Friday, November 18

Health Care Makes Me Sick

After opening day of the Upper Respiratory Distress Season I intended to write about how Ah-nuld was fulla shit and nurses deserved twice what they make minimum, and how, if the experience went on much longer I planned to write about my admiration for the famous scene in Kiss of Death were Richard Widmark pushes a wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs. Which was a joke, mostly.

But then at 3AM Thursday morning, just I as was finally putting down the guitar and heading for bed there was a large commotion upstairs. My Poor Wife, who'd been sleeping, if somewhat fitfully, was up and having trouble breathing or standing. There's a procedure to be followed, or maybe it's a game to be played, under these circumstances. I have to ask her what she wants to do. She will not say, "Get me to a doctor." I have to coax it out of her being careful not to slight my known aversion to the medical profession. "Would some broth help? Do you want some steam?" Finally it's decided we need to go to MedCheck. Yes, dear, I know the one closest to us is closed. That is, shuttered; both the nearest and second nearest 24-hour doctor shops have shut down in the last three years. Still, there's one a couple miles away. Start the car. It's decided to turn cold, and it's around 20º with a 15-mile-an-hour wind. Get her bundled up and half-carry her to the car. I didn't take the time to call the place, so of course we get there to find it closed at 11.

Not a big deal, because it's on the way to the hospital. Now, I've spent enough time in emergency rooms to dread them, but it's cold and a good hour after the bars closed and we're on the city's Preferred North Side, so it's all but deserted and there's even a place to park for free, although it's still a block and a half from the door. Got her through admissions and into a room. She was feeling slightly better at this point, because it's the panoply of modern science as much as the care she craves. My opinion, anyway. And people were coming in and out and listening to her lungs and playing Twenty Questions and making one of the machines on the wall spit out oxygen; I meant to ask if it could get me a Scotch, neat, but I forgot. I was doing my usual health care patter; the doctors seem to enjoy it and I like to take 'em out of their routine and see what happens. Plus, my wife and I have been together nearly thirty years now, and we've got the Bickersons routine down so well we sometimes convulse total strangers in stores. Only she wasn't really up to playing much, so it was mostly a monologue.

Now somebody else comes in and listens to her, and they wheel her out for chest x-rays, and I get to concentrate on just how fucking uncomfortable I am. The teevee is playing a Lakers game I already know the result of, and it's up in the corner for the benefit of the bedridden, so it kills your neck just to look at it. And I'm sitting on a plastic chair which is the most uncomfortable thing I've even sat in. Ever. It's a Catholic hospital and my speculation is the things are made by a community of Flagellants. They bring her back. Time passes. I managed to grab a copy of Montaigne's Essays off my nightstand but I'm so sleepy the text just keeps floating around. Doctor comes back after reading the X-rays. No pneumonia, so they make the thing on the wall spit out some vapor concoction. It's like a Dremel Moto-tool for hospitals. Five minutes of this, then some time for her heart rate to return to normal, then another listen. No go. We're going to have to give you the long version.

The hour-long version.

And this In-a-Gadda-da-Vida of pharmacology sends the heart rate to the moon, so by now I'm sitting on this hair-shirt of a stool of theirs with my neck cocked at an unnatural angle watching the sunrise on the local morning shows I'd be screaming about except the speaker is over by my wife's bedside so I can't hear the inanities. What I can hear, clearly, is the woman on the morning shift at the nurses station who is counted among the masses who believe that "goes" is synonymous with "said". "She goes" this, then "He goes" that, probably fifteen times. I have a headache, a neck cramp, an imputed rash on my butt, and a throbbing pain from plantar fasciitis. I'd ask for an aspirin, except I'm sure it'd wind up on the bill for $40.

I amused myself by duplicating the hand gestures the "reporters" made; I highly recommend it if you find yourself in similar circumstances. Finally they check back, but she still doesn't sound good enough, so it's one more shot before they admit her. Five more minutes--this time the tech tells her to breathe deeply, which they haven't mentioned before. I'm thinking of seeing if I can figure out how to make the Dremel spit out morphine, but there's always someone around. I start pacing. There's room for three of 'em before I turn around. Now we're into what used to be called the morning news programs but now consist of interviews with idiots who line up on the street to say Hi to the Folks Back Home, plus a very special in-the-studio performance by Carlos Santana with Michelle Branch, who left her voice with her producer somewhere.

I'm trying, really, to be solicitous of my poor sick wife but I'm about to ask to be admitted myself. It obviously showed on my face since a nice employee caught my mug as I was taking the three steps toward the door and asked if he could get me a coffee or anything. He was probably surprised to learn later that my wife had finally been released, since my scowl must have suggested terminal cancer to him.


Anonymous said...

I hope she's feeling better.

It really is much easier from the perspective of the person who's sick/injured. I advise you to get a Gameboy or something. If you keep the volume down, she might not mind. I know I don't, because I don't need my partner hovering and asking dumb questions.

Do they know at all what the problem was?

And, you know, it sounds just like our second-to-last trip to the ER. I'll try to be more sympathetic to my partner's dumb questions now that I understand it's just self-distraction.

Anonymous said...


Hope she's OK.

I've already told my husband that I'm not going to the hospital. He can just roll my body down the back slope.

eRobin said...

Breathing problems are rotten. I have asthma that isn't even that bad and still I get nervous when I feel like an episode is coming on. Hope she's feeling better.

They ought to put movies on hospital televisions - anything but daytime programming.