Letter: Denise Troxell

September 03, 1999

(Denise Troxell is a Sharpsburg resident who had a double-lung transplant two years ago. This is another column about that event, and her life.)

This is the day all of you hospital people out there, doctors, nurses, other techs, and especially administrators get some helpful suggestions. Feel positive about your field. Decide to improve it.

First, when someone is unable to talk, but can write, skip the clipboards with paper. Keep your ICUs stocked with stenographers' notepads which are lighter and easier. My brother thought of it. I filled 200 pages while on my respirator for 28 days. I kept track of my nurse's name, asked questions, and even nagged my boys in writing.

Dr. McGrath, a joker like me, asked me, "What are you writing, War and


He also later asked me if I were a school teacher. I nodded, smiling. He said, "I knew that. You write without looking at the page, just like a teacher writes on the blackboard."


When you get a transplant, it is always in a teaching hospital, which means you don't get too many quiet little visits from your own personal doctor like you do at Washington County Hospital.

At Pittsburgh, the Whitecoats flock in and you feel the vibes. It's just like on the TV medical shows. You are a challenge, especially when your lungs aren't getting better and your kidneys have failed and you cry every time anyone looks at you.

Doctors will get lost in the mechanics if you don't remind them you are there. They do care, but they often need help communicating that fact.

I have developed a talent for forcing my way through formality as some of you may have noticed. I asked them where they grew up and what their families were like. Were they happy? Did they like this hospital? I needed them to be people I knew, not just encyclopedias.

They loved me but they just didn't know how to help me.

My lungs were hard and could not forgive their bad treatment by my immune system. Actually they weren't my lungs.

The doctors would pull out the breathing tube with great hopes. I would last about three minutes and start gasping. I remember the third time this happened, a new nurse was trying to coach me to breathe as I was strangling. My old nurse saw me and said, "Forget it. You just have to bag her," and she did. Intubation became a relief. I was mentally addicted to the machine.

So I lay in my alcove facing the hall, not the window, watching the clock, and baseball games because they used up time and reminded me of my mom.

I celebrated my 43rd birthday wondering if I would die soon.

I listened to the nurses like a soap opera. They would share recipes or talk about their kids or husbands. I even heard weddings being planned.

They worked 12-hour shifts, and I learned not to need anything for at least 45 minutes when shifts were changing because they had to give each other and the computers reports about us. That was hard.

Some nurses had high pitched, cheerful voices. They bustled. I was always happy for them, but didn't feel like they could hear me. I often had to remind them of things they forgot.

My favorite nurses I now call the Death nurses. They were hospice-trained for the patients who were dying, or not improving as they put it. They were very calm and gentle. They would come in, lean over and touch my arm or stroke my head. They understood.

Sarah was the best. She remembered everything I needed before I did.

She was often assigned to me and Michael, the man across from me who was in a coma after suffering a heart attack due to a fungus that choked his heart. He was a long-term kidney transplant patient and everyone in the hospital knew him, it seemed. I watched for days as people came and cried by his bed. I was adding, "Take care of Michael," to all of my Lord's Prayers.

The night they turned off his machines to let him go, they closed my curtain and had my sister distract me. The next morning, very early, I woke to see his empty bed. I was glad he and I were both free.

Michael had very long red hair down his back. The day before he died, I watched Sarah wash it, her hands stroking it as she poured the water over like a baptism. Tenderly. She didn't have to. It was one of the most touching things I've ever seen.

One day I was struggling with tears, sitting on the side of my bed, tubes hanging everywhere, just wanting to give up and Sarah just hugged me tight, like my mom would have.

Having my hair washed became my favorite thing. The warm water was incredibly soft, and the fingers massaging my head felt heavenly.

Sensory deprivation is a problem for hospital patients. I couldn't talk, eat, or hear, smell or see anything except the busy hospital. It's no wonder people decide to pass on.

This problem could be partly met with good music, a window if only to see the clouds, and some massage therapy for patients. I know back and foot rubs used to be routine. What happened?

I have recently become addicted to the Potomac Day Spa in Hagerstown where my friend Rosalee gives a massage that lets me out of my head and back into my body, and Andrea gives a facial that's like floating on a cloud.

If someone would have done that for me in ICU I think I might have relaxed my locked-down fear and forced patience, and let myself breathe. As it was, I finally got off the ventilator with the help of a gentle respiratory therapist who sat and breathed with me, holding my hand for 30 minutes so I wouldn't panic.

Human touch. Eyes that really see you. Sky and clouds. Family. Calm voices. These are what sick people really need.

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