Editor's note: Sentinel Production Manager Jay McCaulley took some time off in October to undergo a medical procedure. His latest column shares his thoughts on the experience and the current national debate regarding health care reform.
It's 5 a.m. Monday morning and I'm checking into Altoona Hospital. I've had nothing to eat or drink since 10 p.m. Sunday night. The one-and-a-half-hour drive is finally over.
I lie around twiddling my thumbs while they slowly prep me for surgery. Questions follow questions about whether I'd followed my pre-op instructions. Finally they insert the I.V. (I hate needles).
At 6:30 they start me down the hallway to the operating room. They tell me I'm getting a little something in my I.V. to relax me. Well, that little something was all I needed, because I don't remember a thing after that.
They gently wake me in post op. They talk to me. I know this because my mother and wife tell me about it the next day. Hours later in a darkened room I awake. I'm by myself because the bed beside me isn't being used.
Everything seems to be OK until I cough. I have 40 staples and various stitches from my belly button up to my chest. The pain is overwhelming and I pray that I don't cough again. I do cough again and I think how could things get any worse.
Well they can get worse - nausea. I ring a bell for a nurse. They know I'm fresh from the O.R. and one comes running. She holds a bed pan while I throw up. All the while I'm trying to hold my chest and stomach together with the strength of my arms.
You may wonder why Altoona Hospital? I grew up in that area. The main reason, though, is the doctor.
Dr. Jones (not his real name) performed a colectomy on my grandmother Swank. A colectomy is the partial or total removal of the colon. He performed a colectomy on my mother. He performed colectomies on my brother Donald and myself.
My brother Kevin went to the emergency room on a weekend and drew another surgeon. I won't name him, but Kevin didn't fare so well. He's totally disabled today.
Dr. Jones walks through the hospital carrying a clipboard while dressed in his white coat. He surveys the scene and says all is well in his world. The nurses snap to attention and salute his holiness.
All the while his clipboard contains only the information provided by the nurses. He stops by my bed and asks a few questions, makes a few notes and tells me I'm doing fine.
I tell him I want out of this place. He tells me I'm a baby. I tell him he's a sadist because I'm still on a liquid diet and no man should live like that. He tells me "tough luck" because you're not getting solids, end of story. I don't get solids my entire six-day stay.
It might sound as if I don't like Dr. Jones. I do. He's a no-nonsense, 72-year-old dictator who demands that things be done his way every time. He's not a bad doctor to have in your corner. He did the surgery and did it well.
That's very important, but I've learned the real care that you get in the hospital comes from the nursing staff. Nurses who hold a bed pan while you throw up. Nurses who graciously, and with kindness, help you to redress and make you warm again after you manage to throw up over the side of the bed pan. Nurses who respond quickly and courteously after you ring that bell.
Nurses define a hospital. They make it what it is. I saw my doctor 10 minutes a day while I was in the hospital. I saw nurses the other 23 hours and 50 minutes each day.
The past eight years I've been admitted to four different large hospitals. These stays were all related to my heart. During the same period, I've had stays twice at Altoona Hospital and twice at Lewistown Hospital, related to diverticulitis and its aftermath.
My best care has come at Altoona and Lewistown. Our hospital is not large and is not nationally known like some other hospitals I've stayed at. But the nursing staff is kind and professional. They define Lewistown Hospital as a good hospital as far as I'm concerned.
I'd like to tell our president, as a frequent consumer of health-related care, our current system isn't broken. I received excellent care, and so did the 44-year-old man they moved next to me after the first day.
The 44-year-old was unemployed from his forklift job and he had no insurance. I had insurance; his treatment was just as good as mine.
Mr. President, go find something else to mess up. The health industry is doing just fine.