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Peterson: Hospital stays, hydration and detention

Published: Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013 10:23 p.m. CDT

The last time I was hospitalized for a physical ailment was almost 35 years ago when I had all the symptoms of appendicitis.

Except, upon removal, it was discovered that my appendix – a useless organ – was completely healthy, minding its own business, doing nothing in particular as it is wont to do. I was in the hospital for 11 days that summer. It was dreadful. I didn’t want to make a return engagement. Ever.

I returned last week for three days.

It wasn’t nearly as dreadful as 35 years ago.

Then, I was a college student at the University of Iowa, which has a medical school and a teaching hospital, and the young doctors were bound and determined to figure out what was wrong with me before sending me home. They would wait me out.

I ended up with a diagnosis of a disease that mimics the symptoms of appendicitis and is most commonly caused by eating undercooked pork. It seemed to be a stretch. In fact, the disease is mentioned in the same sentence as the plague, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I was this close to the plague. What would we do without the miracle of the Internet?

I wrote about my hospital stay for the student newspaper in one of the final issues of the summer semester, and my doctor, whom I did not name, took extreme offense at it, and he fired off a long, nasty letter to the editor rebutting me. I got the letter before my follow-up appointment with him, and I made a point to skip it.

It’s one thing for your doctor to rebut you in a newspaper of general circulation. It’s quite another to sit in his office for a follow-up examination. Doctors can make you hurt like nothing else, and they can say it is all in the name of medical science. I wasn’t about to face him on such uneven ground.

This also was before the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which is used as grounds for health-care providers from releasing any – and I underscore “any” with a thick black marker – information about your medical status to anyone except yourself. Had the legislation been in effect in 1979, the doctor would not have been able to write the letter, and I would have been an unwitting victim of his revenge.

I’m not a big fan of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The reason I was in the hospital this time was fainting, which was called syncope for the duration of my stay, which sounds a lot better. Whether it had anything to do with just getting over the flu is subject to conjecture. I did what I shouldn’t have done two days in a row.

I underwent a battery of tests, and I am happy to say that I passed them, and I am especially happy to report that my heart is in great condition. It has years of good service ahead of it.

To a person, the hospital staff was friendly, smiling and a joy to be around. The food was good and ordered through “room service,” to give you the idea you were staying in a fine hotel.

But fine hotels don’t confine you to your bed. By confine, I mean a loud alarm would go off if I got out of bed without the assistance of a nurse or technician. That happened once, and I learned my lesson. Because I had fainted, who’s to say I wouldn’t do it again on hospital time? So anytime I needed to get out of bed, I needed to call for assistance.

Being confined to bed like that gives me new appreciation of the ankle monitors criminals are required to wear when under house arrest and not allowed to leave the bounds of their yards. Your freedom is impinged. 

And because I did not want to bother staff, the only time I had to get out of bed – and I underscore “had to” with a thick black marker – was when I had to use the restroom. They were pushing liquids because I was somewhat dehydrated, and that apparently can cause fainting.

I chalk up these fainting spells to one of those things, medically speaking, nothing remotely close to the plague. What I came away from three days in the hospital is the importance of hydration. And I am taking it seriously. Eight to 10 glasses of water a day, which is enough to float any ship.

Last year my young-but-growing-old daughter gave me a 32-ounce water bottle as a gift, and I have used it, but never had finished a whole bottle during the day. My goal has been readjusted. To get in eight glasses – at 8 ounces to a glass – I need to drink two full bottles of water a day. Glug. Glug. Flush. Flush.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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