Tuesday, August 20, 2019

When Life Throws You into HST (Hospital Standard Time)

I went in for a routine colonoscopy and endoscopy last Tuesday. As many of you know, the hardest part about the procedure is the “prep process.” You have to stop eating for about 24 hours, drink some foul liquid and camp out on the toilet as you “cleanse” your bowels to a shimmery shine.

My docs also suggested that I swallow a vitamin-size “pill camera” while sedated. That way, they could capture some additional images of the digestive tract that the other two scopes can’t normally get. I’ve had a sour stomach the past few months and it had been six years since my last colonoscopy. Any way to get a better look at my insides couldn’t hurt I figured. So, I readily agreed, especially after some quick research showed the pill endoscopy to be a routine procedure 98 percent of the time. You ingest the camera while sedated and then you poop it out a few hours later. No big deal, so I readily agreed.

I snagged the 7am appointment and figured after a little recovery time, I could get back to work for my afternoon appointments. If only.

Long story short, I got home last Saturday—about 100 hours after checking in for my tests. First the good news, there’s no cancer or perforation in the gut. But, as of this writing, there’s still a tiny camera stuck in my large intestine. It’s no longer doing summersaults or spraying pain sparks every five minutes, but it’s in there, nonetheless. We’re just thankful it didn’t have to be surgically removed—it almost did.

First lesson: There are no guarantees in life. If there are no “complications” 98 percent of the time, that means one out of fifty times (2%) there ARE complications. Trust me, the 2-Percent Club is not a group you want to join. It’s painful as hell if you’re in the unlucky 2 percent. I’ve never given birth or passed a kidney stone, but I imagine it’s on that level.

Considering this was my first time ever staying overnight in a hospital. I guess I’ve been beating the odds the past 50 years. But, talk about a painful regression to the mean!

Time stands still….and then it doesn’t

Actually, the hardest part about spending time in the hospital is re-setting your internal time clock to HST (Hospital Standard Time). It’s also known as WST (We’ll See Time) or HUWT (Hurry Up and Wait Time). This kind of internal clock-reset can be more painful than all the needles and IV’s in the arm; worse than all the X-Rays, CT scans and 4 am wakeup calls to check your vital signs.

Being a hospital patient is kind of playing in a 24/7 baseball game. Nothing happens for incredibly long periods of time and then all of a sudden everything happens at once. You wait for hours upon hours for updates on your prognosis. Then, just when you think you’ve been lost in the system, a half dozen white coated doctors, residents, physicians assistants and nurses stampede into your room, pepper you with questions and explain things in medical jargon until your head is spinning.

At 11 am they tell you they’ve scheduled a CT-Scan “downstairs” and instruct you not to eat anything beforehand. So, you rush to the bathroom one last time and wait for the orderly to put you on a gurney for the ride to the imaging room. Eleven-thirty rolls around and no gurney yet. Then it’s 12 noon. “They must have a lot of tests scheduled today” you tell yourself. Then it’s 1 o’clock and you wonder if you’ll be back in time before they close the food service. Then it’s 2 o’clock. You try to sleep and ignore the hunger pangs. Then the nurses shake you out of your slumber at 4 o’clock and scold you for not being ready for your test.

Finally, you’re hoisted onto the cold metal gurney, whisked into a massive elevator and wheeled through a labyrinth of “restricted access” double doors to meet the masked technicians with the needles, probes and syringes. They’re friendlier than the folks at the DMV and IRS—but not by much.

Lesson 2: The hospital doesn’t give a damn if you’re a homeless person or a CEO. You’re on the hospital’s time and it owns you as long as you’re an “admittee” lying there in your open back johnnie gown. There’s not much you can do about it.

Like most of you, I’m used to being in charge of my time. I control the schedule, especially during the workweek. Normally the day flies by and I go home wishing there was more time in the day, because I never got done half of the things I wanted to accomplish. Trust me, boredom hits you hard if you’re not used to it and the loss of control over your time hurts even more.

We have the privilege of being busy

Sure we complain about burnout and having too much on our plates, but we’re lucky. We don’t punch time clocks or do boring, repetitive manual tasks for a living. We don’t have angry customers screaming into our headsets or work in dangerous, filthy conditions.

We’re knowledge workers and professionals who do mentally stimulating work. For the most part, we can choose which clients and customers to work with and abide by a schedule that we and our teams carefully set and control. There’s no “man” telling us what to do. We don’t toil away mindlessly counting the hours to lunchtime or the weekend. We don’t refer to Wednesday as “Hump Day” or greet our co-workers in the morning with a sarcastic “Same shit different day” grunt.

Lesson 3: When you’re a hospital patient you have to think like a prison inmate. You set small, incremental goals to pass the time and keep your spirits up. Get out of bed. Don’t puke or have a “Code Brown” event on the way to the bathroom. Pee into the bottle without spilling. Walk around the hallways for 10 minutes every couple of hours. Do a few deep knee bends to keep the heart rate up. Keep up with your emails. Listen to a complete podcast. Finish one chapter of a book each day. Reflect on the path you’ve chosen in life—and how you ended up in the hospital without warning.

Lesson 4: The hard part is blocking out your thoughts about all the meetings, conference calls, deadlines and family obligations you were supposed to be handling on the “outside world.” Your only job is to focus on getting better. Worrying about everything else that you can’t control will only raise your blood pressure, put more stress on your GI tract and delay your recovery.


I honestly don’t know how the rest of this story will turn out. One thing’s for sure, I will definitely improve my diet, reduce my caffeine intake and stop worrying about all the little things in life beyond my control. Most of all, I will never complain again about having too much on my plate or no time in the day for myself. There’s nothing worse than being bored or being ill. Be thankful for your health—and for the health of everyone you care about most.

Lesson 5: Every single day counts. Make the most of it.

# Colonoscopy complications #irritable bowel syndrome #beating boredom #pill endoscopy  #appreciate life

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