In this, part 2 of Stick-Handling through a Health Crisis, I negotiate my way through the doctor’s orders, discover how best to handle being labeled a “non-compliant patient” and learn about distraction from pain as therapy.

After spending a noisy and sleepless night in the hallway outside the Emergency Room “Yellow Zone”, I found myself being whisked up to a hospital bed in the Trauma Ward. The main thing they were doing for me was keeping me on an IV drip with lots of antibiotics. Otherwise I was fairly self-maintaining.

Distraction from Suffering

I met a new friend who was in there for the long-haul. She was in for a long healing process from a major seat belt injury and experiencing a lot of pain. She seemed to do better during the day when visitors and roommates chatted back and forth. During the night she could barely stand her pain. I was tempted to wear ear-plugs so her cries of pain and suffering wouldn’t keep me awake. It was a relief when the morning came and we could begin chatting again. She told me that it really helped to talk about other topics while waiting for the morphine to kick-in.

I refuse to be labeled a non-compliant patient.

After taking my blood the second morning the doctor prescribed intravenous potassium. I tell you that stuff hurts. They said I would feel a bit of burning at the IV site but what I was getting was more like a sculptor digging into my arm with a chisel. My morning nurse figured out a way to dilute the potassium with plain “ringers, enough so I could tolerate it. Unfortunately, when they hooked up my second dose the plain “ringers” had run dry.

I had been dozing when the sharp pain in my arm woke me up. I rang for the nurse who told me that my nurse was on lunch. I pointed to the empty “ringers” bag and said that my nurse had set it up to dilute the painful potassium. The nurse sort of snapped at me and said I would have to bear with it because I “needed the antibiotics, doctor’s orders”.

I snapped back that “it’s potassium, not antibiotics, in the IV”. She read the bag (potassium) and instead of apologizing said “Potassium is usually uncomfortable and you just have to bear with it”.

I was pretty testy by this time, largely because my pain was getting worse. To make a long story short, when it was apparent she was not willing to adjust my treatment the nurse stormed out saying “I’m not a moron”.

The right to request and/or refuse treatment – self advocacy

My response to that storming out was to crimp my IV off to stop the Potassium from burning my arm any further.

Then, I phoned a family member to come and advocate for me.

When my advocate arrived I was still feeling very vulnerable. So vulnerable I was afraid to ring the call bell. I got my advocate to ask for a nurse to come and restart my IV. A third nurse came, was not pleased that I had shut off my Potassium drip. I told her that I was not tolerating the treatment and requested a substitute method of boosting my blood-potassium level. Lots of glaring back and forth …

Finally, my regular nurse came back from lunch and began to actually listen to me. She got the “ringers” IV working and brought me some very large capsules of potassium and she declared me to be “too sensitive to IV potassium”. I felt like a person again.

The next morning my potassium blood levels were fine. Thanks to sanity and timely advocacy.