Security of the hospital

Some people get sick when they are in hospitals, and by sick I mean a bad feeling, a pit in their stomach that is generally associated with things unwanted. It’s almost like a taste aversion where you associate bad things with a given environment (or taste). And many hospitals have such a bad smell that you feel as though you can taste them.

The other side of that coin is that some come to love the hospital, or at least they can love being in it for in the hospital lies a level of security. It is a safe place from many perspectives and at critical times of treatment you often wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

As it happens I have experience with both the aversion, to a specific part of the hospital, and also that feeling of comfort.

I was extremely lucky as for most of my treatment I was home, in St. John’s, and I live about a seven-minute drive from the hospital. If my temp spiked or anything went wrong, which happened more than once, I was a few good snowball throws away. For my transplants which I had away, the first in Toronto and the second in Ottawa, it was a similar situation. Though the trips to the hospital were certainly more involved in the bigger cities.

The most significant times when my security was tested involved weddings, one for a good friend of mine and the other for my brother. Each of them happened in the two year period after my second transplant. That was a time when I was very focused on having my second remission outlast my first, something most of my docs did not expect to happen. Given those predictions I was extremely cautious and also put a lot of energy into pushing away my fears in hopes of getting to the “new territory.”

My friend’s wedding was in August of 2002 in North Carolina and I was booked to go and spend some time down south with friends celebrating. The morning I was supposed to leave I felt this bad feeling in my gut. I wasn’t in pain; it was my intuition, or my fear, telling me that maybe I shouldn’t go. I played with it for a while and after an hour or so I decided that it was better to err on the side of caution.

What would I do if I got sick down there without any medical insurance? And getting sick could range from really sick and Intensive Care like I had experienced in 1999 after my first transplant or just mildly sick but still requiring hospitalization as had happened many times before. Those possibilities all came with huge financial implications that weren’t good.

I let my fear control me. I don’t know that it was a bad move, but the short story is that I wasn’t comfortable taking the risk. I don’t know if it was the right decision in hindsight, but at the time it certainly was and I guess that is what really matters.

I was faced with this same kind of situation for my brother’s wedding in Cuba. This time I was further away from my second transplant but still not near enough to that magic mark of two plus years, when my second remission would become longer than my first. Given that it was my brother’s wedding I wanted to be there really badly but the stakes got higher as I wouldn’t be going to the US and a similar healthcare system. Cuba, as I understand, is a very different world.

Another thing playing with my decision at the time were stories from people who had been there that getting medical attention took days often times as opposed to hours. Doctors were rare and nurses did most of the care. That weighed on me heavily as I played through scenarios in my mind that would see me get sick and then try to get a flight home. If that happened, who would come with me, would that totally mess up the wedding week, how long would I be there before I could get home?

Again the summer of ’99 and my very quick deterioration after getting an infection was top of mind. I played with the possibility of that worst-case situation and how we would deal with it.

I didn’t go and again I look back and wonder if it was the right decision. All I can say is that at the time with the information I had and the feelings I was feeling it was right for me.

Having medical attention down the road from your house is a luxury and I have friends who had to travel and even live far away from home for the vast majority of their treatment. I’m talking about years not months away from home. The security I felt from being close to the hospital was really most noticeable when I was faced with the decision to move away from it. I took it for granted because it was always there.

The further away from treatment I am the more comfortable I am. I remain in second remission and have just celebrated the third anniversary of my second transplant on October 10, 2004: An anniversary that many never thought would happen.

The more I open myself to the therapies and treatments available that I feel can help me prevent another relapse that more comfortable I feel that the hospital isn’t my only option for better health but also that my plans of not relying on it too significantly is a possibility.

My plan is to have my visits to the hospital be 99 per cent social visits, one per cent check up to make sure my blood remains healthy.

As my time in hospital drops both in frequency and quantity I am more comfortable being away and don’t need its security. And that is a great place to be.

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