Surviving Hospitalisation: The First Trip (2 of 7)

Ameena Meer is a writer and single mother of three girls living in New York City, who runs her own advertising agency.  As a person who went through traditional cancer treatments for several months and was also hospitalized for other illnesses in the past, she thought it would be useful to create a guide to navigating the medical system when you’re stuck inside.  This is an excerpt from her blog www.amazonsofnyc.blogspot.com 

The Diagnosis

ameena meer overcome choriocarcinomaEvery time I talk about my cancer experiences – and my various other health issues over the years – someone invariably says, “You really have to write a book about this …”

Let me prepare you here. This became such a long list of directions that I have cut it up into manageable chunks. However, I suggest you print it out and make a checklist before you go to hospital. Or print it out for your friends or family members who have to go.

I am not a doctor, but I want to offer people the basic stuff I’ve learned through years of experience as a successful patient. If you read this and you know someone else who is unwell, not just with cancer (for example, I’ve also had meningitis, a rare liver virus, a spina bifida baby, an ovarian cyst) please pass it on. Not everything may be useful for everyone but some of it will definitely make a difference.

The first trip

the first scary visit to the hospital
i don’t want a hysterectomy

Let’s start with the scary first trip to the hospital. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I walked into Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City.

The very beautiful and lovely (I swear, she is a Julia Roberts look-alike!) surgeon said to me, “I can offer you a hysterectomy on Monday.” This was Thursday evening.

She spoke as if she were offering me a slice of cake. This brilliant young surgeon was famous for her robotic, laser-optic surgery which promises a faster recovery and smaller scars.

I said, “I don’t WANT a hysterectomy!” Given my surgeon’s polite and pleasant tone, my response was rude, but honestly, she scared the hell out of me.  And I was scared already because I’d been hemorrhaging for the past two months and it was exhausting just to walk a city block.

Fear does strange things to you

When you’ve just been diagnosed with something horrid and possibly life-threatening, you do what seems to be the rational thing, you go to the place where everything seems the most calm and organized, where everyone seems to have everything under control. And, in the case of Memorial Sloan Kettering, it is the place with the most pervasive and convincing advertising campaign.

This seems smart. As consumers, when we really freak out, we go to the brand that is synonymous with the product. Kleenex for tissues. For luxury products, to Chanel or Hermes. Sony for televisions. In our house, it’s the Apple Store for anything computer-related. However, as it turns out, those big huge predictable organizations and corporations are not always the best, as we all learned in the recent financial crisis.

You remember the old ways – if you feel queasy, drink Canada Dry Ginger Ale (which does not have real ginger in it and the sugar combined with the carbonation will eat through your teeth and give you kidney stones) – or if you have a headache, take Bayer or Advil (which can have a rebound effect and can harm your kidneys). There is no longer safety in what seems to be “tried-and-true.”

Decide for yourself

listen respectfully to your doctor. do your research. make your own decision

So back to the advice I keep repeating. No matter what your doctor tells you, listen respectfully (and have a friend with you, writing it all down so you can research the information) and then, make your own decision.

Nothing has to be done in that instant. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, quite often they schedule an appointment for you in a few days or weeks or even a month. It means that no one thinks you will keel over that very day.

You do have time

Take a deep breath. Go home. Organize your stuff and your family. If you are so frightened you can’t think clearly, ask a friend or relative to help you, but do some research. Talk to lots of people with vastly different viewpoints and listen, if you can, without panicking. Eat organic food, drink lots of water (tension dehydrates you!)

Try to avoid sugar, wheat and caffeine, animal products, too if you feel up to it. All of those foods cause heat and inflammation in your body and right now, you need to calm it down. Add a little baking soda, just a tiny pinch, to your water.

If you can find a way to meditate, even if it means lying quietly in your bed with your eyes closed (my favorite way), listen to your body. Probably, when you really zone out, what you need to do will just pop into your head.

Whatever is happening, try not to do anything in a rush or a fear-induced frenzy because then you might not give yourself what you really need. And even if you do, even if you are so scared (and I was, so I know), don’t worry about it. You can always change your mind. Don’t let ad campaigns, corporations, research protocols or intimidating doctors make decisions for you.

Breathe. As long as your brain is working, you can think for yourself.

Reflection

  • What is the first emotion that arises when you think of your own hospitalisation? If it is fear, what are you most afraid of?
  • Hospitals can get disorienting and depressing, how can you be better prepared for your hospital stay?
  • What more do you need to research regarding possible treatment options in addition to what the doctors tell you?
  • How well are you able to connect with your doctor at a human level?
  • While big brands and conventional treatments are reassuring, how can hold on to your individual needs?
  • Decisions about cancer treatments can be intimidating, what will return you to a calm state of mind so that you can make a balanced decision?

More from this series

Title About the article
Part 1 As a person who went through traditional cancer treatments for several months and was also hospitalized for other illnesses in the past, Ameena Meer thought it would be useful to create a guide to navigating the medical system when you’re stuck inside.
Part 2 I am not a doctor, but I want to offer people the basic stuff I’ve learned through years of experience as a successful patient.
Part 3 Unless you are a wealthy, high-profile celebrity, you will not get special attention at a factory. Which is pretty much what a hospital is.
Part 4 The idea is to turn your big, scary hospital into a small, loving place. You want to make it a place where they will really look after you. You can even become a cheer-leader for everyone else along the way.
Part 5 It’s still a hideous proposition if you must stay in hospital, but there are ways you can make it more bearable, maybe even pleasant. Sometimes it’s as easy as a list of things that you might bring, or have friends or relatives bring, that makes it feel more at-home.
Part 6 All this stuff may seem absurdly expensive given your circumstances, but I suggest you invest in it anyway. It makes you feel chic and aristocratic and helps you continue to behave in a dignified fashion. And in the end, it will be the way you treat the people who help you that will make all the difference.
Part 7 This is one tip that may not practically affect the tone of your stay, but it will ease your mind and help you feel like you are part of the process

 

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