June 27, 2014

My Experience in the Hospital System

Last week I had my first experience as a patient in a hospital in over 20 years. My only hospital experience prior to that has been as a member of the birthing team in the role of a labor support doula.

I went in for a hernia repair surgery. The procedure is common, so I felt confident that all would be well (and fortunately it was!). Yet, my hospital experience was very eye opening. The spark to become a doula and advocate for childbirth education for the birthing woman came from witnessing a “typical” hospital birth. I had seen how mechanical the process was, and felt compelled to help women take ownership of their birth in a way that felt true to them. Now, having undergone abdominal surgery, I have even greater empathy for women entering motherhood after having birthed via cesarean, which is now the most common surgical procedure for women in the US. I want to share my experience as a educated, curious and confused patient in hope that it will help prepare the expectant mother for the experience ahead.

The weeks leading up to my surgery, I was researching hernia procedures and recovery. Understanding the process of what was going to happen actually helps me surrender. (Yes, I know I have control issues.) I thought I had a decent grasp of how this worked except for the fact the surgeon kept saying, “I really don’t know exactly what I am going to do until we get in there and see how bad the damage is.” Fair enough. So I asked what the different scenarios would be. He explained a few different options and I was satisfied.

The day of the surgery, my husband and I showed up at the hospital at our appointed time. Hungry and thirsty from the orders not to eat past midnight- even though my surgery was not scheduled until 1:30pm, we sat and waited. The whole experience felt like a game of ‘hurry up and wait!”. Eventually, a nurse confirmed my information and led me to an area to change into my surgical garb. This is the moment when whole thing started to feel real. We went upstairs and I was given a bed in pre-op to wait. And wait we did! Our OR time got pushed back by 2 hours. Finally, we moved to the “holding room”, waited some more, and after meeting with my doctor and anesthesiologist (and of course asking more questions and reminding them countless time that I am breastfeeding, and to adjust my medication accordingly), I walked into the operating room.

Once on the operating table, I was giving something to me “relax” as the anesthesiologist put it, and after a few breaths of the oxygen mask, I was out. I awoke in the recovery room, groggy and confused. I tried to ask how everything went, but struggled to get anyone’s attention. I was asked to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10 to determine if I needed more pain medication. I never saw my doctor again, and after persistent requests, someone from the surgery team came by to tell me everything went well.

I felt pushed through the system like a cog on the wheel. I tried to ask questions and in my vulnerable state, attempted to understand what was happening. My husband was by my side as much as he was allowed, and was advocating for my comfort and information. A couple hours after the surgery, still feeling quite dazed, I remember the nurse telling me it was time to move to phase 2 of the out-patient recovery, sitting in an upright recliner. I told the nurse that I was extremely dizzy and nauseous. I couldn’t walk to the reclining chairs, but they tried to convince me that a few deep breathes would be enough. After my first attempt to stand up, I turned ghostly white. I received some IV fluids (which consequently are a rare and valued commodity in hospitals now a days) I felt better and could move. Resting in phase 2, I was able to get down some some saltines, ice chips and ginger ale. After proving I could pee and get dressed, I was dismissed my husband accompanied me to a cab. Sore, groggy and with a tight binding around my whole torso (with a drainage tube attached to my corseted binding) I was left to figure out how to heal and proceed on my own.

Why am I writing about hernia surgery on a childbirth education blog? Well, If I felt disconnected, confused, shuffled-through a relatively controlled situation, how would a new mother feel in the midst of labor? Or, how would a mother who had undergone a cesarean birth- which is major abdominal surgery- feel while trying to get a grasp on the new responsibilities of motherhood?

I discussed this very thing with my friend, Denise. She has a 6 week old son, and commented that she was glad to have a doula with her to help her navigate the hospital system. My husband was a wonderful source of support, but I know he had to manage his own stress. I have no definitive answer. My only suggestion is to continue educate one’s self, ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable, find support and align yourself with a care provider who supports you. Giving birth is such a special and vulnerable time, you don’t want to feel like a cog in the wheel.

PS- With the social acceptance of cesareans, many women do not fully grasp the risks and recovery from a c-section and may not take the most dutiful approach to avoiding it. Here is some information about the pros and cons of a cesarean birth – To Cesarean or Not To Cesarean. Lastly, here is a piece called 5 Ways To Help Avoid a Cesarean



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