By paroled Crouse Hospital patient
Mark David Blum, Esq.
By definition, “lactose intolerance” means that you cannot digest foods with lactose in them. Lactose is the sugar found in milk and foods made with milk. In reality and contrary to the American Dairy Board, milk does not do a body good. In fact, historically, humans have had no use for milk once weaned from the mothers. Only modern marketing by some very happy cows have convinced Americans that milk is and still should be a staple of our diet. Because it is not natural to humans as adults, many of us are not able to digest milk products. It can create all kinds of havoc with digestive and other body systems.
I am one of those folks who cannot tolerate milk. Normally that does not stop me from eating some of my favorite foods like ice cream or butter or even a yummy bowl of cereal. In doing so, I know in advance that there is going to be a price to be paid but am willing to endure the grief for the momentary pleasure of taste.
But, when I have spent days vomiting and my innards feel like they have been dragged down the highway behind a speeding motorcycle and then run over by a semi trailer, milk and milk products are among the last items of interest to me. I made of a point of that as I was answering all the intake and other interrogations endured as I was processed in and through the hospital. “No Milk” diet was the mantra that went along with everything else. One would expect that such a simple limitation would be easily understood by the dieticians at the institution. During their two hour long siestas where they relax while vegetables are boiled to near liquid state and before water is added to the powdered eggs, Crouse dieticians sleep away their education.
Thanks to the advances in modern technology, modern medicine has come up with an innumerable litany of tests that they can run to hunt for the cause of internal pain. Whether getting scoped from the top or bottom, whether by ultrasound or tracing radioactive isotopes, medicine has some pretty fancy machinery. Each machine test, however has some very basic rules. No food, no pain medications, and anything else they can think of to make you miserable for at least 6-12 hours before the test is the rule.
Four days I was incarcerated at Crouse Hospital. Four days I endured endos from one end to the other. For four days, my ability to even be permitted to have any kind of meal was limited. Four days of pain and suffering for the good of the insurance company. Five meals of various types were all I was allowed to have.
The first meal I was able to eat was only liquid. Among the goodies I got were milk, ice cream, and custard. Remember, I was imprisoned because of extreme internal pain and related symptoms directly related to my digestive tract. My first gift of food after 18 hours of IV only was wholly inedible; unless they wanted a Code.
Long story short (a first), each of the meals I was allowed was predominantly milk based. At a minimum, there was always a carton as the sole fluid to drink.
I brought this to the attention of my nurses. I pointed it out to my doctors. Even a wonderful duet from Administration came down to see me and I showed them too food trays with milk as the staple. Over and over the message was conveyed and over and over the milk just kept on coming. (If not for my ability to sneak around at night and steal food from comatose patients, I would have starved to death).
After a while it became a running joke. Even as I was being discharged and the doc and my wife and I were discussing the event and aftercare, a food tray arrived, and voila; la leche league strikes again. I offered ice cream and milk around and was thankful I get to go back home to my normal gall bladder sludge building diet.
I remember coming out of a morphine haze at various points on Saturday and thought I heard the sound system playing the lullaby song: “Lullaby and goodnight, go to sleep my little baby.” The playing of the song over the sound system would not have been noticeable if not for the fact that I was hearing it at random points throughout the day. At first, I thought it was a gentle notice to staff that shift changes were coming up. But watching the clock, there was simply no rhyme or reason to the playing of the song. Yet, there it was, over and over. Many times on Saturday, a couple on Sunday, and then a bunch more on Monday and Tuesday.
Everywhere I went and nearly every experience I had as a patient, the fingerprints of my professional colleagues were evident. Whether it was hyper documentation (which occupied more nursing time than was available for treatment) or defensive medicine or even snotty comments from radiology techs “if I answered your question, I could get sued”, I could not solve the mystery of the Lullaby Song. Finally, I had to ask.
In the maternity unit, there is a button. At their discretion, parents of a child just born have the option to hit the button and the Lullaby Song plays over the sound system. The song apparently is a delightful little way of announcing the birth of a child. Awww. One nurse told me that the “LOLs” love the song. (“LOL” in medical textbooks is “little old lady”).
The LOLs may have been having their fun with the Lullabye Song. My ears were even more attuned to the seventeen babies STOLEN from the hospital. Indeed, over the course of my stay, I heard at least seventeen alarms for “CHILD STOLEN” and the last known location is announced.
As a concerned human being, I too would get out of bed and wander around hunting a missing child. The bodies began to pile up and I was really concerned about what the hell was going on. Eventually the mystery is solved. When babies are born they are fitted with hospital bracelets which unlike most are also equipped with computer chips.
If the baby is removed from the room or floor without the chip being disabled, it sets off an automatic “CHILD STOLEN FOUR SOUTH” or wherever the even happens. Elevators are locked down and I assume SWAT is called and eventually the parents and their newborn are freed after their takedown. Quite the innovative security system they have; as effective and reliable as the alarms on the Abbot I.V. machines. Cry “wolf” too many times and ….
Unknown to me how it happened though I am glad it did, my last two essays on my hospital stay made their way into the hospital’s own intranet; meaning along with the day’s orders, memos, and announcements were my two observations of a day in the life at Crouse.
It was not long before I had a visit from the leaders of the Lollypop Guild. Administration officials came down and wanted to discuss some of my thoughts. They were kind, listened, and I believed truly concerned about the breaches of protocol and failures of procedure that caused my stay to be so ummm, ‘Blumworthy’. After all other than Syracuse Newspaper reporter Jim O’Hara, who writes about the mundane?
We spent a great time together and had some laughs. Their concerns seemed genuine. When I denied smoking, they told me I had already admitted it in my website, so I blushed and confessed. I also told them about five other places on the floor I could sneak a butt.
I tried to make them understand that I am not an employee or visitor. My visit to the hospital was not voluntary and it was not their place to enforce a lifestyle change on me. Sure, they can educate. I welcome their efforts. Smoking kills – but then again so to do nosocomial infections and medical slip ups. I tried to explain that we patients are there for treatment and mandating we come off nicotine at the same time we are suffering elsewhere, was cruel and unfair. A lounge on the roof for patients only was my solution. To me, it made the hospital look bad when a gathering of pajama clad patients along with their IV buddies were all huddled one inch past the No Smoking signs.
I made it clear that prisoners in maximum security facilities who are under 24/7 scrutiny manage to get drugs and cell phones in at will. There is simply no way you are going to stop a determined smoker. A prohibition policy creates a situation of riskier behavior and the potential for greater harm than a shed on the roof.
I could not say goodbye to my friends and loved ones at Crouse who are following this tale without this one last brief tale.
As I was headed down to nuclear medicine for the isotope test, I was looking forward to drinking a glass of radioactive goop just to have a meal in my stomach. No such luck. The protein molecules were administered by needle.
And then, I had to lay there. I had to lay there until the isotopes toured Chez Blum and found their way to the targeted organ. Ninety minutes I had to lay flat. With lots of pain in my gut, laying flat is about the last thing I am able to do without being in pain. Doing so for and hour and a half was the limit of my ability to cope. Twelve hours without pain meds in preparation for the test did not help. But, I teach others that the strength of the mind is greater than the strength of the body and you can will yourself through the worst of situations.
So this “I wouldn’t want to be sued” radiology tech kept coming into the room about every twenty minutes. I know this because I asked; constantly. A Dollar Store clock would have made all the difference in the world.
On June 21, 1986, I met the then and current Mrs. Blum. We met at my eldest’s daycare where my Mrs. was then a substitute teacher. I recall having a conversation with the director of the facility and listening to a lecture on “patience” (single parenthood sucks, for Dads too) when out of the corner comes the corniest dumbest joke I ever heard. It turned my head and from that moment on, my Mrs. and I have been inseparable.
The joke? Same one I ran by the radiology tech.
Like Leslie Nielson’s good luck wishes on a safe landing in Airplane, this tech came into the room a few times and through my moaning said, “be patient Mark, its almost over.”
My response? “If I had any patience, I would have been a doctor.”
Her: “… or a teacher”
Me: “You have got to be kidding. The dumbest joke in the world, and I got it by a medical professional? If I had any patience (PATIENTS), I would of been a doctor.”
Crouse Hospital and to all those who were kind and giving and there for my help and benefit. I know your intentions were pure and SNAFUS happen everywhere. Come walk a mile in my shoes and you will learn about situations normal and all fucked up.
I love and respect those folks and have no quarrel with putting my health and that of my loved ones in their care should the situation ever so require. That should say it all. I wish I could say more. Probably, I have said too much.