27 August 2014

I'm Out of the Hospital ...

From an email in late August, 2005 to the youngest son, in which the author describes how he survived several days of brutal and abject captivity:

Hi, Bug,

Tammy said she let you know I was in the hospital. They think it was diverticulitis, but aren't sure. All I really know is that I couldn't poop and I couldn't stop trying to poop, then the waves of pain finally hit unbearable. So I roused Tammy from bed and had her haul both me and my painful ass to the emergency room.

Of course they let the pain grow for several hours while they "ran tests," despite my fervent requests for a pain killer. Eventually, I received an urgent order from within that I was to immediately go to the nearest toilet without passing go and collecting $200, notwithstanding that I was less than fully clothed. Tammy and a nurse kept trying to slow me down long enough to get a gown on me, but I finally got across to them that they were very near to experiencing some serious violence. "Don't you dare get between me and that toilet," I said in my most threatening tone as I sprinted in a duck walk down the hallway.

I made it to the toilet (about a hundred feet away from where I had been lying), then my ass exploded. It is physically impossible that any other human being ever deposited a pile of poop that high. I was stricken with awe as the pain immediately started fading in the direction of bearable.

A half-hour later I was back on my cot and down to something roughly equivalent to a migraine in my ass. Only then did someone finally show up with something like what I had so desperately asked for the second I first entered the emergency room, a super-narcotic pain killer called fentanyl. I figured what the hell; I'm spending the night so I might as well go on a professionally-administered drug trip. That turned out not to be such a great idea; as it turns out, one of fentanyl's side effects is constipation.

Nonetheless, I was in la-la land for the next couple of days. Then I was given 4 hours to down 4 liters of a super laxative to prep me for a high colonoscopy. They told me if I got it down, I wouldn't need to have enemas (not my favorite sport) and if I got it down quickly I probably wouldn't have to take more. So I got it all down in about a half hour, with full intent to spend the rest of my life on the toilet if necessary. My belly ballooned far enough that I couldn't see my toes.

To no avail. It seems that when the 4 hours were up my diarrhea still wasn't "clear" enough, so I had to down another two liters of what is euphemistically named GoLYTELY, a foul mixture of saline, polyethylene glycol, and a bit of extra flavor that my connoisseur palate identified as insufficiently aged buzzard vomit. Having: [i] sued a few chemical companies in my time; [ii] having read too many internal documents about what their health and safety testing really consisted of; and [iii] being aware that Dow Chemical Co. was a main supplier of polyethylene glycol for a dazzling array of products ranging from medical products to industrial solvents, I wasn't exactly thrilled by the prospect of over-dosing on a chemical company product.

Finally, after multiple conferences and inspections of the toilet, they pronounced my diarrhea satisfactory to their taste. Then they let me know that I had only 15 minutes left on my clear liquid diet before I entered the fasting period (no food or liquids period) until the "procedure was completed."

By then I'd developed a truly spectacular headache from coffee withdrawal. No matter how much they brag about fentanyl's brute pain-killing power, it doesn't even ding the paint on a caffeine withdrawal headache. Some pain killer. Fortunately, tea was on my approved list (why coffee wasn't is less than clear to me), so I ordered a double.

I took my two cups, walked to the other end of the hospital to the emergency room, went outside, sat down and drank the tea while smoking as many cigarettes as I could in the time that was left to me before GoLYTELY required my attendance in the bathroom yet another time. The tea knocked the headache flat on its ass but left me wired, with only 4 hours of sleep time left. So I ordered another serving of fentanyl, deposited what I hoped would be my last present for the nurse's inspection in the bathroom, and drifted off to sleep.

Of course they awoke me at 5:30 a.m. so I could ponder life while waiting for the "procedure" that was supposed to happen at 8 a.m. All well and good, except that I woke up lying in a large puddle of GoLYTELY and assorted bodily fluids (still enough of me left in the mix to stink to high heavens, of course).

No showers permitted (for that, I deducted four stars from my online review of that hotel), so I did the best I could with the latest and greatest in hospital clean-up, which are packets of wet paper towelettes warmed in a microwave. (I let them cool long enough to avoid major burns before using them, a tip you might remember in case you ever wind up in an similar situation.) I successfully resisted the urge to dispose of a few of the used towelettes in that coffee urn they guarded so preciously. Best not to anger the jailers when in jail.

Now up until I began doing my best to get a GoLYTELY buzz, everyone in the hospital had poked at least one finger up my ass, even though I wondered why the secretaries and file clerks were getting into the act too. My anus felt like I had just spent three days locked up with rabidly horny male gorilla rapists, and I couldn't wipe without drawing fresh blood. But once the sweet nectar of GoLYTELY crossed my lips, no one wanted even to look at my bruised and bleeding rectum, which by then deserved the spelling of "wrecktum."

So apparently GoLYTELY wards off evil spirits wearing medical attire, and possibly male gorillas as well. That may be helpful to know if you ever visit a zoo so be sure to take a bottle of GoLYTELY along. Hopefully, a smaller dose than I had will do the job.

Eventually, someone must have decided that I'd had a sufficient opportunity to divine the secret of life, the universe, and everything (the answer is not 42 despite what that Brit said). About 10:30 they finally took me up for the gauntlet I had to run before I could ever eat, drink, or smoke again. (These people were not shy about making gruesome threats.)

I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that things had changed on another front, and I would not be expected to run this particular gauntlet without an extra dose of fentanyl, plus a new wonder drug (I've forgotten the name) that induces temporary amnesia so you don't remember the ecstasy you experience under their kind ministrations. I suppose that side effect helps resist the urge to ask for more.

It wasn't all that effective in blocking memories; but I was high enough on fentanyl that I was nearly playful about the strange but hilarious events occurring in my abdomen as they not so gently ran their probe clear up into my throat. Somehow, I managed to avoid giggling. I just pretended like I was taking it all seriously.

Having explored parts of me that not even I have seen, they wheeled me back to my temporary abode, and Zack showed up a few minutes later. I stuffed some bills in his hand and dispatched him on his Mission. A few minutes later, he returned with a large cup of coffee and two of McDonald's finest quarter-pounders with cheese. All three items mysteriously disappeared before any nurses had a clue. Clear liquid diet, bedamned. I knew it would be hours before someone thought to inform me that I was now permitted to eat solid food and get my delayed morning coffee. I dozed, dreaming of my pending release from their prison.

Somewhere along the line, in a moment of fentanyl-induced stupidity — well, maybe that mysterious amnesia drug had something to do with it too —I apparently and foolishly gave the wrong answer to a nurse's question along the lines of, "do you feel any pain." Not being satisfied with the length of the festivities to that point, I blurted out that I had a minor pain in my chest. I tried to back-pedal right after I said it. I knew it was a dumb-out the moment it escaped my lips.

But they wouldn't buy that it was just a normal minor twinge and that I had just been truthful — after all, she had used the more encompassing phrase any pain, not any angina — the damage inflicted by my honesty and correct understanding of the English vocabulary involved could only repaired by EKGs, ECGs, and long solemn talks with doctors and nurses, none of whom were willing to accept that everyone gets little twinges in their chest from time to time, even those who had a heart attack years before, and that I damned well knew the difference between such fleeting phenomena and angina. The upshot was that a doctor wanted to keep me another day for a heart stress test.

My mind working again, I explained that this plan really would not work for me because Tammy was scheduled to fly to Vermont early the next morning to see her dying mother for the last time, but had told me that she would cancel if I wasn't out of the hospital. It probably helped that my words were true; I'm a lousy liar.

It took a few more repetitions in an increasingly determined voice to drive the message home, but the doctor finally relented, allowing me to go home late yesterday afternoon, but only if I promised to show up at 7:15 a.m. today for the heart stress test. That wasn't the best compromise conceivable; I have a severe distaste for heart stress tests and anything else involving me trying to keep up with a constantly accelerating and greater inclining treadmill for 10 minutes. But in a moment of weakness, I succumbed and agreed to it. You'd think that a retired lawyer could have talked his way out of that return trip. But alas! These medical types are stubborn.

I got home, got a cup of coffee, a diet Coke, a bowl of cherry tomatoes, and a sandwich, then cranked up my computer with illusions of blotting out reality with a healthy dose of bits and bytes, whilst snacking and getting the blood caffeine levels back up where they belong. There's nothing like a bit of programming to get your mind out in the asteroids and off recent bad memories.

Fat chance; Tammy was running behind in preparing for her trip to Vermont (largely because of my adventure). This time around, she chose to react to the situation by turning downright bitchy. So I accepted the inevitable, shut down the computer, and helped her calm down while I helped with her packing and listened patiently to her endless list of instructions on acts I was to perform during her absence. Then an early birthday party at Laurel's house because Tammy won't be here (hers is on the 26th; mine and Julian's on the 28th). Then I faded early, with a bit of assistance from residual fentanyl.

Tammy rousted me out of bed just before leaving, per my request, so I could make it to my appointment this morning. At the last minute, I noticed that the paperwork I was supposed to take with me was missing, filed away in some creative place by Tammy, no doubt, and her unreachable somewhere at 30,000 feet or so between Eugene and Denver.

So I went without the paperwork, provoking guilt feelings that may explain why I didn't notice that the city streets department had stripped off 6 inches of pavement while I was out of action. Fortunately, my self-education (from a youthful badly shattered ankle) on the relative wisdom of struggling to remain afoot or falling took over, leaving me lying in the street. I got up, limped on across the street, and made it to my bus back to the hospital. I even made it on time.

There, onto some sort of science fiction gizmo, my body being first injected with radioactive dye or some such. The machine proceeds to rotate one 30th of a full turn at a time, bathing me in X-rays — or perhaps something worse — for about 15 seconds at every stop, while making weird noises as it slowly turned. My impression was that they were building a CAD-CAM 3D image of my heart. I was less than pleased that my chest began feeling hot, as though I were in a microwave oven.

When I was about to ask that the guy in the white coat throw on a little Parmesan and serve the diners before I overcooked, the "procedure" ended abruptly. (So many "procedures" in the medical profession. My sniff is that they use the word to avoid explaining precisely what they intend to next inflict on their victims. So much for the principle of informed consent that supposedly rules the relationship between physician and patient. Maybe retrospectively in court, but not as events unfold in a hospital.)

Then up to another department for the stress test. To my absolute delight, I was informed that we no longer walk on treadmills for a cardiac stress test. No sir, we lie on an examining table wired up with the expected electrodes while they inject an infusion of yet another wonder concoction that causes your entire vascular system to dilate so profoundly that your heart is tricked into thinking you have been running on that treadmill for 10 minutes. Should the drug prove too effective to be tolerated, an immediate intravenous infusion of caffeine neutralizes it. They said.

Wonderful! A cardio-workout without the bother of sweating and and being tired with sore muscles afterward.

Wrong. Medical science may have aspirations of imitating Dr. McCoy on StarTrek, but they have yet to get the side effects taken care of. My head was afire inside, my jaw locked, extreme nausea raced up and down my entire body (I had never experienced nausea in my chest before). I started gasping for air, and a severe panic pervaded my entire being as well as my whole body. For four whole minutes, plus about 30 seconds of tapering off recovery once they, blessedly, stopped the infusion.

I was left dizzy, then stumbled back to have another set of "pictures" taken of my chest. (I hereby incorporate the appropriate two paragraph from above with the microwave set to "reheat" this time around.)

Of course after it's over, the technician has heard from some staff blabbermouth that I am both a retired lawyer and a Viet Nam War veteran. He wants a long discussion about whether he might possibly qualify for any V.A. benefits even though his service was between wars. Puh-lease! That never was my specialty; I have been up since 4:30 a.m.; I haven't yet had my first coffee or cigarette of the day; and while I am sure you are a very nice man I am going to freak out all over you if you do not allow me to immediately go to a place where I can pander to my addictions.

I said all of that, of course. Well, not actually. Instead, I played along, suffered through the long conversation, finally got the guy to comprehend that I did not know the answers to his questions, and finally escaped. A fast cigarette, then the right bus arrived and hauled me to Springfield Station, where the Taco Time across the street kindly provided a cup of weak black coffee (not in the sense of the color black, but instead in the sense that it had no sugar or cream added), plus four Crispy Meat Burritos. I gobbled two of them, then ran limping for the No. 12 bus home, guzzling coffee as I ran. Onto the bus, gobble the surviving burritos, hop off the bus, walk a couple of hundred feet and here I am.

Home, nary another encounter with the medical profession on my calendar until next Wednesday, when I go in for a follow-up session to adjust my hearing aids' settings. I am fairly confident that will not involve another colonoscopy, but I may engage in some telephone reconnaissance to be more certain before I go. Without doubt, my anus requires retreading and I think I'll have them embed studs next time around. Maybe a tattoo as well, if I can think of a design that would spark apoplexy in a proctologist.

Which reminds me: do you know what a proctoscope is? It's a long tube with an asshole at each end. I swear, I was told that one by a proctologist's widow, long before the experience documented here.

Throughout it all, I remembered Ralph's sage advice of staying "sweet" at all times, because judges are more likely to rule in your favor (and it drives opposing counsel stark, raving mad). I shudder to think of how the hospital staff might have behaved if they hadn't liked me.

Anyway, I escaped. I'm out of the hospital and doing fine.



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