Fire in the Hole

By Crouse Hospital Patient Mark David Blum, Esq.

OK, so I am a prisoner of a hospital. “Prisoner” is an appropriate word because though I came voluntarily, I have since been found myself not only at the mercy of my caregivers, but also at the lack thereof.

Imagine you find yourself hospitalized with severe internal problems that in the end are going to result in a major operation. You did not ask for the pain or the problem. Nor did you ask to be hospitalized or treated for a failing body. Life is what it is and each of us has our points at which our aging bodies will fail. Simple math says that by the time we reach 50, the chances of being hospitalized grow exponentially. No longer are you there for stitches or broken bones. Now you are inpatient for internal failures, chemistry misfires, and brain farts.

Once inside the great bowels of the hospital, you meet the most loving adoring and giving persons imaginable. But, in their heart of hearts, it appears that caregiving has shifted its focus away from the humanity and moreso into making sure care and attention is paid to protocols. Yes, it is rules, procedures, arrogance of always being right that has built an insurmountable chasm between the relationship of patient and hospital.

Let’s start with an easy example and a personal favorite: Smoking. I did not volunteer to be in this establishment. I also understand fully the risks and dangers of second hand smoke and the risk of fire and oxygen. This basic knowledge comes from a lifetime of common sense, education, and still being able to remember smoking lounges in hospitals. So, bottom line is that it is not smoking that is the issue but rather it is that hospitals just don’t like people who smoke. Any regular smoker can imagine the ugly misery of being day 3 without a nicotine fix. Finally unable to deal with it anymore, I thought I had the perfect solution. Going into the shower and turning the temperature on full blast, I assumed that where the steam went, so too would go any smoke that might get mixed into it should I decide to smoke a butt in the shower. (For the record, no oxygen hookups or flammable items are in the shower). Sitting there and experimenting with the lighter to watch air flow, I learned that the steam and presumably smoke rose up and disappeared into the air venting system.

Voila, it worked. It worked so well that my room mate, also a smoker, joined in and also was able to snatch a butt or two during the day. All was well until I was granted a private room. Thinking the system would work the same, I went about taking a long shower and killing a butt. This time, however, the steam and aroma followed me out of the shower and into my room and filled the hallways.

Thirty seconds did not pass and a nurse walked in. “Have you been smoking in here? I smell smoke.”

“No Ma’am, not me. I also smell it but have no idea what you are talking about.”

So she says, “I am going to have to report this to security.”

A handful of moments later, a 20 something rent-a-cop charged into my room as though I was in the process of raping Mother Theresa. Seeing me sitting there and watching TV, he turned around and left. Fifteen minutes later, both he and his aging fattening supervisor came in and proceeded to lecture me at a 5th grade level about the dangers and risks of smoking in the rooms. Then with a smile, they left.

I caught up with the young guard a few minutes later and we shared a laugh about the anal retentive nurses. He said there really is nothing they can do because it is not a crime and the only recourse is to throw the patient out of the hospital. Doing that is an even worse outcome, so to their credit, security has a better handle on how to deal with patients than naughty nurses who don’t like smokers. In fact, I was shown where I along with all other patients and staff go to smoke just past the ‘No Smoking Sign’. Dragging my little friend, the IV machine and dressed in my finest hospital jammies, I went out into the drizzling rain and cannot express how good it felt to be outside and poisoning my lungs with the sweet taste of tobacco.

Yes, right out there in the middle of the day in the middle of busy Irving Avenue on the Hill, I along with many other patients took up our spots and sucked out butts. Joined by employees of various hospitals and students from the med and nursing schools, the sidewalk on the other side of the No Smoking sign requires a bulldozer to get through the butts and find a spot to sit. Ahhh, relief.

But the real fire is in my gut. As a dear friend of mine said, “only Mark Blum could have sludge in his Gall Bladder.” Yes, that is the outcome of today’s tests. Sludge. Must be payback from Dan O’Hara and our battles at the Fair. Realistically, after a one last batch of tests and fun tomorrow, I expect to go have surgery sometime Wednesday or Thursday. Most definitely I am going to have to find a better lubricant to keep my engines fired up at full throttle.

No story of mine goes without a lesson based on life experience. One last test I have to endure is a radioactive isotopes examination to determine whether there is any function left to my gall bladder. They promised the test today which required me to go a second day without food or pain meds. Sucking it up, I took on the system and did my time and paid my price so these overpaid doctors can run up another bill on my insurance company.

Lord knows the doctors would not want to miss their evening joys and decided in the end to not do the test until tomorrow. We all understand how important doctor’s Happy Hour is and how disconnected they have become from the patient before them. But these doctors not only failed to treat the patient in front of them, but they did not even bother to tell anybody they were not going to do the procedure. If not for my continual nagging, I finally got the bad news at 4:40 p.m. At least I got a meal of pills and soda to hold me over until tomorrow’s radiating.

Fires do not only exist at the end of a cigarette or in the stomach. My former hospital room mate came in with a simple case of divurticulosis; a hole in the lower intestine that can be treated with antibiotics and pain killers. A fascinating man he is, also from Manlius, and like me, was supposed to go home the next day.

Well, the doctors tried a new and more powerful antibiotic which, in his own words, “set my balls on fire.” He now has blood in his urine and is suffering at a level unheard of when he arrived. Like me, he too has been denied access to doctors and has to live with bits and incomplete pieces of information and therefrom deduce an informed consent.

From where I lay, a fire needs to be lit. Folks at this institution need to learn that following (or failing to follow) protocol is causing harm on a daily basis. My world travelling friend with the balls of fire did not deserve his condition made worse. My condition deserved resolution long before now but the fire burning in the doctor’s pants to go get drunk after work took precedence. Lastly, the fire burning at the end of a cigarette is a liberty interest of a private citizen and of no business of the hospital.

I have never done a medical malpractice case in my life and have no interest in doing so. My background as a combat medic has taught me that there is just too many unknowns and judgment calls that have to be made moment by moment that do not deserve the scrutiny of 20/20 hindsight. After this experience I am having, a new fire is burning in my belly to use the power of the law to bring about social change. Until Medicine as an industry realizes it is but an employee and helper of the patient, there is constantly going to be friction that at times can get explosive.

So with strike two looming, all I can say now is “common baby, light my fire.” It wont take much at this juncture after all I endured this day to set me off. No heavy hitters needed; just one with a fire in his belly.

Oh, and P.S.: All you smarty pants doctors and medical professionals ... Milk, ice cream, cottage cheese are among the dietary foods that are really unhealthy for a person who is lactose intollerant. This is especially so since such intolerance attacks the pancrease and gall bladder. But we can save that for another discussion.

Back to the MarkBlum Report

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