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Monday, September 9, 2013

Hospital shorts

This posting of bits and pieces comes from the time a few weeks ago when I was a hospital patient and the sole occupant of a large, comfortable room. Amongst the comings and goings of staff, I had a lot of time to myself, which is how I like it. I thought the posting was going to be philosophical musings of one sort or another, but as you see, neither of us knows where any posting of mine's going to go. In this case, it took a severe turn towards the practical.


I used to have what I regarded as my best thoughts in the shower, when I was in that other world of the strong and healthy. Now, in the hospital, it's while eating breakfast.  That's my story anyway.

   The problem with both places is that they're not designed to record flashes of insight, but at least at breakfast I now have a pen handy, and can grab a piece of paper to scribble something down to try to make sense of later. 

   Sometimes, later, it's utterly incomprehensible, which I suspect means it was utter brilliance or utter rubbish.

   That's if I can read my own writing. It's sometimes not possible. In my defence, it's usually composed on a scrap of the day's menu amongst the carnage of dropped porridge, marmalade sachets and widely distributed toast crumbs.


Nothing tears me up inside as much as the sound of an old lady weeping. It's a sound I've heard several times coming from the room next door.

   A baby's cry, especially that of your own child, is like a saw-blade running through your whole being. But babies cry as their main form of communication when they want things – often simple things – although I admit the sound of a small child in pain is the worst thing I can think of.

   But old ladies tend to cry only when they are in deep misery or anguish for some reason, and it's painful for me to bear. It's a sound that comes from the depths of a lifetime of experience. Of terrible loss or need.

   When old men cry, they often do it without sound; no less heartbreaking for a compassionate observer, and that can be equally heart-rending.

For what it's worth - sweet and corny

“For what it's worth.” It's a useful phrase. It allows you to say whatever you like, but somehow gives it the authority of humility, even if it's not always quite sincere.


i always enjoyed hearing the staff laughing and joking together when they were at the "nurse's station" a little down the passageway. Somehow it was comforting, whether at 4 am or 4 pm.



This is a Rolls Royce version of the beds here,
but I have no complaints about them.
Every piece of hospital equipment is easily movable, which is vital for the heaviest. An empty hospital room can be organised at great speed to contain a bed or beds and all the necessary equipment that surrounds them for the comfort of the patient.

   A good bed itself is a masterpiece of design. It can be raised or lowered to help patients to get in and out of bed. Once the patient is in the bed, various sections of it can be raised or lowered to suit the patient's needs.

   From a staff point of view, it can be raised to waist height in order to be made up with sheets, blankets and pillows, eliminating a lot of back and other problems caused by bending down. Nor is so much effort needed in getting patients in and out of bed, or raised and lowered in bed.


This is a very basic model
There are a few devices more brilliantly designed than a good hospital table. It's adjustable in height and attached at one end only to its rollers, about a metre long, and less than half a metre in width. Given that getting up and down is a problem for me, and having only one arm with any extension and fingers able to grip any object securely, I could still make use of the full length of the table by being able to roll it along so that I could put things at any position on the table itself, otherwise I would have been limited in immediate access to a very narrow section of it. 

   I'd love to have one here at home between chair and bed, but I'm pretty sure that they cost a bomb.

   At the hospital, I had one of these between the chair and my bed. I was also very lucky to have another one on the other side of the chair. Even with very limited ability to reach across with my left hand to the table on my right side as I was sitting in the chair, I was still able to use the full length of each table to reach various objects.

   It's remarkable how quickly the space available on the table fills up. This means that I had to learn another skill.


One of the keys to surviving with limited mobility in a hospital is to learn the art of moving things around efficiently. Take the number of pieces of electronic equipment that I use while in the hospital, for example. I have a mobile phone, an iPad, a Kindle reader, and a laptop computer.

   That might seem excessive to many people, but each of them had a particular purpose. Each at one stage or another would run out of battery power and because I was almost immobile, particularly at the start, I had to rely upon one of the staff or a visitor used to connecting the various devices to plug them into the electrical socket for recharging.

Stable-table - worth its weight in gold!
   If all of these were spread singly across the table, they would soon have used up half the entire space on it. The stable-table I put on my knees while sitting in the chair to use the computer would have taken the rest of the space when I wanted to get up.

   So, these items have to be stacked on top of each other when not in use. And that takes a little forethought. If the item I want is at the bottom, then with one hand of limited strength and limited space on the tray, it's a case of unstacking one item at a time, getting what I want and restacking after that, trying to predict what I'm going to want next.


Nature shows us that the key to survival is adaptability. While it's fine to have a code to live by that gives order, stability and meaning to life, it's those who can react positively to inescapable change who cope best.

It's certainly something you need when you go into a new environment like a hospital.


  1. There are some remarkable innovations with hospital equipment, Denis, the hospital table and adjustable bed being well to the fore.

    The only piece of equipment I have nasty feelings about is the raised toilet seat. This is required for certain conditions (like hip replacement) where it is not possible to lower oneself to the level of the usual seat. So there a fellow sits - (don't know about girls; maybe they designed the damned things)- high, wide and handsome, slightly forward of the target area, going through impossible contortions with a singular lack of success.

    Hope this has not been an indelicate observation, maybe somebody will read it and do something about it. All I do know, with any certainty, is that if these abominations were designed by a man, he obviously did not try them out.

    1. Just to clarify for those who may be wondering, Bob is referring to the heightened toilet seat which sits over the normal one and is usually on wheels. Usually a toilet seat that is open rather than closed is a good idea!

      I have to do agree with you, Bob, and have refused to use them at all, knowing the possible consequences as you delicately described them. Unless a gentleman is extraordinarily well endowed, then I think the consequences are probably inevitable.

      I have no idea how practicable they would be for women, but I shudder to think. Maybe as you say it may work quite well for them. Here's hoping. I can understand that it's designed to get someone from the bed to the toilet with maximum efficiency, but I hope I'm never in a position where I have to use one.

  2. I nearly always have my best thoughts in the shower, the trouble is that many of them get washed down the drain, or vapourise during the 8 o'clock news. Sometimes they succumb to the delicious waffle of Emma Ayres on the radio.

    There is no doubt that the modern hospital bed is a wondrous thing, specially with ripply, waffly mattresses. They are such a blessing for everyone concerned. And yes, I have been astonished at the way a hospital room can be so quickly reconfigured for rapidly changing situations.

    As for the hospital tables - purely by chance I went into my local ALDI for coffee pods or something non-health related, on a day when they had a basic model hospital table available at an amazingly good price ... just at the very time I badly wanted one at home. It did all the important things, just like a real one. Not just the table but a whole lot of other really useful items in a similar vein (e.g. mobility aids). Amazing luck in retrospect. I think that our local community nurses might have been able to lend us a table but this was just serendipity. No twenty dollar thermonuclear reactors that week, or fifty dollar iPad clones, but the very thing I wanted. This is not a paid advertisement! But ask the local nurses first - they are truly angels.

    Jenny D

    1. Jenny: I have to agree that these great thoughts tend to disappear without trace if something else comes to mind. A news broadcast does a very good job of that. It's very annoying.

      Gladly I agree with your Para 2. Those mattresses are wonderful. What do they call them now? Spanco, I believe. It makes it sound like something quite different!

      You were very lucky in getting the hospital table. They are just so wonderful as devices for those who have to sit in a chair or in the bed. They can be moved right up and down the length of what's required. If you don't have that sort of disability then you probably can't appreciate what a difference they make, especially if you've only got one hand that works properly.

      Well spotted!

  3. I hope Dave read this.
    Such good timing as he is busy coping brilliantly "reacting positively to inescapbale change" whilst generously having admitted himself to hospital. He's there not only to undergo intensive physiotherapy 1-2 times a day to build up some strength especially in his left, highly spasticised hand, but to give me some respite from the intensity of the nursing care multiple sclerosis requires of us.

    He'll return home on Friday 20th, both of us with our proverbial loins fully girded to continue living our lives as resiliently, as positively, as forgivingly and as lovingly as can possibily be aimed for, and hoped for. xxR

    1. I understand. Dave needs the physiotherapy, and you need the respite. It's a combination that has to be employed at some times for both your sakes.

  4. When I read the title I was trying to picture the special item of clothing that would figure in this post but now, back again, the penny (cent?) has dropped.

    The hospital table bit got me going on the nature of relative motion. You know when you're sitting in your Qantas seat and the plane is pulled back from the gate and you wonder why the terminal is moving? It's exactly the same using a hospital table from a hospital bed. Lower the table? No! Raise the bed instead and your eyes have to figure out which is actually happening.

    This brings bees to mind. As we all know humans have binocular vision. We figure out how far away things are from the slightly different pictures seen by our left and right eyes. Bee do not - it involves too much computation for their few neurones.

    It is at this point that my nerd brain starts to get excited. Consider a bee alighting on a leaf. It approaches at full speed but would be well advised to slow down, ultimately to zero, as it lands. A lot of computation perhaps but made dramatically simpler by their distance reckoning. As they approach the leaf looms larger. They simply slow down in such a way that the looming happens slower and slower and slower and hey presto the bee has landed.

    Thank you for your indulgence. I have more to say but this left-handed typing is driving me crazy!

    1. I don't know if anyone is wondering what you're on about, Dave, but I know exactly what you mean. I've had the same experience, particularly with the raising and lowering of the hospital bed.

      Your comment about the bees made me think of those striped lines before some zebra crossings. I mean the ones painted at decreasing spaces apart so that it gives the illusion that you're going faster than what you are as you approach the crossing. I don't know if they use them anywhere these days, but they certainly work. It's a kind of reverse psychology from that of the bees, but the result should be the same.

      I'm sorry about your left hand, but as you know, I have the same problem with my right hand. When you visited a few months ago, I made the observation that we'd make a quite good team if they handcuffed our useless hands together.

    2. Zebra crossing stripes on the nail I think.

      What astonishes me, and what probably distinguishes your circumstances and mine, is the rate and the manner of improvement.

      The physio took me by the left hand last week and gently moved a comatose thumb tip to and from the end of my index finger. My instructions were simply to relax and watch.

      An hour later I came back and did it myself. This is the most remarkable tribute to neural plasticity.

      It is also tribute, in an oblique sense, to Ros who has been trying for years to get me to exercise my left hand in the face of my stubborn refusal. I realise now the extent of the hopelessness I was feeling and that it would have been more accurate to sob than stay silent.

      Anyway the upside is that I get to hold hands with Leanne for half an hour each morning. She has been wanting to persuade the powers that be to let her specialise in upper limbs and I have arrived at the right time.

    3. The physio took me by the left hand last week and gently moved a comatose thumb tip to and from the end of my index finger. My instructions were simply to relax and watch.

      I'm not so sure that it's very different. The physiotherapist showed me one with the whole two hands in a prayer sort of position and the good hand bent the bad over to loosen the wrist joint. I wasn't to let the bad hand resist but be perfectly relaxed. It seemed strange at the start but after doing it a lot I was amazed at the success of the procedure.

      Now I must try yours because a desperately want that pincer movement back. Thanks for the tip.

      Of course, your brain might be smarter than mine!

      I'll report.


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