Teaching Hospitals: The Good and the Bad

The benefit of being at a teaching hospital is that you get access to a wealth of knowledge and many opinions.

That is the downside also.

I can’t count the number of times that doctors and physician assistants stood at the foot of my bed and discussed in front of me what to do about some of the fixes that I got into. Sometimes they did it sensitively, but at other times it was as though I wasn’t even there. I wondered why they couldn’t take it into the hall.

A nasty cough over the holiday weekend

The events leading to my trip to tennis’ District Championships, the first weekend in August, 15 years ago, were a case in point. (That’s when I played and won while I had pneumonia.)

The events also illustrated the dictum, “Never get sick on a holiday weekend.” If only.

I developed a bad cough over Fourth of July weekend. My doctor was away. It took a while to figure out what was wrong with me. It took even longer to figure out what to do about it. The hospital was short-staffed.

Tests revealed that I had a fungal pneumonia, invasive Aspergillosis, caused by a dangerous mold, Aspergillus.

It was before I was to have my last and strongest round of chemotherapy, followed by my stem cell transplant. The pneumonia threw a wrench into the plans.

The need for sensitivity

A surgeon appeared at my bed in the dark of night. He said it was the only time he could come. He said matter-of-factly that he could just slice me open. I was half asleep… and very upset.

My mother tried to lighten the mood the next day when we saw him, rumpled-looking, on one of our walks around the hospital.

“That wasn’t a surgeon, that was the janitor,” she said.

Another surgeon said video assisted thoracic surgery, or VATS, was a less aggressive option.

My low platelet count was also a problem; it was too low to ensure proper clotting during any procedure. Transfusions failed to give me a “bump.”

Desperate for answers and a plan

When my doctor returned, he was bombarded with people wanting this and that. One of those people was me. I asked if I could still get the transplant.

He stood at the foot of my bed and bellowed, “There will be a plan!”

He strode out of the room.

I burst into tears. I asked for my nurse.

She said that shouldn’t have happened. She had the director of the program call me.

He apologized and echoed, in a softer voice, my doctor’s assurance that there would be a plan.

They decided that I would get the VATS. But first, I would go home so my body could make more platelets.

My platelet count did indeed increase. I returned to the hospital the Monday after the Districts. What a change it was to go from the tennis court to the operating table, from euphoria to apprehension.

But there was a plan, and it was instituted, and I got through it.

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