Always read hospital fine print

2010-03-09 00:00

YOU can go into hospital as one person and come out someone else entirely.

Some people expect to have a dud leg amputated and find the good one’s been cut off instead. One man went in to have his left testicle examined only to have the right one removed. And some people just plain die, which is why the hospital makes you sign a blizzard of paperwork so that it can never be held responsible.

Here’s some advice: read everything they put in front of you.

I went in for a “procedure” to fix my knee, which suddenly decided, after sounding daily warnings for a year, that it would no longer co-operate with my 70 km a week training schedule for Comrades. The alarm had become deafening after an otherwise tolerable 32 km Sunday run, and by Tuesday I had to hoist the white flag and book an appointment with the orthopod. Last year he jabbed the knee with cortisone to sort out what looked like a bursa. It kept me going but didn’t get to the source of the injury. This time he did an ultrasound and sent me off for an MRI scan. Hmmmm. Yes, well, it looks like there’s a meniscal cleavage there: see the thin white line? And a cyst (which was a leftover from last year). And who knows what else is going on in there, he mused. Orthopods don’t like runners, for some reason. They seem to prefer skateboarders and horse riders, who traipse through their waiting rooms with some regularity. They also like cyclists and swimmers, but not for the same reasons.

So what do you want to do, he asks, knowing from years of repairing runners what the answer will be. The right answer is “I’ll stop running”, because, actually, the pain doesn’t stop me from doing anything else. Next best answer is “I’ll take a break and see if it heals by itself’’, but he knows there’s a big race on the horizon, so that’s not going to happen. He’s dying to operate, I can see, but it’s got to come from me. Okay, let’s do it, I say.

“It” is an arthroscopy. It’s not quite an operation, which conjures up images of ripped-open ribcages, pumping hearts and lots of blood being suctioned. If there’s no scalpel, there’s no operation really. So “procedure” probably describes it better, because it’s not such a big deal.

The day before the “procedure” they do a pre-medical examination. Do you have? No! Have you ever? No! Height, weight and all that. Blood pressure 88/59: OMG are you on medication? No, always been like that. Pulse 46: Gosh you’re fit. I always love it when they say that.

I get the all clear and check in at 6.30 the next morning. Sign here, where’s your card, where’s your money, please read this. Okay, okay, okay. Religion: Catholic. Catholic? Where did that come from? I skip that box when they ask, so how N/A becomes Catholic I don’t know. Puzzling. The hand of God maybe? It’s quickly forgotten.

When the nurse comes to prep me it’s more of the same: yes, yes, yes. Epileptic. Epileptic? No, I’m not epileptic. Never have been. How did that get in there? I’m starting to understand how the wrong parts go missing between admission and discharge. Okay, no harm done. Let’s get on with it.

Would you like a sedative, sir? What for? Well, some people get nervous. I can see why they get nervous, but no, the anaesthetic will be enough of a sedative for me. Thank you. I get two wristbands, but I don’t have my glasses and I don’t check to see what’s written on them.

In theatre there’s a third round of checks. By now the epileptic Catholic has morphed into a teenage girl in for a navicular excision. If I’d read the wristband I’d have picked up that I’d had a sex change and quaffed some elixir of life along the way too. Thank god for the eagle-eyed nurse on duty. Just to make sure, she says, you’re in for an arthroscopy on the right knee, right? Right.

Like I said, hospitals can change you. The bandage is off, I have all my limbs and organs, the knee can bend and I’ll soon know if I’ve been turned back into a runner. Then I’ll have to work out if I’ve lost too much training to do the Comrades.

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