Cardella: A Day In The Life

The biggest medical problem in America is stress. People talk all the time about reducing stress. But avoiding stress overload is not that easy. Different kinds of stress affect different stages of life. Here’s a peek at a typical day in the life of an American couple in the not-so-golden years of their lives. Just an average couple with average problems now facing life after post-hospital care.

I woke up to the sound of an Amber Alert signal buzzing on my flip phone. The phone barely stopped buzzing before my alarm woke me up to take my morning medicine. I was still shaking the sleep out of my eyes when my wife’s phone began ringing. Someone trying to find out how we were doing the day after our recent three-day stay in the hospital. “How is he?” they wanted to know, as the Amber Alert began to buzz again.

This was our first morning on a revised schedule of medications for me. My wife the distributor of the pills; me the bewildered recipient. We were carefully going over the hospital instructions when the phone rang. A marketing call. (I don’t need a car warranty. Never had a car).

Back to the instructions. I quickly spotted several apparent errors in the new medication  instructions. As part of my new daily regimen, the instructions included use of antibiotics. But I’m not supposed to take antibiotics on a regular basis, only prior to dental procedures. Next, there was a reference to a lubricating ointment, not a prescriptive medicine.

As my wife re-distributed my daily pills and checked the dosage, she said, “We have to check this one out.” The medication in question was what my doctor had called a new super diuretic (I lost six pounds of fluid in one night while receiving the drug intravenously). The diuretic was given to me in pill form for home use, but a pharmacist had raised an alert that the dosage seemed way too high for safe use. The pharmacist suggested that we check with the doctor to confirm the dosage before taking the medicine. But it was Saturday morning. Where to find a doctor on Saturday morning?

We were given a phone number to call as part of our at-home instructions in the event we had a question. It was a wrong number. And let me stop right here. You learn very quickly that no one is keeping hospital contact phone numbers updated. (One time, my wife called an “emergency” phone number and got the doctor. Problem was the doctor had already transferred out of the system to a city in the Midwest.) Now we were nervously determined to speak to a doctor — almost any doctor — about whether to take the mega-dose diuretic. Then our phone rang again. Inquiring neighbor. Heartfelt but unknowingly ill-timed. (Note — I’m already late in putting my compression socks on. I need my wife’s help for that, too.)

After a few wrong numbers, my wife finally reached a doctor. She (the doctor) suggested that I take half the prescribed dosage. We are already half through the day and all we have been able to accomplish is sorting out the daily medications. The bell on the toaster oven goes off. My half-bagel is toasted.

Next, my wife spent a lot of time trying to get in-home medical visits scheduled for me because she felt I needed routine check-ups that I wouldn’t have the strength to get via even more visits to doctors. Success did not come until after a couple of angry exchanges with hospital bureaucrats. You find out pretty quickly that in-home services are very tough to get.

Yesterday afternoon — after a virtual replication of the morning — was spent rescheduling doctor’s visits I’d missed while I was hospitalized, and rescheduling my haircut appointment twice in order to avoid conflicts with medical appointments. Oh, and did I mention that since May 23 there’s been sawing and banging going on in the apartment above us? Constant noise. With time off only on weekends. Knowing that the work is necessary — we also had to renovate before we moved in — doesn’t take away the stress.

Illness itself causes stress. All kinds of stress. The stress of taking multiple medications correctly throughout the day. The stress of picking up new medications because pharmacy delivery to the home is so uncertain. The stress a partner feels when hearing a recovering patient try to hobble to the restroom in the middle of the night. Just an accident away from another hospital visit. Then there’s the stress from changing the cooking to meet the new diet that’s been imposed.

My wife’s one pleasure these days is doing aquasizing at our rooftop pool. But that pleasure is denied to her now because there is no time. All her time is stolen trying to figure out how best to care for me. Oh, and I forgot to mention it, there are extensive repairs being made to the apartment above us.

That’s stress. In my case, I’ve found that hospitals don’t do a very good job providing post-hospital care. In most cases, there is none. What would happen if I didn’t have my wife to depend on? We were told to ”put him in a nursing home.” Cost-wise, it makes no sense to place someone in a nursing home if that person can get temporary care in the home. And that’s not to mention the cost factor. Most folks can’t afford long-term care insurance.

Later that afternoon, my wife – the weary caregiver — visits her own doctor who asks, “So what are you doing for yourself these days?” My wife couldn’t answer.