Thirty-Six Hours In A Hospital
It was scary, it was interesting, it hurt, but felt good. It’s hard to describe being operated on by a robot. As they strapped me onto the operating table I could see the robot waiting at my feet. It was a large white object with multiple arms, a video monitor and blue lettering in the otherwise sterile, cold steel room. There were five doctors and two nurses.
After wrapping me in those large belts onto the table, one of the nurses came over to me and said, “Here it comes,” meaning the anesthesia.
The next thing I knew I was semi conscious in an elevator going somewhere surrounded by masked people in blue scrubs. Later that day I woke up in a hospital room with three IV’s and a catheter all hung on a pole-like Christmas tree next to my bed and I was on oxygen. Just as they had promised, there was no pain.
That night the floor nurse came in and told me to get out of bed and go for a walk. They don’t fool around. I knew she was only saying it once and expected me up on my feet. Those nurses are an interesting mix, especially the ones in the operating room. They’re a mix of Parris Island Drill Sergeant and a sweet old grandmother. They are caring, understanding, knowledgeable, and professional and expect their orders carried out promptly and exactly.
I figured I’d better go for a walk.
With all of my equipment hung from the Christmas tree with care, I carefully swung my feet out of bed and hit the floor. Still no pain. I grabbed the pole and shuffled out the door. I had no idea what time it was, even if it was day or night. The curtains in my room had been pulled and there were no windows to the outside in the hospital corridor. Others like me shuffled up and down the hall. Feeling somewhat self-conscious about wheeling my urine bag in public, I checked to see if anyone else was dragging a bag. I wasn’t alone.
I gave the nurse a feeble wave as I passed the nurses station and got a smile and reassuring nod of the head in return. There was another guy ahead of me in this procession of walking wounded and when he made the turn to head back up the hallway I pointed to his urine bag and said, “Nice color.”
The first thing that came to my mind once I had said it was, “What are you thinking? What happened to hello?”
“Thanks,” he answered and pointing to my bag said, “you too.”
We both forced a smile and continued on our way. The color of my urine had been the subject of conversation all day as doctors and nurses came and went from my room. I guess I figured everyone was into it. After that I thought to myself that should I encounter any beautiful women wandering the hallway I’d better come up with a better opening line.
This walking the halls was pretty cool. To entertain myself I counted the number of bags and monitors each fellow patient had hanging on their Christmas tree. There was one guy that looked like he was pushing along a satellite tower he had so many things on his pole. His urine looked nice too.
There is little privacy in a hospital and it seems most of the things they do to you are an assault on your dignity. That night a nurse, who spoke very little English came into my room. She was telling me something, but between the medication and her struggles with the language, I really had no idea what she was getting at. She kept pointing to my abdomen. She was really a sweet girl, dark hair, pretty smile and I was guessing Indonesian. After whatever it was she was saying to me, she checked all the bags hanging from my Christmas tree and walked over to the sink. I had the Red Sox game on the television and was focused on that when she came at me with purple examination gloves and a tube of something. She pulled back the sheet and lifted up my hospital grown and smiled.
I was mortified. I had needles in both arms attached to who knows what, an oxygen hose wrapped around my face and I was high as a kite on some nice drugs. I think Mike Lowell was at the plate when she went to work, smiling all the while and talking in mixed English and who knows what. It turns out I was getting a cleaning and dressing of some sort.
I haven’t spent a night in a hospital since I was 12. I was unfamiliar with the protocol. I felt like I should take her out to dinner or buy her flowers after that.
Next she grabbed this thing that looked like a bong. She handed it to me, and then grabbed one for herself. She took the mouthpiece and as she drew in breath, a ball inside the clear plastic bowl elevated and hovered until she removed the mouth piece and exhaled. The nurse then motioned for me to try. It was just like sucking on a pipe, without the smoke. I think it had something to do with lungs and breathing, I never could figure out what she was saying.
Anyway, we both took a few more drags on this pipe-like thing and I remarked, “Just like smoking a bong, isn’t it?”
She tipped her head and gave me a quizzical look. “What is a bong?” she asked.
So here I am, drugged out in a hospital bed puffing on a water pipe-like thing trying to explain a bong and what its purpose is to a woman who has just been rather familar with me. Again language proved a barrier. I didn’t get past Woodstock and nudity before she smiled again, said something and left the room.
I have no idea what Mike Lowell did, but the Red Sox were losing.
I took a couple more pulls on the bong-thing and tried to pick up the game. About the sixth inning a Haitian guy came in speaking French. I must have looked French to him. I kept answering, “excuse me?” until he figured out I wasn’t French. Maybe I looked French after my clean-up and a few totes on the bong-thing.
It turns out he was a Personal Care Assistant assigned to me. He took my blood pressure and temperature and dumped my urine bag. I asked him what he thought of the color and he nodded and smiled, “good.”
We were back to English.
When he reached for the sheet I protested. The nurse was one thing, but I wasn’t giving every Tom, Dick, and Harry to come through the door a peek under the sheets. It turns out he just wanted to straighten them. Apparently my affair with the nurse had left the bed covers inappropriately disheveled.
He flitted around the small hospital room straightening things out and talking the entire time. After a while his heavily-accented mix of French and English was making sense. As I began to understand him more, I lost track of the Red Sox again. I looked up at the Christmas tree pole and all those bags draining into me. One of them, I thought, is either allowing me to understand French or maybe there was something in that bong. His words and sentences were all over the place, but for some reason I could understand. I flunked French my sophomore year in high school and aside from a couple of seedy subtitled B movies, I can’t remember hearing anyone speak it. There was that woman out in Truro, but that’s for another time.
I pointed out that the Red Sox were on, and did he follow the team. I guess not, as he came to the side of my bed and immediately launched into a philosophic diatribe on divinity. I think Francona pulled Beckett, what did that have to do with God?
The next thing I know I’m having a really heavy conversation with this guy about religious philosophy. We raced across the religious map sparing no sect, but what puzzled me most was that this guy wasn’t able to accept anything prior to Adam and Eve. We discussed not just the major religions, but even a few off the wall fringe group ideas. Still, nothing prior to Adam and Eve.
Every once in a while I’d say something that would seem to get him fired up and he’d start to pace. The room wasn’t that big. He could manage about three steps before it was time to pace in the other direction. All the while he was gesturing and rapidly speaking in his own perfect mix of French and English. This went on for about 15 to 20 minutes. I wondered about the other patients that he was supposed to be attending. I figured at any moment he’d try to convert me, but to what. This guy, as best as I can figure, subscribed to his own religion, one in which he took a little something from a lot of different places.
I was looking to end things, as the more passionate he became, the more French he spoke and I was having trouble following some of this thoughts and wanted to get back to the Red Sox.
I tossed out the Adam and Eve card.
“No,” he said adamantly. “It all began with Adam and Eve.”
I told him I wasn’t going to buy that, that there was more to it and that he should rethink some things. I realized I was tempting a jihad-type response, but he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’ll be back later tonight and we can talk more.”
I didn’t figure on being awake later on that night.
It seemed every hour or two during the night a nurse would come in and wake me up for something or another. I was beginning to think they were just checking to make sure I wasn’t dead. Whenever they dumped my urine bag, we’d always take a few moments to admire the color before letting it go.
The next morning three doctors at three different times came in for a peek under the sheets. The night nurse was back too for one more special moment before going off duty. I was advised that they would be sending me home if I could fart. I looked at the doctor, “You want me to what?” I asked somewhat incredulously.
“Can you pass gas, or have you?” he asked seriously.
I wanted to hold up my urine bag. I was proud of that and I wanted to show him how well I was doing and to please just let me go home.”
“You should be able to pass gas before you’re released,” he said stoically.
I’ve always been able to belch on command, so I let one rip.
“That’s encouraging,” he admitted, “but you need to pass gas out the other end.”
There was no fooling or impressing these doctors. They’re Harvard Medical School guys, some of them professors. He must have seen me wince.
“Don’t push!” his voice rose. “You’ll damage things. You have to pass gas without pressure.”
I felt like saying something to him in French, but they must have turned that drip off as I couldn’t think of a thing.
“I’ll be back,” he said as he left the room.
Now I was pissed-off and puzzled. They weren’t going to let me go home until I farted and I desperately wanted to go home. A nurse came in.
“Hey, I just farted,” I said feeling a little bit like Rodney Dangerfield.
I could tell she didn’t believe me. I thought to myself, “why in the world am I telling women I don’t know that I cut a fart?” This whole hospital stay was just getting too weird.
“It’s important that you pass gas before you leave,” she reprimanded me. “It’s for your own good. Believe me; you don’t want to experience those gas pains.”
“Hummm?” I thought. “I got to figure this out. I have to fart, but not push.”
I asked for some ginger ale figuring the carbonation would give me gas. They brought me apple juice. Apparently I was on a no carbonated beverages diet. Would it be weird to ask for a plate of broccoli? I was determined; I was going to fart my way out of that place somehow.
Back to the hallway for a walk.
There were some new people shuffling the halls that morning. We veterans nodded to each other and I could tell we were all checking out each others urine bag. I must have made five trips down the hall and back before I heard the first grumble. “Yes!” I made a fist in triumph. Another couple of trips and there it was. I shuffled over to the nurse’s station as quickly as could. They must have seen it in my eyes, or maybe it was the big smile on my face.
“Congratulations,” one of them said. “Everything in working order?”
“I was just able to pass gas,” I said triumphantly. My whole world was off its axis. Never before in my life was I as proud of a fart.
“Let me see your bag,” the nurse said as she got up to come around the counter. “Are their any clots?”
Farts and clots? Suddenly things weren’t sounding so good.
She went down on her knee and examined my bag. “Color is good,” it was the first thing she noticed. “I don’t see any clots.” She looked up and smiled. It’s time to get ready to go home. I’ll call the doctor and start your discharge paperwork.
I felt like I had won a marathon. I was beaming and very proud. Some of the other patients shuffling the hallway seemed to understand and gave me the thumbs up. Usually there is an added dimension to a fart, the unpleasant part that can cause others to hold their nose. I was so elated I’d forgotten about that. I’d left it behind somewhere down the hall.
I went back to my room to get ready to leave. I called my wife to come get me. I still had the Christmas tree pole with fewer ornaments, and the three IV needles sticking out of my arms. I held my arms out and surveyed all the needles. Just then a nurse walked in and I said, “Can you take these out?”
“Not yet,” without any further explanation was all she said. She dumped my urine bag mentioning that the color was good. I didn’t care anymore. My urine could be green for all I cared. I was going home.
I got back in bed to wait. My wife was on the way, but nothing seemed to be happening on my end. I flipped on the TV and watched some game show. I don’t know what it was, it didn’t matter. I just wanted to see something happening. I wanted to go home.
Another nurse came in and shutoff my oxygen and detached all my bags from the Christmas tree pole. That’s what I wanted to see.
A Personal Care Assistant came in and packed my clothes and began to organize the room. My wife was bringing me fresh clothes from home. I was on easy street, until a nurse came and said, “Are you ready for me?”
“What now? I couldn’t imagine. My dignity and privacy had been stripped from me about as much as it could have been and I’d been poked and prodded pretty well up to that point.
“Ready for what?” I cautiously asked.
“We’re going to switch you over to a leg bag and show you how to take care of your catheter.”
“Do we have to?” I asked with some pain in my voice.
“Do you want to walk out of here carrying that thing like a purse?” she pointed to my urine bag. “We’ll put the leg bag on and no one will know you have a catheter.”
It made sense. Outside the hospital no one would care how good my urine looked. Some people might even be repelled if I tried to show it off.
“How does it work?” I asked now interested in regaining some privacy in my life.
“We strap it on here,” she said pointing to my leg. “It has buttons just like a garter belt. Oh, you probably don’t know what a garter belt is.”
“I most certainly do,” I was quick to respond. “I love garter belts!”
She had bent down by my leg with the new catheter bag in her hand, but her eyes were fixed on mine.
“Do you know how to button and unbutton a garter belt?” she asked in a more serious tone.
I was beginning to think that possibly she had misinterpreted my enthusiasm over the garter belt. But in what way?
“I do,” was all I said, “but I may be a bit rusty.”
I was standing beside my bed looking out the door to the room when she threw aside my gown. My hospital mates were shuffling back and forth outside in the hallway. Fortunately the nurse was blocking a direct view, but I was hallway-wise enough to know that through the grapevine word was quickly being passed that there was full fontal nudity on display in room 762.
I was suddenly in a hurry. The nurse was going slowing speaking out loud with step by step instructions as to how to attach and wear the leg bag.
“I’ll just carry the purse bag,” I said trying to move away so as to get it over.
“Don’t be silly,” she said the leg bag is better for travel.
I could hear the shuffling chorus of slippered feet closing in on my room.
She hooked the leg bag to my thigh and began transferring the tube.
“Now you want to be careful attaching this,” she said moving about as slow as a slug.
“I’ll be fine,” I said trying to pull my gown across the front of me only to wrap it around her head. Now she was under the gown.
“Don’t do that,” she snapped pushing the gown aside.
“What happens if I make a mistake attaching that,” I said pointing to the tube on which she seemed to have devoted her full attention.
“You’ll pee down your leg,” she snapped without looking up.
Did she possibly think I’d never had one too many in a bar before?
“There you go,” she said triumphantly as she stood up, “hands free.”
We had made it. The crowd of shufflers turned back disappointed.
That first warm sensation on my leg felt familiar, but because of all the advances in medicine, my sock remained dry.
The nurse then took out all the IV needles and shortly after that my wife and daughter arrived to take me home. The hospital staff insisted in wheeling me out in a wheelchair, which was probably a good idea as my garter belt was too tight and I was walking with a limp. I high-fived a couple of the guys on the way down the hall and for the final time remarked on what good color they had. When we reached the ground floor and the elevator doors opened I felt the rush of fresh air and freedom. It was great to be alive, but that dam garter belt leg strap killed me all the way home. Thank God for pantyhose.