I am comfortable in hospitals. I practically grew up in them, between my family’s too-frequent hospitalizations and my mother working in one for over a decade. As a kid, I knew the local hospital’s phone number by heart——I was to call my mother at work as soon as I walked in the door after school.
My career has taken me into hospitals all over the country. I have witnessed many surgeries, many gory trauma codes, many families grieving.
I walk into a hospital confidently, and can typically figure out its layout quickly. I am not intimidated or alarmed by tubes or beeping machines. I ask questions. Lots of questions. I introduce myself to every one who takes care of my mom. I know not to disturb a nurse who is double-checking a drug against the patient ID. I take note which doctors wash their hands and which don’t. Today I noticed a young doctor place the chestpiece of her stethoscope into a latex glove before listening to my mom. It was a creative way to keep things sterile.
But I try not to be a know-it-all. They don’t need to know that I ran an infection control campaign at a hospital. Or that I wrote a newsletter about medical errors. Or that I know what the key quality indicators are for a hospital.
I know the drill.
It helps, this familiarity. I can focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by these places of suffering and healing.
The woman who is sharing my mother’s hospital room was talking to herself and quietly moaning in pain from behind the curtain. You start to envision what’s behind the curtain. At one point, as the nurse was getting my mother settled into the room with the IV, the woman asked from behind the curtain, “Are we all together?” The nurse responded, “Yes, we’re all here.”
Later, as my mother and I quietly spoke in Portuguese, the woman yelled, “They’re here speaking in tongues!!”