On Friday, Bill came home from work in the midst of a stroke. I called 911, we hopped in the ambulance and went to the hospital. He was admitted, spent a night in ICU for observation, 3 nights in a regular room, and came home yesterday. His stroke was small and the effects relatively minimal. Nonetheless, he will now be on medication for the rest of his life--blood thinners and a heart medicine that treats his atrial fibrillation. Not the way we'd planned to spend the weekend, but since things could have been astonishingly worse, we choose to be grateful that things are as mild as they are.
As we began this journey into the medical system, I sort of shut out all extraneous stuff and put all my attention on understanding what was happening, listening and asking questions of medical personnel, and trying to maintain my composure so I could make good decisions. Once it was clear that this was not a life threatening event, the focus changed to more information gathering so that we would know what to do as we proceeded.
Now that he is home and the crisis is past, I have started to analyze more. This is typically me and I felt that I had entered a new phase of this experience the other day in the hospital when I began doing an analysis of the communication that was going on from the perspective of gender. For me, that is a normal thing to do. In more general terms, though, I am thinking about people who find themselves in the hospital and may not have someone who can be there all the time with them when they talk to all of the medical personnel who come in and out of their room. Monday was a particularly tiring day. There was the usual stuff that the nurses and CNAs did every day. Then the hospitalist came in--a different one because it was a new week. He was interpreting things differently than the previous one, so the information he was giving us was different. Then there was the occupational therapist, someone from patient services, a different physical therapist, and a speech therapist. Later in the day, a neurologist and a cardiologist came in separately and then together. These people were not finished until after 6 p.m. Bill had been awakened at 5:30 a.m. for a blood test. That is a long day for anyone, let alone someone who is sick in some way. Both of us are smart, well-educated people (and several of these medical people asked about education level). But one of us had had a brain trauma and was exhausted. If there had been no one else there, how on earth would he have been able to understand what they were telling him? How could he evaluate it? I realized at some point that I was witnessing the intangible benefits of my education and life history. I have always had really excellent verbal/reading skills and that helped me a great deal in terms of understanding what was being said and interpreting it. I have taught many different kinds of students and interviewed many different kinds of people, so I know how to keep asking the same question in a different way if I have to until I get the information I need--and to ask someone else, if necessary. My anthropological research has sharpened my natural skills of observation and analysis and my ability to engage in cross cultural communication (and this was a kind of cross-cultural communication). Because I have always been interested in social institutions, I knew how to quickly and pretty unconsciously evaluate the system that is in place and the information that was coming from the institution. I have a good memory, so I could retain most of the important information that I was digesting. In other words, a great many things came together to allow me to effectively understand what was being said, when people were contradicting each other and themselves, and to generally get a clear picture of what was going on. But what about people who have a different skill set, or not as much education, or no one there to take over when they get tired? It must be incredibly difficult. I cannot imagine being ill and trying to make sense of everything that is swirling around you. I was noticing an incredible amount of repitition, both in terms of the same person saying the same thing and different people saying the same thing. I guess part of that is so that the patient will hear it many times at many different times of the day and it will be more likely to stick!
It's funny, this life thing. You never know what's going to happen. You never know what skills you have that will come in handy in a completely unexpected way. You never know how your strengths will rise up and maintain you in a crisis. You never know what's gonna come in handy. You just never know.