April 26, 2022

Ep 3. Finding Humanity in the Hospital

Ep 3. Finding Humanity in the Hospital

Hear Grace Lombardo’s stories about a role-reversal in the hospital, the blog that she maintains to share about her experiences, and how she got one doctor to think twice about how she practices medicine.


Date: 4/26/22
Name of podcast: Dr. Patient
Episode title and number: 3 Finding Humanity in the Hospital

Episode summary:
Hear Grace Lombardo’s stories about a role-reversal in the hospital, the blog that she maintains to share about her experiences, and how she got one doctor to think twice about how she practices medicine.

Guest:
Grace Fauls Lombardo

Key Terms:
Doula [00:40] - a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth.
Mastectomy [02:09] - a way of treating breast cancer by removing all of one or both breasts

References:
Grace's blog: www.grancerblog.com
Short documentary about Grace's breast tattoo: https://www.self.com/video/watch/grace

Transcript

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

He gave me a gift in that moment because I was in the dumps, you know. I mean, it was a terrible 18 hours up until that point. And then in that moment I realized like, I am gonna laugh again, you know, like my life will be fun again and I guess this is how it starts, with an absolute bloodbath.

Heather Johnston:

This is Dr. Patient, a podcast that examines all the aspects of the patient provider relationship. I'm your host, Heather Johnston, MD, a real life doctor and patient. My guest on today's show is Grace falls Lombardo, a doula, mom of three and master blogger. Grace also has breast cancer. She was first diagnosed in 2016, and at the time, she and her sister started a blog to keep family and friends up to date called Grancerblog. Grace has a particular sense of dark humor about difficult things that I really enjoy and can relate to. We talked about all kinds of things, but she told me one story about something that happened in the hospital, that has never left my mind since hearing it. It's related to today's topic, finding humanity in the hospital. In Episode One, I talked about my own experiences of being in the hospital a lot when I was younger. And Grace's story reminds me a lot of those days. Being in the hospital is weird, and uncomfortable, and unsettling and scary and more. It's easy to forget that the folks on the other side of the bed are people too, with their own set of worries and problems and challenges and lives. Here are her stories of bridging that divide.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

So this is a very miniscule moments within my treatment. We're talking a blip on the treatment radar. But, it's one that I remember with fondness and humor. And when things were feeling really down, I would sometimes flashback to this moment and just like laugh to myself in whatever room I was in. So let me set the scene. So I'm at the hospital. It is overnight, the night after my mastectomy. My sister is in the room with me. She stayed overnight that night to just watch me like a hawk, which was awesome. And you know, people come in every seems like every 30 minutes to check your vitals, change something, move you whatever it may be. Someone came in in the middle of the night and it was this young man. He was a nurse. And he had clearly just started his nursing career. He looked like I could babysit him.

Heather Johnston:

Like that night like that night was his

Unknown:

Like, like, maybe that night honestly. He was like, he first? just seemed scared of me and like my breasts and like whatever was going on in the room. And he was adorable. He just like if I could cast the person for the story be him. He

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

What was he doing? I mean, while you were had red hair. He was just like sweet and rosy cheeked with nerves. And he came in, I don't know for exactly what reason because again, narcotics, but he had to do something with my IV. So I had an IV line in my arm, and maybe just change the dressing. I don't know what it was, but he wasn't supposed to be changing the IV. I know that. And in the process of just changing the tape, I have to assume, or just rearranging it maybe to get the bubbles out, the whole thing came out of my arm and it was like a volcano bloodbath around the room. It was like when in those cartoons when you see like a hose get let go. And it's like flailing around in the waters going everywhere. That was like the IV in my arm. And it was on my face. And it was on my my gown. It was on the bed. It was on the floor. It was like, truly just a bloodbath, and [honor movie] horror movie. And this young man, I will never forget his name, his name is Kyle. I don't think I'm giving anything away here because there's many Kyles in this world. He looked like he honestly might turn to stone and never recover or move from that exact spot. He was beside himself. He called for backup to have somebody else come in the room to help them. I mean, all that needed to be done was just to like, stop, stop it by applying pressure and then opening another line. And he he was truly just absolutely frozen. And my sister and I were dying. We were laughing so hard. It was so funny. Because truly like you just had your breasts amputated, it's the middle of the night, this is not going well, in a lot of different ways. You know, clearly you're not, you know, you're not like at a spa, and then the blood hose and Kyle, with his rosy cheeks. And we were laughing and just I was looking at him in the eye. I even remember putting my hands on his shoulders and saying, Kyle, it's okay, this is hilarious. No one is getting hurt. No one is in trouble. My health is not in danger. This is what I needed. Honestly, I needed something just ridiculous to happen to sort of reset the fact that the world was still spinning. You know, I was still on it, and things were still funny. And I had to, like, pat him on the back and be like, Kyle, this is, you're not going to get in trouble. I'm not going to tell anybody on you. It doesn't matter. You know, we all start somewhere. And this is where you're starting, by creating, like, a Carrie in the shower scene. laughing and putting your hands on him to be calming? What was he doing? He was a statue. He was a frozen, you know, like he was in horror. Just like, what have I done? I think he thought he was gonna get fired, he was gonna get in trouble. You know, all of these things, because he didn't know what my reaction would be. And then to just, you know, see me start laughing. He was probably like, oh, no, like, is she completely out of our mind? Like what I think my laughing through, threw him off at first, like, is this a demonic situation that's happening. But we eventually got through it together, me and Kyle and my sister. And you know, he was on the floor, cleaning up the blood on his hands and knees. And then I'd never saw him again. He didn't come back and my room. He clearly said to someone like you have to change rooms with me because I can't go back in there. And he probably is sitting somewhere as a charge nurse now five years later and doesn't either doesn't remember it or remembers it with complete clarity, because it was so horrifying.

Heather Johnston:

So you never saw him again, after that moment of him cleaning up blood off the floor?

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

Nope, I never saw him again.

Heather Johnston:

But you said that your doctor came in and said something to you about it.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

I think it was noted probably somewhere or maybe just like word got around of what happened in room 1205 or whatever, wherever I was. Because other people did find out about it on the nursing team and my doctor eventually. And it just became like this hilarious running story of this poor Kyle, who, you know, saw me bandaged and upset and groggy and not feeling well. And then suddenly, the blood volcano and I'm hysterically laughing and he's on his hands and knees and it was just, you couldn't you couldn't script it. It was pure comedy gold.

Heather Johnston:

So on one hand, you said it was a blip in your treatment. But on the other hand, you said it literally showed you that you'd be able to laugh again.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

Exactly. Like literally it was a blip in the treatment, if we're talking about how things went over time. But in a grander scheme of things, it was huge. It was a real turning point and me realizing like, okay, there is still humor in this world, even if it's at my own expense.

Heather Johnston:

Did you feel sorry for him?

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

I felt so sorry for I still feel sorry for him. Like I'd love to find him. And like ask him if he's okay. I honestly

Heather Johnston:

He's being interviewed on some other podcast.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

Honestly, I think about him all the time. And it's been over five years.

Heather Johnston:

When I was in college, I had lymphoma and I spent just a ton of time in the hospital. And there was this one young guy who was frequently my transporter. I was always having to be wheeled somewhere in a wheelchair. And I was always arguing because I was 19 and didn't feel like I had stage IVB lymphoma. I felt like ugh, can I just get in the elevator? But they would never let me get out of the chair. And this young guy was probably my transporter maybe six times over the three months that I lived in the hospital. I will never forget that guy. I remember him more than the doctors, well except for my main doctor, but I remember him more vividly than almost anything else. It was the small thing. And he never created a horror scene bloodbath for me, but it was the small things you know, he told me stories about his own life actually, while he transported me and I remember feeling relief that no one was asking me how I was. An similarly, it was like a distraction. Like, thank God, I don't have to think or talk about it for a few minutes. It was somebody else's life I could hear about. It was so powerful. Such a tiny thing. But I don't even know if he realized he was helping me in that way. I think he was young and didn't really know much. And he was probably just talking because it was uncomfortable. But it meant a lot to me.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

Oh, yeah, those small moments, I mean. In patient care, you can never assume that the conversation you just had didn't mean something. Because it could have meant a great deal to the person on the other end of it, you just don't know where they're coming from, and how it's going to be received.

Heather Johnston:

It's really true. It and it's remarkable to me that you know, the way you describe it, being really in this really tough position. After going through something really difficult to have compassion for the people on the other side, when they're just going through a human experience too.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

Totally, I felt more bad for him in that moment than I did for me, going through what I was going through. Because he was going through something that was shameful for him. He felt like he wasn't doing his job well. And you know, granted, he wasn't in that exact moment, but but it was, it wasn't a big deal. And we moved past it.

Heather Johnston:

Grace writes about her experiences in her blog. And well, I'll let her tell you about it.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

Right around the time of my diagnosis. Everybody wanted to be kept in the loop about how everything was going and what the plans were for treatment. And I was finding it difficult to manage all of those streams of conversation. And when I had my mastectomy, my sister became in charge of managing all those streams of information because I was down for the count. And the day I got home from the hospital, she set up the blog entirely and just said, this will be so much easier for everybody if you could just write how you're doing. And then everybody can come to one place. And I think she must have asked me what I wanted it to be called. And I have always thought celebrity names were funny and just sort of goofy. So I thought grace plus cancer equals Grancer. it's our celebrity name. So that is the genesis of the blog. And it really just started as me passing along information just with my little twist of humor and darkness. And then it sort of took on a life of its own because people were starting to pass it to people who didn't know me, but had been through cancer or going through treatment. And it just started to snowball a little bit. And that was so exciting. And it gave me this second wind through treatment because I knew I wasn't just speaking into the void. The whole thing started while I was on narcotics, muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety drugs all at the same time. And I was just like, here come the words; they're coming from my brain and they're going into the computer. And I think that that whole scenario allowed me to just be my complete self from the beginning, because I didn't have the ability to really edit down, then people responded to that very positively. And away we went.

Heather Johnston:

I loved it. I like that that was the idea of keeping everybody informed. That's such a difficult pressure. I know this is not really what we're here to talk about. But it is a terrible pressure to feel like you have to update everybody that so concerned about you. As if you need another job on top of other things, and that was a great idea.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

Exactly.

Heather Johnston:

Kudos to your sister.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

I know. She kept me alive. And then she started this like side gig for me. So she did a lot during that time

Heather Johnston:

She's your agent

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

She is and she's also my editor. Every single thing I wrote she would edit. She's a Writing and Rhetoric professor at Columbia here in Chicago. And so it was like the perfect situation because she would go in and not only fix the grammar, but she would say like this is redundant, it's something you said before, so she gets a lot of credit for this.

Heather Johnston:

That's great. That's great. I love that. Where can people read your blog?

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

So Grancerblog, you can just do www.grancerblog.com and you will get there.

Heather Johnston:

Lots of people read Grace's blog, but one person who checked it out was unexpected. Grace's plastic surgeon. Here's how it affected her.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

She is one of these people who upon meeting you look at her and you're like, how? How are you so brilliant, how are you so put together, how are you so gorgeous? How do you, you know, do all of these things at the same time and, you know, wear high heels? What do you, you know, how is this a real thing in front of me, right? And she was just so kind. And she heard me. She heard everything I said, all the time. And I knew that because a) I could see her internalizing it and b) she was really good at doing the thing we should really all do as listeners of saying, like, I'm hearing what you just said, and then coming up with a follow up question, right? You know, acknowledging the problem, and then maybe asking a follow up question of how they can help you. So instantly, I trusted her. And we see our surgeons quite a lot in the beginning of treatment, and throughout that first year. And during that time, we just started to click as women, not just patient doctor, she was pregnant. In fact, when she did my bilateral mastectomy, I did not know it at the time. But she was in her first trimester with twins, as she resected my whole body. And I mean, I think that alone is superhero status. Like imagine how sick you would feel being pregnant in your first trimester with twins. And then you're operating on somebody with the smells and the oof. So, you know, she already wins the award for that. But, you know, she saw me as a person, not as a patient. And that was so valuable. And I don't think it is something that just happened with me, I think that happens with her with a lot of people, because I've heard certainly a lot of people who felt connected with her. But she knew about my blog, and it's the blog is quite prolific, there is a lot of writing in there, it's not something you can just like pop on and read for an hour. It's, there's a lot to read. And if you want to get through it all, if you fall down the rabbit hole, it's gonna it's gonna be a while. And so you know, with her busy lifestyle, she never had time to do that. But then she gave birth to those babies. And in the process of, you know, being awake at all hours breastfeeding, she read the whole blog. And she reached out to me afterwards, and basically said, that she cried through most of it, because she was on the other end living it with me, but she didn't know how I really felt and what happened when I went home. And when I was in pain, and you know, couldn't take a shower by myself and needed help from my mother, you know, these like real human things. And she said that she was sure it was going to change the way she practiced, intrinsically, like across the board. Because she was reading these lifestyle things that really matter. She heard me and she internalized it, and she changed the way she practiced because of it. And now we remain pals, and we send each other Christmas cards every year. And sometimes I'll just message her through the doctor system, just to see how she's doing. You know, it's nothing, anything medical, because she's become that important to me.

Heather Johnston:

I love this. It's so hard to give feedback to doctors, because there's no real formal way to do that. Like those comment cards at the end of your stay, or the hospital exit, just don't do it. And I I'm so happy for you, that you had this opportunity to reach somebody in that way. Because the reality is, well, I guess my opinion is, and so it's reality, I don't really think you can understand what it's like to have cancer until you do, even if you're living with somebody with it, or if you're their doctor, you just can't understand the level to which it affects every minute of your life outside of the clinic, or the hospital or the OR. And I thought you're writing. As I said earlier, your writing is just so frank, and it's just a readable and so I'm so glad she got to do that, I really am. When I was a medical student here in Chicago, I lobbied for three years unsuccessfully for my medical school to donate one hospital room to the medical school instead of for patient care. And I wanted every medical student to be required to stay in the hospital overnight, or for a 24 hour stay and have an IV put in which isn't dangerous, and have a blood draw at 2am and have their vitals checked every two hours. And have to strip down and have a gown on with the back open and need help to go to the bathroom and have to walk down the hallway with an IV pole. And I felt like at least you could give them that experience so that they would have a little more understanding and for some of them a little more empathy of just how hard it is to be sick, and have to be a patient and be scared and be uncomfortable and in pain and bothered and annoyed. And all of it.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

All of it. What a brilliant idea.

Heather Johnston:

Well my plan B is that I feel like every medical student in the in the world should read your blog. That's my plan B.

Grace Fauls Lombardo:

Oh my goodness, I'm blushing.

Heather Johnston:

Thanks for listening today. To catch up on more episodes and to get new ones delivered directly to you. Subscribe wherever you find your podcasts, Apple, Google, Spotify iHeartRadio and more. If you'd like to be a guest or have an idea for an episode, let me know at www.drpatientpodcast.com That's www.drpatientpodcast.com. Here's the disclaimer. Even though I am a doctor, I'm not your doctor. These stories, my comments and all discussion is purely reflection about what's working in the healthcare system and what isn't. Don't use any medical information that you hear in these episodes to diagnose or treat yourself. If you have a question about your health, get in touch with your doctor or local health clinic