My husband had been in hospital for three days, having had a partial knee replacement operation on the morning of the first day.
Everything had gone as planned, he was very happy with the surgery not to mention the kindliness and competence of the staff – and he was due to be discharged that morning. I had come in to help him and we were chatting, waiting for…we were not sure what. But we had been told to wait. Several times.
Then, suddenly, he got fed up. Why were they keeping him waiting unnecessarily? He got up from his chair in a moment of great decision and limped down the hall with his cane.
“I’m leaving”, he said, to the nurses (and various other staff) at their station.
They all looked agog. No one was supposed to leave until they had given their permission. They said that they were expecting some papers from the ‘admin people’ who had all been in a meeting, due to finish at 11.00 am. It was already 11.20.
I don’t know what it is like in most countries, but in England it can often be difficult to get out of hospital. Strange, I know. You would think they would want to get the bed ready for the next person – as quickly as possible.
But they tell you that you will be discharged on a particular morning. You get dressed, pack up your things and sit on the edge of the bed ready to go. No point in getting your nose into a book because they said you would be going soon.
And then, perhaps an hour later, a nurse inevitably comes in and says there is some problem. The doctor has been unavoidably detained. You cannot leave without his say so. Or your medications are being prepared by the hospital pharmacy and no, you can’t get them anywhere else.
Waiting patiently seems to be the lot of patients leaving hospital.
But in this case, my husband’s medications (pain killers) had been delivered to his room the night before. And the surgeon had been in around 8 a.m. to say good-bye. It had looked like all systems go.
This husband of mine has a way of charming – and disarming – people, especially women of all ages. He had been chatting to the nurses for three days. It was clear that they were eating out of his hands. One even told me smilingly that he was her ‘great love’.
So, there he was at the nurses’ desk. “Much as I love each and every one of you,” he said gently, “I want to go home now.” He smiled and continued: “I intend to make a dash for it – I am going to go past the barriers, past the guns and escape from here.”
They smiled at the metaphor. “But you can’t. We need the paperwork.” The voice of staff, accustomed to being in charge.
In the meantime, he held his wrist out, smiled sweetly to a nursing assistant, and asked for his wrist band to be cut off. She clearly liked him. She shook her head as if he were a naughty child, but pulled out her scissors and off it came.
At that point, a more senior nurse arrived on the scene and the situation was explained. I could see her sizing him up, deciding whether she could exert her moral authority over him. He repeated his demands, with the voice of a man unlikely to be swayed.
I kept quiet. I would never have dared to do this myself, but I was enjoying the drama. Who would get the upper hand – my strong-willed husband or the representatives of the hospital?
It is well known that it doesn’t take much for patients to become institutionalised, to feel that they are underlings who must obey the throng of staff in white coats.
I don’t know how often patients rebel, but this was one such time. He was already in his street clothes, which brings more confidence, but he is a confident man in any case. He really meant it – and they realised it.
The senior nurse said, “OK, give me five minutes, I have to do one thing first”. My husband said fine, five minutes, but then I go. We waited seven or eight.
And then he was out of the door, walking toward the lift (elevator), with me running behind with his unused crutches and dragging his small case. Nurses were scurrying behind us but not actually trying to stop him. Several simply wanted to wish him good luck. One, kissed us both on both cheeks, French style.
And there was talk of printing something. A nurse came running and thrust an official paper into my hand. It turned out to be his discharge letter.
And then we went down to the entrance, hailed a taxi and were home in twenty minutes.
We didn’t talk for awhile, but once my husband had caught his breath, we mused on what had taken place.
We both agreed that there was something in the way the nurses handled him – even the senior one he had never seen before – that suggested they were rooting for him. Perhaps it was impressive to see someone actually stand up to their systems and protocols.
It had been such a wonderful battle of wills – all the nurses on the one hand, armed with the inevitable authority of the hospital, against one determined man. David and Goliiath in miniature. And we won!
A very delicious moment.
Have you ever pitched yourself against the authority of some institution, whether a hospital or elsewhere? What happened? Have you ever wanted to do so?