Trigger warning: this post discusses being misgendered, nonconsensual touching, hospital procedures, anxiety, OCD.
It’s been four weeks since I was in hospital. Not in a hospital, because I’m there a lot, actually, but in hospital, with an armband and stuff being done to me. I’m still bleeding from the procedure, and no amount of urging from my psychiatrist can make me go back to ask someone why it won’t stop. Every time I feel a tiny bit more blood come out, I freeze up and begin to cry. The idea of having another person examine that is too much for me right now. “But you trusted her to operate on you,” said my psychiatrist. “Can’t you go back to her?”
But I didn’t have a choice, not really. I was told this was the only way to make the pain stop. There are no medications that will make it go away, my referral to the pain clinic is languishing somewhere towards the bottom of an inbox somewhere, and “other options” wouldn’t be considered unless I had this particular surgery.
The time I spent in hospital was horrible. My comfort bear, whom nobody is allowed to touch, was taken away from me. A nurse decided to strip me. “Take off your shoes,” she said, and promptly ripped the dressing gown away, and then decided that because I hadn’t been able to get my shoes off while she was undressing me, with no warning and no permission, she tried to get those too. I backed away, the anaesthetist stepped in between me and her, and then she took my bear away. I had made it clear to the surgeon before hand that he was to stay with me. I froze, my mind shut down, he was shoved under my chin and someone put my hand over him, but the damage was done, and then I was unconscious.
After that, it took me three hours to be allowed to leave. First I was allowed to go, but then because I didn’t have anyone to physically come into the hospital and walk out with me, they rang the surgeon, told her I intended to walk the 15km home, and she told them to prevent me from leaving by any means necessary. This is the person I’m supposed to go back to because the bleeding hasn’t stopped, by the way. Then they decided my blood pressure was too low, but the anaesthetist told them that it was fine, given I’d just been through surgery, and since I seemed alert and well, I could go (again). Then they said I was too pale. This is laughable, because my natural skin colour is too white for most brands of cosmetics. By this time, though, I was starting to have more anxiety. Two or three nurses would come at a time and surround me. One was always touching me, on my arm or my knee, and if I pulled away it just made them come closer. And they kept saying they couldn’t let me leave. As soon as I said that I needed to go, they were making things worse, they said they’d put me in isolation and send a social worker to talk to me, and they would keep me overnight, because they couldn’t let me leave because of my mental condition.
Eventually, after a bit more arguing, which was basically me typing “I want to leave NOW” over and over and eventually snapping, I got out of seeing a social worker, and out of the hospital. This was mostly due to me pulling my two aces – one being an advance care directive stating that if I had any mental episodes, I was to be allowed home and given my usual care, wording carefully supplied by a public servant who had the task of explaining the new form to civilians. I was told that an ACD meant nothing, as they only looked at it “in end of life situations, when you’re dying”. I pulled my other ace – “I’m a lawyer.”
Suddenly the paperwork for discharge was on its way, and that nurse disappeared – probably she mentioned to someone that I had asked not to deal with her any more, or they realised that I wasn’t just someone with a brain that didn’t work the same way as theirs, or they decided that the risk of keeping me there against my will was greater than the one of letting me go. I had to scratch out a waiver, which I know I can get out of if anything happens, because at that point the only reason I didn’t pick up my stuff and walk out was because I was afraid of being physically restrained if I tried, and I could not handle being touched one more time.
I’ve been meaning to complain, but it’s felt too big. What do I say? Where do I start? With the nurse that yelled at me the week before, when they rang my partner because they hadn’t received their admission forms, less than 24 hours after I received them, and then decided it was too hard to do them over the phone? When I spent an entire day in tears because I found a small footnote saying that if I didn’t pay in advance I couldn’t have the surgery?
Or do I start at when they put the armband on and it said ‘female’? I wondered why they had the surgeon’s information on my armband. Was there some secret code thing so they knew which patient went with which doctor? It was only at the waystation, when they read the armband to verify that I was the right patient, that I realised they meant me. I couldn’t breathe. I had worked very hard to make the paperwork clear, and when they gave the printout to me to check I did my best to correct it, scratching out ‘female’ and pointing it out to the person at the desk.
Do I start with when the nurse told me that the surgery was cancelled, because nobody had told me that I had to bring my own implant, and then walked out on me while I was typing to her?
Do I start with the nurse who stripped me and took my bear away?
Or do I just say that I was kept in the day room against my will?
It took me three weeks to even find the right person to write to. The website only said if you have any complaints, to deal with the people at the time. Clearly, that didn’t work, otherwise I wouldn’t have been kept there so long, let out only to deal with rush hour traffic and a journey home that took three times as long as necessary. I’m supposed to receive a survey, but that never turned up, as if they don’t want to know that I was sent home with medication I’m allergic to and yet had to pay $20 for. When I found a copy of the survey form, buried in a site map, I cried.
It’s been a thing for the last week, with wording and structure popping up in my head at random times. Do I split it into issues, or just put it all in order as best I can and let them figure out how bad it was? How do I say which nurse was which, when in some cases I didn’t even get to know their names? Is it worth pointing out that they didn’t have any food for vegans, and kept trying to push a cheese salad sandwich on me “to show that [I] can eat”? Or that when I started saying I wanted to leave, I was denied further pain medication? How does this big thing get broken down into words and paragraphs?
Cue thinking about it another way. Complaining isn’t about saying what was wrong, and not about what could have been done better. Complaining is the same as what I did in there, saying “I want to leave NOW.” “You are not listening to me, I want to speak with someone else.” and “I am a lawyer. I know that that statement is incorrect. You need to let me go.” It is a continuation of standing up for myself. I am saying “the way you treated me was bad, and I am not going to let you do it to me again, any more, or anyone else.” Perhaps, it’s reclaiming my power, in some fancy kind of way where mentally taking control of the situation and doing something to show that I was mistreated will magically make me feel safe around those people again (it won’t, just so you know, but some people will say it will). I know, from all the times I have complained about things before, that nothing will be done. (For example, I wrote to the store from last week, and I have heard nothing back, obviously.) But saying “you made me feel unhappy about myself, you made me feel unsafe, you created an environment in which I suffered,” is doing something about it. It’s telling them, again, that they hurt me. Even though it’s after the fact, it’s advocating for myself. Even though I have decided that I am definitely never returning to that hospital as a patient, I still have to have a relationship with them, and by saying that they treated me unfairly, I am making that be on my terms.
For the record, my comfort bear had a bath and has new clothes now, but he’s not being very good at the comforting thing. I keep seeing him being ripped away from me, lying on the bed, small and green and not in my arms. Usually, when someone touches something of mine, it’s dirty and I can’t have it again because I will get germs and then I will die. I have to fight that every day to have my bear – he’s had a lot of baths, because I have to wash him every time that image gets in my head. He’s not replaceable – he’s only comforting because he’s my bear, and has been everywhere with me for sixteen years. Thanks, hospital. I really did not need to deal with that on top of a failed surgery, intense dysphoria, and being held against my will.
My psychiatrist tried to make me feel better. “I’ve found that with people like you, hospitals are the worst places, because you have to deal with everything at once and there are always people coming at you and you can’t have a break.” Apparently, not being there any more is supposed to help. It hasn’t.
Meanwhile I’m still bleeding, still in pain, and I have no idea what to do, because between having to sign the waiver and being treated so badly, even the thought of my follow up appointment in two weeks is paralysing. And, even though I’ve told my brain that complaining is a positive thing, then I have to deal with them defending themselves. It won’t end.