Hospitals, Computers and Drugs (Part II)


The other “patient privacy” issue was more complicated. My roommate had been admitted for drug withdrawal. This involved a lot of weeping, complaining and vomiting. When you listen to somebody puking their guts out several times a day, day after day, I figure it earns you a certain right to speak up—it’s sort of like earning a home by sweat equity.

We sort of hit it off as friends, which is to say that she expressed appreciation for my help and interventions. For example, while the nursing staff did little or nothing useful, I slowly and firmly talked Roomie into taking a long hot shower, after which she ate, and the food stayed down. She was really grateful to me, and I found her to be bright and tough and funny in the midst of all her tumult.

So she’s pouring her story out on me. It turns out that she’s a drug addict. She never actually admits that, but it’s the story that she’s telling me. It’s also the story her husband is telling. Yesterday’s news reported that a third of all drug addicts got started on prescribed pain medicine, and that was Roomie’s story. First, the accident, then the pain, now the drug addiction.

Her husband was a trauma nurse; he knew she had become a drug addict, but he loved her. Actually, he said that if he had just met her, he never would fall in love with her, but when he met her then she was a different woman. He was torn between the woman whom he loved and the drug addict that she’d become.

Among other things, he’d done the research and knew all about the drug she was on, as well as having created a list of the drug rehab centers that were most appropriate—affordable and accessible and all that. Roomie was trying to get her hospitalist physician to prescribe some special drug. Her hospitalist said he only would if Roomie’s private physician would agree to follow her with it.

The results of a phone call to the private physician were that the private doc wouldn’t touch Roomie until she went to rehab. So we were all getting on the same page—the physicians, her husband and me. Her husband and I were double-teaming Roomie—affirming and building her up like mad whenever she came anywhere near doing anything right, particularly about going to rehab—and busting her chops whenever she started with the whining and complaining, particularly not taking responsibility for herself.

At one point, when Roomie was out of the room, her husband stood up and made a little speech to me. The gist of it was that he knew she was a drug addict but she could push his buttons. He kept backing down and had become an enabler but he’d been watching me. He said that he learned from me that he could stand up to her, and that he had to. He couldn’t give in to her anymore. It wasn’t good for her, him or their marriage.

So it was Sunday afternoon and hubby had just left the hospital and was headed home. I was feeling pretty good: Roomie was headed toward rehab, and hubby had been set free to stop his enabling. Then a nurse walked in. The nurse was young and inexperienced, and she was new to the floor—neither Roomie nor I had seen her before. And Roomie started talking shit to the nurse about how she—Roomie—needed meds, particularly pain killers.

Hubby and I had just done an intense hour with Roomie, getting her to face some reality. Now this. After the nurse left the room, I lit into Roomie, then called her husband on his cell phone and he lit into her. She was crying and saying she was sorry and she’d tell the nurse no, no drugs.

The new, young, inexperienced nurse walked back into the room and offered Roomie drugs. Roomie said no. The nurse pushed it, assuring Roomie that the drugs were good, they were fine, there was nothing dangerous in them. Fact: the problem wasn’t the content of the drug; it was the drug-seeking behavior in which the patient looked to a pill to solve her problems.

Roomie said no again.

The nurse came back and re-doubled her efforts to get Roomie to take drugs.

I said something clear and definite about not pushing drugs to a drug addict. Nursie went ballistic. Apparently she’d never before heard anyone name the truth, not to mention that she didn’t know anything about the relationship that had built up between Roomie, Hubby and me, or the physicians working to get her into rehab. Nursie howled that what I said was totally inappropriate, grabbed Roomie and took her out in the hall where Roomie—behaving exactly like you can predict that a drug addict will—blamed me, sided with the nurse, got moved out of our room, stopped working with the physicians, didn’t go to rehab and probably lost her marriage.

And it all went on the record against me.

Now, after another eight weeks or so in isolation, I am finally finding out that I can’t get a semi-private room because every time I stand up against unnecessary drug use—my own or others—it causes a rift in the relationship between the hospital and me. And the hospital, without ever talking to me, keeps a written record that they pull out every time I’m re-admitted.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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