be like buying a used car). Because Lori has reached a point where there's no time or energy to double check these things. You give whatever answer will make the patient stop asking things.
Do I blame her? I don't know. If all of this makes it sound like I think I could do any of these Loris' jobs differently, you're right. I would be patient and efficient and as sympathetic to each patient as I am to my own family ... for about 10 minutes. Then I would throw a water cooler through a window and go running off, screaming into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
That is, I know it's easy for me to judge, now away from that place and standing here behind my new rolling computer cart. So let me say, thank God somebody has the patience and endurance to do the Lori jobs, or else we'd all have to stay home and try to heal ourselves with witchcraft. I realize these people are burnt out, like cops cracking jokes over the mutilated body of a teenage girl. The part of your brain that cares just runs down like a battery.
You have my sympathy, Loris. You really do. But know that you pretty much make every stay at the hospital a living hell.