He deteriorated so rapidly that when we took him to the good doctor in the clinic, they sent him straight over to the emergency department of the Christian hospital, and he was admitted within a couple of hours. He was so sick he could barely talk, walk or think, let alone communicate or take care of himself. Even I was scared, and I’ve been around many many sick people in my health care days and ways.
As they carted him up to his room, the real problems began. The hospital was dirty. As in, dirt in the corners, unidentified streaks on the walls, weird (non-medical) smells, unwashed floors kind of dirty. Not filthy, but uncomfortably unsettlingly unkempt. The kind of place where you feel afraid to shine a light into the dark spaces, because you’re pretty sure you will find a nest brimming with cockroaches staring right back at you with their beady little eyes. Or worse.
When I went to the bathroom, I encountered my next surprise. No toilet paper. Or hand towels. Or soap. Umm, what? No SOAP? In a HOSPITAL?!? Yeah, I started thinking in capital letters at that point. I was not happy. I can accept lack of soap from a seedy motel, or a run-down public building, but not a hospital.
The “straw that broke the camel’s back” was not the lack of cleanliness, though; it was the staff. By the time we got Tommy up to his room, he was pretty far out of it, confused, barely-conscious and generally in a bad way.
Two nurses came by, each dragging a student nurse behind them. The four of them crowded around Tommy’s bedside and started fiddling around with the IV inserted into his hand. Tommy woke up just enough to notice what was going on and say “Wha?… huh?… what’s going on?” The head nurse didn’t even bother looking up as she chattered something unintelligible at him in a mix of Chinese and Taiwanese. Tommy looked at us, then at the nurse, and responded: “Where are your gloves?” Then his eyes drooped closed and he paled, exhausted with the effort.
The nurse glared at him, laughingly said something indistinct but derogatory to her fellow nurse and students, and continued working on him without gloves. A few seconds later, Tommy regained consciousness again with a start, when something painful jarred him awake. He looked again at his bleeding hand, and distinctly said to the nurse: “you need to wear gloves.”
The nurse paused just long enough to roll her eyes and laugh at him superciliously. She chattered at him again in her Chinese/Taiwanese mix that none of us understood, but Tommy just looked at her uncomprehendingly. She then switched to purely Chinese and said loudly and slowly as if to an infant: “we don’t use gloves here.” Then she cackled to her coworkers as Tommy slumped back into exhaustion.
My immediate thought was: “well then, we’re not going to be here for long.” I wanted to worry about Tommy, not lack of soap and pigheaded arrogant nurses who refuse to take basic safety precautions even when a patient asks them to.
Later that day, with the help of a Taiwanese nurse practitioner friend, we had Tommy transferred to the university hospital, where he spent the next week or so recovering. It still wasn’t perfect, but by God they had soap, didn’t act hurtfully and used gloves when you asked them.
Note: Tommy is now much better now and recovering at home. And we have soap!