For a lot of years, I routinely admitted patients to hospitals. Due to a recent brief sojourn in one, I now feel compelled to seek atonement for those sins.
As I am sure you are all aware, to be hospitalized means that during your stay, you will spend almost all of your time in a contraption the medical staff will refer to as a bed. My recent experience has enlightened me, for I naively thought that the word bed when used in medical parlance had the same meaning as it did in ordinary conversation, i.e., a place where one could rest or even sleep. In truth, it turns out that a hospital “bed” has little to do with such a concept, but is simply a workbench designed primarily for the comfort and convenience of the worker.
As such, today’s hospital beds are of course designed to perform all kinds of tasks with minimal effort on the part of the worker. The hand cranked mechanisms of past generations are now powered by electric motors, and with a push of a button, will raise or lower all or parts of the bed. They come equipped with a variety of connecting mechanisms that allow all kinds of accessories to be attached. All in all, as tools, they are marvelously engineered and do amazing things none of which have anything to do with patient comfort.
If you have the misfortune to find yourself in a hospital bed, you will find yourself lying on a thin, usually lumpy, mattress atop a metal slab. Such discomfort does not come cheap however for Modern Healthcare says the average cost for a hospital bed in 1998 was $15,627 while specialized Intensive care beds can cost $25,000 to $35,000.
Since these so-called beds are narrow enough that to roll over could land a patient on the floor resulting in a wrongful death lawsuit, they come equipped with side rails as standard equipment. The practices of shackling patients to their beds, euphemistically referred to as the use of soft restraints, has received a lot of bad press in recent years consequently; our always innovative design engineers have located the side rail lowering mechanisms in a place where they are inaccessible to the patient. The result is that one is virtually immobilized.
Such a strategy does have its limitations however. I recall a conversation from years ago with a patient of mine who sustained some rather serious injuries when he fell while attempting to climb over his bed rails. Following the time-honored tradition of blaming the victim, I asked him why he had done such a thing. He replied that he needed to use the bathroom. When I responded with the equally inane question as to why he didn’t wait for help, his answer was prophetic: “If you ever have a prostate like mine you will understand and not ask such a dumb-ass question.” Now, a few decades later I do understand.
When trapped in one of those cages, the patient’s lifeline is the “call light,” presumably so named from the days when the push of a button turned on a light in the nurse’s station. This would summon a nurse to the patient’s room. Now due to the miracles of modern science, that gadget has morphed into a 2-way radio, and your voice will probably be answered by the ward secretary in a businesslike fashion, but in a tone that suggests “what the hell do you want now?”. In the event you happen to reach a nurse who has been forced to work overtime after completing a 12-hour shift, prayer will be your best option.
Most of you are undoubtedly familiar with the aforementioned gadget which also has buttons to operate the TV and room lights. It is attached to a cable which is the umbilical cord to the outside world. This presents a hazard to a klutzy guy like me who tends to drop everything he touches. Consequently, panic set in when I dropped the thing on the floor in the middle of the night. There was urgent business which needed immediate attention and no way for me to escape containment. The feelings of helplessness engendered, rapidly progressed to an exacerbation of my latent claustrophobia.
Fortunately, I was saved from psychotic decompensation when someone who in other circumstances I would have cursed for awakening me at such an ungodly hour came in the room to check my vital signs. She turned out to be very helpful and I felt like kissing her for saving me. I have no idea who she was for it is difficult to distinguish the nursing staff from the cleaning crew these days for they are all dressed in scrubs. Gone are the days of starched white nurses uniforms with dainty white caps perched on their coiffured heads, which announced the school from which they trained. White oxfords and stockings have been traded in for sneakers. Dress codes long gone demanded that hair must never reach the collar.
It is not that I have ever been intrigued by formality, and I confess that I have not worn a necktie in the past couple of years. Nevertheless, I believe that some uniformity conveys a sense of pride in one’s profession and in medicine inspires confidence in the caregiver, which has been proven to be therapeutic, but that has been given up in the name of casual comfort for the caregiver.
Now that we have hospital beds doing most of the heavy lifting, could not engineers now engage all that superior intellect in an all out effort to design a bed with the comfort of the patient in mind? Back in the dark ages when I was in medical school we were taught that rest was a powerful tool to aid in the healing process, a principle undoubtedly discovered by grandmothers thousands of years ago. Who knows? To be in a real bed might even allow us to catch a few winks in between assaults on our body.