Enjoying hospitalized life
  May 4, 2020, added May 23, 2020
I was suddenly diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia and have been hospitalized since February. Leukemia is no longer an “incurable disease”, but the side effects of anti-cancer drugs are painful and it is characterized by long-term hospitalization (usually about 5 months of hospitalization in one month increments). It is important not to become discouraged. I was determined to change how I thought about this and to enjoy life in the hospital! I will introduce my scheme.

As of this writing, I am temporarily discharged from the hospital after my third stay.
● People-watching
What I strongly felt when I was hospitalized was the dedication of the nurses. They are always close to the patients and serve as a mediator for doctors. The nurse has the most contact time with the patient.

In April, three newly minted nurses entered my ward. They were so green that, at first, they fretted over measuring our blood pressure, but after a month, they got into the swing of things. They have a dignified appearance now.

When I had time, I asked a leading question: “Why did you decide to become a nurse?” (I ask these kinds of questions; I was a high school teacher for 42 years). Each person has their own way of thinking and I am interested in them.

The patients, too, are diverse. Since I am in a large room, there are several patients in my room as well. I can’t see the faces of the others because we are separated by curtains. However, since I can often hear their conversation with the nurses, including their responses, I can infer what kind of people they are.

In my room, there is no interaction among patients. There also seems to be a women’s room in the cancer ward, but there the patients engage in lively chat while eating.

Hospitals are staffed by people of various occupations. In addition to doctors and nurses, I am directly assisted by nursing assistants, pharmacists, dietitians, and cleaning staff. There are many things we can learn from how these people work.
A poem for the hospital
I like jokes, so I decided to write “Hospital Senryu” (senryū is a short, funny poem).

The weather may be sunny, but here I am with leukemia.
Here, an anesthetic so it won’t hurt — but ouch!
Incurable disease, a mountain to climb? Let’s see how The Mt. Fuji View Guru fares.
Dripstick in hand, I join the patient’s ranks.
Finger-fumble in the dark: Nurse call. (Good work!)
The nurse’s cheery face carries me along today, too.
Is the chemo even working? — my hair is fine!
When you’ve been on catheter drip long enough, comrades,
It’s cherry blossoms in full bloom in that hospital room, just like the old days.
Hospitalization is a human litmus.

With typos and no explanation, that’s probably going to be hard to follow, but, unlike haiku, you don’t have to know a bunch of obscure, flowery words, so anyone can easily write the stuff.
Leveraging email and social media
As I mentioned on Facebook, I’m in an isolated world, so email and social media are very useful for connecting myself with outside world. A smartphone should suffice, but I use a laptop computer for access in the hospital room.

I use the phone to communicate with my family. I use email to communicate with colleagues and friends. I journal my experience as “Fighting Disease” on Facebook. I aggregate it all on my homepage, so please take a look if you are interested by using the QR code—but it’s in Japanese. There is also some material related to maps that I put out while in the hospital.
Thanks to my postings on Facebook and elsewhere, messages came in from my graduates, old friends I hadn’t heard from in ages, former colleagues, and so on. Some of those graduates became doctors and nurses, so I have been blessed to be able to consult with them about my treatment to solicit “second opinions”. This is another benefit of social media.

All in good faith, of course, but some people come back with overly idealistic advice. For example, they might say “You have to eat the hospital food even if it’s horrid!” One deals with such opinions as one may.
Tracking temperature and blood pressure
I get my temperature and blood pressure measured several times a day. I have taken to forecasting the values.

I started on May 1st. I celebrate this very first attempt: I predicted a temperature of 36.9°C; they measured 37.0°C. I predicted blood pressure at 114 mmHg; they measured 115. It was a wonderful result. This encouraged me to continue forecasting.

I contacted my ears, nose, and throat specialist of many years about this. He praised the practice, saying, “Predicting your temperature and blood pressure is a good practice, and I hope you persist even after you’re discharged. This is the first step to becoming a model patient. I do this as well every morning, and I also check my urine and stool daily.”

I started this on a whim, but apparently checking your own vitals is a good idea.
● Toponyms as a proxy for temperature
What do you mean, you ask? Well, during my second hospital stay, I had a high fever, which is a typical side effect. While chatting with the doctor, I showed him an atlas, saying: “I was wandering around North Korea. You can see I crossed the 38° parallel easily, passed Pyongyang at 39°, and continued as far north as 39.8 degrees.”

The doctor readily took my meaning. When he next came around, he said, “It looks like you’ve come back down today, all the way back to South Korea.” He also said, “You know, you’re my first patient to express temperature as latitude.” The third time time around, my temperature has been normal, and so I represent it by the mountains of northern Kantō region of Japan. For example, 36.8° would be Mt. Nikkō Shirané. After that, it was a climb in the [Japanese] Northern Alps: 36.3° is Mt.Yarigataké and 36.7° Mt.Goryūdaké. (I’m using decimal latitudes rather than degrees, minutes, seconds, as you can tell.) And so, this can be about studying maps, and maps become a must even for a hospital stay. 🙂
● Reading
With plenty of time on my hands, I could indulge in reading when I was feeling up to it. That means I was able to finish reading some of the map-related books I hadn’t got to before. I should have been more careful in choosing the genre. One of the books I read was a recently published one about mountain distress.

That was a mistake: Not feeling well myself, I found myself getting psychologically involved in the realistic description of the ecological distress.

The doctor in charge is a full-fledged mountain enthusiast who has climbed both Kilimanjaro and Kinabalu. Sometimes when he makes his rounds, he brings along his photo album and we talk about mountains.

By the way, now I am reading Camus’ The Plague. 😄
Hospital food diary and report
Given how easy it is to these days with smartphones, just like a lot of people, I take pictures of each hospital meal. I also photograph the menu that it’s served with.

Food reports are booming on TV. There are even series in weekly magazines critiquing the meals of celebrities every week. It’s hard for me to record every meal, given how long the treatment goes on for leukemia. Still, eating is a great pleasure, so if you have any interest, why not try it, too?

By the way, all I do is take pictures. With hospital food, it’s “Breakfast: not good. Lunch: not good. Dinner: not good.” So, I usually leave a lot of it and then excuse myself after eating to head to the nearby convenience store.
Mountaineering as an analogy to hospital life
Hospital life drags on. I need to give it some lucidity. For example, I can compare it to a hike in the mountains. The five times (making five months) of hospitalization will be like climbing the famous Yatsugataké, hiking between its five peaks. From the highest peak, Mt. Akadaké, I go north and head for Mugikusa Pass.

The first time was summiting Akadaké Peak. It was my first hospitalization and the highest peak, and it was hard. The second time was Yokodaké Peak. There were rocky areas, so it wasn’t easy, but I made the climb safely. The third was Iodaké Peak. Climbing from Yokodaké to Iodaké is relatively easy in reality, and so this was for me. I was told I was unusual in that I was able to leave the hospital without a high fever.

I’m now just past the turning point of my series of hospital stays. So far so good, but what will happen next? The fourth stay will be Tengu Peak. In the fifth, I will cross Nakayama to Mugikusa Pass.

The doctor in charge pronounced my analogy to be good, but he warned me that I might be underestimating Nakayama at the end.
(GSI Maps)
* * *
Japanese has an idiom: “illness from ill boding”. This notion seems problematic to me; it ignores the objective cause to replace it with something invisible and subjective. However, after three months of hospitalization, I feel there is little doubt that attitude can affect a patient’s condition. The cause of leukemia is generally unknown. For me, it came along out of the blue at age 70, and my first reaction was fatalistic. What could I do? But then I thought, “I will be upbeat and enjoy the hospital stays,” and resolved to write from that perspective.