(Elevators! Am I finally being moved to a room?)
No such luck. After exiting the elevators with the gold diamonds painted upon them, and negotiating a few twists and turns, we slowed as we approached an opening on the right-hand side of the corridor. A sign on the wall informed me that I was entering Observation Unit One. The unit was shaped as two sides of a square, with the nurses’ station on the left and a multitude of curtained cubicles on the right. I was wheeled down and to the left, into the other leg of the unit, all the way down to the end cubicle. I observed with some satisfaction that the unit’s rest room lay directly across from my space.
The staff member informed me that here on the unit, at least, tv privileges were free. I failed until later to realize that this fact portended a very short stay - if I had been meant to stay longer, I would have been assigned a room and expected to pay for the amenities. Looking around, I observed a small, wheeled cabinet with a couple of drawers, and a number of items on it. The first object that caught my eye was a combination remote/call button that controlled the wall-mounted tv and served to contact the station if necessary. There was a plastic bag containing a little box of tissues, a pair of no-slip socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, roll-on deodorant and a piece of paper that turned out to be a patient satisfaction survey. I wish now that I had availed myself of the survey. There was a salmon-colored rectangular plastic tub and a smaller kidney-shaped receptacle, and beneath the cabinet on a pull-out shelf were a number of ginger ale-colored plastic jugs, looking for all the world like juice containers, save for the fact that each had a cap attached to the handle of the jug by a plastic strap. These are called by the staff ‘urinals’, which name and function I had learned at the time of my ulcer surgery in 1998.
I picked up the remote and surfed to determine which channels were deemed important enough to be offered free by the hospital. The three broadcast networks and three cable news networks were there, along with CNBC, our erstwhile channel of choice. BET, Univision, Lifetime and Oxygen were all represented, along with Bravo, A & E, and HGTV. There was some sort of in-house educational channel (featuring, not surprisingly, graphic depictions of various operations - joy) and, lastly, a computerized analog clock face that presumably showed the correct time. I switched to CNBC to see what the market had done that day.
At roughly 5:15, a food service cart appeared and my first official meal was delivered to me - the ubiquitous napkin and plastic utensils, milk, juice and dessert choice (generally a fruit cup or apple, but infrequently more imaginative) and the main meal, which this night consisted of canned green beans, runny, flavorless potatoes made from flakes (believe me when I say that I know this - I have had much experience of various potatolike formulations) and a slab of something covered with congealed gravy that the accompanying menu assured me was meatloaf - a more unappealing offering I could not imagine (later, while visiting Bonnie, I discovered that there were indeed more unappetizing concoctions.) After careful consideration, I consumed all but half of the potatoes and most of the disheartening slab - I had sampled it and found it to be inedible.
Tray and remnants removed, I lay back and attempted to concentrate on Jim Cramer, who was valiantly trying to inflate my portfolio, but the pain radiating up my leg made this a difficult proposition. I shifted around for awhile to try to find a position that would decrease the awful discomfort, deciding finally to lie on my right side and stretch my left leg over until it rested upon the metal tube that served as a preventative to my rolling off of the bed. I passed most of two hours in this fashion, waiting for something, anything, to happen.
At around 8:00 pm, a nurse or tech (it was almost impossible to determine which, unless the individual was bearing medication) appeared and offered me a small plastic cough-syrup dispenser containing Motrin and Vicodin (aha! A nurse!) Since my last (and sole) application had occurred at 8:00 am, you can imagine the relief I felt. Unfortunately, the 12-hour interim had allowed the earlier medication to lose all effectiveness, and the pills took a long time to manifest any reduction whatsoever in the amount of pain that I was suffering. There was a gradual lessening, although the pain never completely went away, and I spent another two hours trying to fall asleep.
At some time between 10 and 11 pm, a technician entered my curtained cubicle with her little wheeled machine and proceeded to take my vital signs (blood pressure, pulse and temperature.) By the time the procedure was finished, my leg was once again unhappy, and I was looking forward to the next medicine delivery. Alas, that did not come for another five hours. In the interim, however, I was visited by another tech who inserted what is known around the hospital as a Heparin Lock (I had had one inserted in Emergency, but it had been removed after the CAT scan.) Then I was hooked up to a sodium chloride drip which, as usual, caused more than its share of grief by running quietly for some minutes until a bubble developed, and then beeping continually until someone noticed or complained and a tech arrived to tap and shake the IV line until the bubble broke up or dissolved. The unit, although only partially occupied this particular evening, was pervaded by the almost constant sound of regular, highly annoying beeps.
I spent a bad night, watching the infrequent car coming or going from the parking garage and wishing that I was minus a leg. At one point I tried to rise to my feet to stagger across the intervening space to the rest room, but discovered that my ankle was intensely averse to bearing my weight. In desperation, I finally availed myself of one of the portable urinals (that, I assumed, was why they had been provided.) After I received my next medication at 4:00 am, I managed to get an hour or two of sleep, in between the inevitable vital signs checks.
Of the last day in the unit, I will not say much, as not much happened. I received breakfast (cereal, two pancakes with syrup and !coffee!)
The food service gentleman kindly allowed me to have a second cup, which improved my mood, if not my pain, considerably. I rested and waited for noon to arrive. It eventually did, along with medication and lunch (which was a reprise of the meatloaf from the previous evening, and just as dreadful the second time.)
I had taken to pressing the contact button, hoping to receive medication on a more timely schedule (does it rain in Hell? I think not, and neither did the contact button help.) A disembodied voice always assured me that someone would attend to me (they did not mention when such attention would be forthcoming - crafty of them.)
The only event of note occurred when one of the maintenance staff noticed that I had dared to pollute one of their precious urinals. She looked at me with instant dislike, pointed out the rest room across the way, and snarled, "The rest room’s right there! Can’t you walk?" I said that no, I couldn’t, otherwise I would have. She then snarled, "Make sure you empty that before you leave, and dispose of it." Yes, ma’am. Excuse me.
Oh yes. Around 10:30, I was visited by a social worker who wanted to help me fill out the Medicaid application form. Despite the fact that I was in a bit of pain and did not immediately have all the facts at my fingertips (Bonnie knew more about the bills than I did) we proceeded to struggle through the twenty-four (or -six, or -eight) pages required for a successful process. This, perhaps needless to say, was not one of my more pleasant experiences. (As it happened, since I could not yet walk when the hearing was due to occur, the procedure proved to be useless. We have since reapplied and are awaiting the new due date.)
As the day began to laten, I wondered just what it was that I was doing here. The medication was arriving, granted, but the interval between was so lengthy that I might as well have been at home - I would have been more comfortable. As if receiving my thought, a nurse appeared just before the arrival of dinner. She informed me that I was shortly to be released, and asked me to indicate which method of conveyance I would prefer to use to go home. Then she asked, "You do have a home to go to?" As I was at that point wearing little but a T-shirt, jeans, and a pair of ratty slippers that had all been slept in for three days and two nights, and my beard had gone unshaven for many months, I suppose there was some justification for her rather impertinent question. I informed her that, yes, I did have a home, and that it was not in a public park, and I chose a taxi as my preferred means of travel. The nurse appeared unflustered by my pert remark and vanished back up the corridor.
At length, she returned. She first removed the Heparin Lock, exclaiming, "You can withstand much pain!" When I inquired what she meant, she said that the tech had inserted the lock with a kink in the line. I suppose, if my leg had been ruly, I might have been bothered. As it was ... It did, however, explain the frequent appearance of bubbles.
The nurse wrapped my leg and foot in an elastic bandage, handed me a second bandage as a backup, and gave me my discharge papers and prescription forms. "Someone will be along soon," she said. Shortly, a marvelous member of the transport staff appeared, helped me into a ‘chair, and took me for my last ride through the anal canal (err... corridors) of the hospital.
As we wended our way through the various halls, my attendant and I had an opportunity to chat, and it was he who informed me of the unspoken policy - "treat ‘em and street ‘em." I knew exactly what he meant. At length we reached a desk, where my discharge was made official, and then it was out to the enormous, echoing lobby, which in an emergency could double as an airplane hangar. We stopped at the pharmacy, a small offshoot of the huge space, to fill my prescriptions. The prescription for Vicodin was for a total of twelve pills, which if taken as prescribed, would last less than four days. To fortify myself for the taxi ride, I immediately dry-swallowed two of them.
My attendant (whose identity I am protecting) then wheeled me toward the front doors (dare I call this aperture a sphincter?) of the lobby. As he walked and I rode, he asked me if I had noticed what was showing on the monitor of the young woman who had finalized my discharge. I admitted that I had not, I had been busy inspecting papers. When I asked what he had seen, he said, "It was a video of a man and woman ... having sex." "Oh." I replied.
Having passed through the lobby doors, and flush (flushed?) with joy at being excreted, I was handed into the taxi, ready to begin anew my life as a free man.
A "Tina" postscript:
The first time that I visited Bonnie on the ward in early May, I caught one glimpse of "Tina" and marveled that she was still there, as to me she had not seemed all that ill. The next time I visited, about a week later, it happened that "Tina" had been assigned the room next to Bonnie’s, and while I could not tell if she recognized me as the wild-haired, bearded, suffering crazy from the prelim ward, she did, while I was visiting, meander in and out of Bonnie’s room at random during the visit, eventually handing me a stamp, a scrap of paper with the address of the "Marians of the Immaculate Conception - Association of Marian Helpers" written upon it, and a letter from her apologizing for having caused us embarrassment, which she had signed as "Ruth". The last time that I saw her, she spent about fifteen minutes loudly praying outside our room as we were attempting to have a quiet visit. It became so annoying that Bonnie stood up, walked to the door, and stood there staring at Ruth without uttering a word until Ruth got the hint, entered her own room, closed the door and began to pray aloud again.
Ruth, wherever you are, may God bless you.