Mortality fired a shot across my bow last week and
it was attention getting. It started last Monday morning when I called
in to the doctor’s office for an appointment that day. My game plan was
pretty solid. Go to a meeting first thing,
and swing by the doctor’s office later for some pills. “Hey hey!
Thanks everybody and see you next time!” Bada boom, bada bing and I am
out the door. I had experienced a 101.5 fever the night before with
abdominal pain. When the nurse on the other end
of the phone told me I needed to go directly into the emergency
room I figured, “Eh, they think I have appendicitis and are afraid my
belly will burst. I know I don’t have that.” I drove for a couple of
exits before admitting to myself that this abdominal
issue was completely out of character and might warrant more
attention, especially since the woman on the other end of the phone was
so whipped up about it. I made a U-turn and drove to a local Cleveland Clinic emergency room facility.
It all happened pretty fast. The next thing I know I am in a private emergency
room bay, an IV with saline in me, and having a battery of blood work
done. What’s going on here? White blood count is up, we’re taking you
for a CT scan. OK, we are going to need to
admit you as we see an abscess in your intestine. Now, we don’t think
you have a mass, and surgery might not be necessary, but we will send a
surgical PA to take a look. “What? Surgery? Wait, what?”
So now I am sitting with an IV in. Antibiotics are
started. A woman PA in a white lab coat looking very concerned comes in.
She is about the 11th person in a lab coat I have spoken with today.
“Mr. Miller? What is your birth date? OK.
Now… I’m not sure what Doctor Blahblahblah will want to do. We often
get aggressive and surgically go after this type of thing. Now
afterwards you’ll have a colostomy bag but you will have a mostly normal
Colostomy bag?!? What the fuck are you talking
about? I have a slight fever and some ache in my abdomen. I’m not
getting a fucking colostomy bag!!! I was fine two days ago!!! She
stared at me with a look of pity and an expression that
said, “Yes, this must be hard for you silly man… You’ll soon understand
how easy your new colostomy bag lifestyle really is and grow to
appreciate it. I just wish there was something else I could do.” She
began to exit saying, “Well, Dr. Blahblahblah will go over
the options with you. Good luck.”
“Good luck? What’s that supposed to mean? That
must be the absolute worst bedside manner I have ever seen! Good luck?
That’s like saying, “Sorry fella but you are screwed. Your only hope
is to get lucky because science ain’t gonna
help you now!”. Good luck?” There was a pause. She gave me that look again. She then
apologized and said she didn’t mean it like that and whipped the curtain
shut behind her. Between us, I think she meant it like that. At this point I am
becoming concerned that my little swing by the
doctor’s office to get some pills has been a tragic error in judgement. Things appear to have snowballed wildly out of my control.
Shortly after that Dr. Blahblahblah walked in, cool
and confident. “Mr. Miller? Yes, well we see an abscess in your
intestine but we are going to be conservative and cool it off with some
antibiotics. In a few weeks we will give you a
colonoscopy and see what’s going on.” This is the only known record of receiving a colonoscopy appointment being “good news”. I had been
especially concerned because Dr. Blahblahblah is a surgeon. There’s
one thing I know about surgeons; they really like to
do surgery. A guy like me with full coverage and a nice quick colon to
chop out? Man, I must be absolute gold. They could pull intestine out
of me like a magician’s ribbon out of a sleeve. “We are going to admit
you. What hospital do you want to go to?
We will have the ambulance take you there…”
Hospital? I’m going to the hospital? How the hell
do I know which hospital to go to? I've never had something like this. I drove myself here, can’t I drive
myself there? Ambulance? How much will that cost? Who’s paying for
all of this? I hit my smart phone and began
to X out of all the nightmare scenarios involving my colon being
chopped out and me shitting in a bag taped to my side that I had pulled up waiting for test results earlier. Pictures of
seeping wounds began to disappear. New facts and figures of hospital
costs began to fill the screen. “Hey, how much do you
guys charge to drive me to Lakewood?” Well, I don’t know. “Can you
The interesting thing about hospitals is people look at you like you are crazy when you ask them how much something is going to cost. This makes no sense to me. It would be like sitting down at a Cracker Barrel and then the waitress asks, "Would you like some peach cobbler?". Well, you know, now that you mention it, I would like some peach cobbler! She then serves you the cobbler and mails you a bill 30 days later for $17,345. Maybe it's the best fucking cobbler you've ever had, but at $17,345, maybe you'll pass... It would be nice to know in advance of ordering that $17,345 cobbler.
So there I am. I have a fever and an IV in. No one wants me to drive myself the 15 minutes to the hospital. They tell me they will have to rip the IV out and put a new one in when I get to Lakewood. It's not them... It's the lawyers. (It's never them.) Listen, I'm a hairy guy. I don't want to go through that twice. But for $789 I will. I call my insurance company and ask how much they will cover an ambulance ride. The answer is somewhere between murky and vague. I have some monster deductible that I'm sure I have already busted through with the CT scan alone, so I make everyone happy and go for the ambulance ride. Hey, it's only money. I'll make more. I already know I will fight about what the moron from the insurance told me on the phone. There is NO CHANCE it was correct. Two ex-military guys toss me in the back of a 125 degree ambulance and hit every pothole in NE Ohio. I think to myself, "someday, there's a pretty good chance this is what my last sight on earth will be..." as I stare out the back window and wince my way over. I have a vision of it being a heart attack late at night with the siren on, the lights casting crazy shadows as a crew works feverishly over me.
I will admit to this point in my life, I have felt that I am indestructible. I hate feeling weak, unable to function. Mentally I feel exactly the same as I always have, yet the little breakdowns are starting to add up. I still feel like I can power right through any obstacle, and through sheer force of will do anything I want. Yet here I am now in the hospital in a gown with a team of people pumping shit into my arm and I'm only vaguely aware of the game plan. I feel embarrassed like this health problem is a failure of mine. I have never been in a hospital excepting an overnight after having my tonsils out in college. Hell, that was a lark. This is the real deal. I don't like it. I don't like it one bit. I want to leave. I am ashamed.
"OK Mr. Miller... We are going to give you a little shot in the belly." The fuck you are. "What?" What's that for? "Oh, it's blood thinner so you don't get a blood clot." Fuck that. How about I get up and walk around every couple hours? "Welllllllll......" An uneasy truce is negotiated. Most of these patient policies are a template. As I am not an 85 year old invalid, I dodge the belly shot. I learn a good technique to walk around with my IV pole, the little wheels making a "skree skree skree" sound as I pad up the hallway in my ill-fitting gown/smock thing and yellow grippee socks. I feel like shit. Still, it's better than a belly shot and compression things on my shins.
I spend three days in the hospital. I have no idea how anyone can get better in a hospital. It is literally impossible to rest. At three in the morning the lights flash on in unholy brightness. I was in a deep sleep until I hear "Labs!". Like some sort of alien abduction, a team is working on me stealing fluids, taking readings, poking and prodding as my mind reels attempting to wake and figure out what is happening. I lie there like some sort of veal in a pen. I am a helpless piece of meat. Every few hours the bad dream repeats itself. I consider slinking out and checking into a hotel just to get six uninterrupted hours of sleep. Yet I am tied to this place by tubes and wires. I haven't eaten since Sunday afternoon. What is it now? Wednesday?
The man in the room next to me is in a bad spot. I heard him come in. The nurses speak to him like he's a five year old in sing-songy voices. "Mr. Davis? Mr. Davis? Do you know where you are? You fell and hurt your hip. The doctors fixed you. Do you know where you are?" Mr. Davis only answers when they try to move him. "Ughhhhhh!!!! Ahhhhh!!!! Ughhhhhhh!!!!" Sometimes he just moans low. He knows the score I'm sure. An elderly guy with a broken hip is on the last turn. I walk around all the wards with my IV pole. Forgotten people suffer with daytime TV as a companion. Blank stares. Desperation. It's only a matter of time before I am one of those people. You too. The clock is ticking.
I eventually get out. Over three days I speak to 26 different doctors, PAs and RNs. I never see anyone twice. No one seems too concerned about me getting some horrible surgery or that other tricky word "procedure". That mania seems to have passed. Frankly, no one seems that concerned about anything. A relaxed guy with white hair that I think was a surgeon tells me to go home and check back in a couple of weeks. Someone else wants me to get a colonoscopy in six weeks or so. One doctor tells me I can't eat nuts anymore. One says I should just cut back on nuts. The other one says just eat what I normally do, I'll be fine. All diet information appears to be contradictory. I figure I will just keep eating lots of chicken and fish with mainly vegetables and hope for the best.
I walk out with a couple of prescriptions and a tender abdomen. I duck my head into Mr. Davis's room, standing in the doorway. "Hey... Can you hear me?" He doesn't move or make a sound. "You will get out of here. It won't always be like this. This will pass." I don't know if he heard me. I hope he did. I walk outside. The sun hits my face. The air doesn't smell like chemicals and body fluids. As quickly as this misadventure started, it is over.