Monday, July 27, 2015

Nurse the Hate: The Necklace

A couple months ago we played a show in Athens OH.  Home of Ohio University, Athens is a small town that relies upon their chief industries of veggie burritos and weed for the transitory residents to forget that they are stuck in the middle of nowhere.  I’m sure I would feel differently had I gone to school there, but I do not have nostalgic memories of drunken escapades and coming-of-age stories while adorned in my Bobcat gear.  Those that went there love it though.  Love it.  The comfortable little bubble of Athens provides an alternate reality to The Real World.  It’s a very safe place to put on different personas and figure things out.  There is a danger.  This bubble leads to a small percentage of people that attend school there to never leave, having found their preferred niche as Very Important Bartenders in the ultimate Big Fish, Small Pond.  Of course, there are also others that survive on the very outer fringe as “eccentric street people” that add color to the Authentic College Experience.  College towns like mentally ill drifters.  Everyone feels very liberal and open minded to let these guys wander around panhandling.  In a larger city, these people would be “homeless pests”. In Athens, they are part of the social fabric.  They are also guys that go see the Whiskey Daredevils play at a 1960s style food co-op-restaurant-bar-collective-thing.

I found it very odd that as we banged out way through our set to the relatively warm response that this scruffy street person would walk up to me mid-song and hand me a necklace.  He must have been quite moved by our performance.  This was a very cosmic looking guy coming out of nowhere to give me a weird necklace while we played.  This was not just any necklace mind you, but a costume jewelry magic medallion of some kind.  I know it was magic because I was able to instantly work the clasp and put it on while singing, a feat I probably would not be capable of if given another hundred chances.  It was then that I was (and still am) thankful for my prodigious chest hair.  There is no way for a magic medallion to look better than while nestled comfortably in a thick nest of chest hair.  The fact that I was able to open another couple of buttons on my shirt to perfectly expose the necklace to all only made it that much more of a fashion statement.  I was born to wear that necklace.

I wore the necklace that night and into the next day.  I would describe most people’s reaction after taking a good hard look at it as being “pretty creeped out” (as Sugar said).  It really is a statement.  And by statement, I mean “Hey, I am under the illusion that this 1970s looking medallion makes me look sexy and I am totally unaware of how hopelessly skeevy it actually makes me look”.  It is a piece Tom Selleck would not have worn when he was majestically riding in the helicopter with T.C. during his salad days as a private investigator for the closeted elderly homosexual Higgins in Hawaii.  That Magnum PI TV show was a documentary, wasn’t it? 

I took the necklace off when the work week rolled around.  It is hard to properly wear the necklace unless I am able to open at least 2-3 buttons of any shirt, and that seemed a bit aggressive for the office.  I was justifiably concerned potential clients would think I was selling cocaine, not television airtime.  I thought at that time I made the right call in placing the necklace on my nightstand.  Within a couple of days, I had forgotten all about the necklace.  This proved to be a mistake.  It was right about the time my July Health Crisis started…

I have always been healthy.  Any health concern I have had has always been of the nagging variety, like a sore throat or sinus infection.  It’s all gone wrong for me in July.  After getting over this abdominal infection, I was hit with a bad drug reaction, and now am fighting off a cold.  I can't seem to get back to normal.  I find it hard to believe that I have gone from “robust healthy adult male” to “infirmed sickly old man” literally overnight.  I suppose it is possible that my body is like a domestic car and at 100,000 miles systematically falls apart.  Still, having now owned three Chevrolet Express vans, the warning signs of the bitter end are very hard to miss.  I should have noticed something.  Let’s just say that I haven’t been overheating into a massive fever or burning blood when I go for a walk of substance like I would of if I were an Express Van with 100,000+ miles.  The warning lights have not gone off. If they had, I’m positive the doctors would have spoken to me like car dealers.  “Well Greg, you’re really at that point where you should consider getting yourself into a new colon and small intestine.  We’ve got a couple of factory incentives that are really worth taking at look at…  Let me ask you… What would it take to put you into a new colon today?”

I have now come to the unavoidable conclusion that this necklace carries a pretty heavy mojo.  I can’t play around with this thing.  It is like that tiki necklace that Greg Brady found in the cave while he was vacationing with the family on the Big Island.  I don’t recall the specifics of why exactly Greg Brady was walking around in a cave in the jungle as opposed to padding around the grounds of the Honolulu Hilton or wherever Mike and Carol had booked the family, but he soon knew that the tiki necklace was not to be trifled with.  The first clue was probably that “doo dah doo dah doo” keyboard sound and locals telling him “It’s taboo!” whenever folks noticed it around his neck.  Now, I haven’t heard any music or had anyone tell me this necklace I now own is “taboo”, but the necklace is so 1970s that most people are probably wondering if I am a pornographic movie star from the golden age of disco.  It probably slows them up in telling me that this necklace is “taboo” as they are concerned I might later show up at their house as a pizza delivery man and then have aggressive intercourse with them with my engorged baby’s arm sized phallus.  “Did someone order a pizza?”  Cue drum roll and funky guitar riff…  Wacka wacka wacka…

There really is no other conclusion to draw than that I have angered The Necklace.  The Necklace is sending me a stern message.  The Necklace is very powerful.  The Necklace will not be ignored.  I do not claim to understand everything.  Life is mysterious.  There is evidence of a Higher Power if you keep your eyes open.  Me?  My eyes are wide open.  I am not going to disrespect The Necklace any longer.  It is time for me to get serious about good health and my overall well-being.  That is why I will continue to wear The Necklace until The Necklace sends me a sign to give it to the next person.  I have it on right now.  One does not own The Necklace.  One is a caretaker for The Necklace.

Respect The Necklace.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nurse the Hate: Hate Casa Lupita

I never had one of those rite of passage jobs at a fast food restaurant or car wash.  My first job was much worse.  I was 17 and needed to make money for my upcoming freshman year of college.  I had just moved to Columbus OH with my family, and I knew absolutely no one.  Most of my high school friends had scored jobs based on connections from their parents.  "Neighborhood pool lifeguard" is a job where the main requirements appeared to be yelling at pre-teen boys with threats like "Do you want to be out of the water for 30 minutes?" and discreetly ignoring the flirtations of 14 year old girls while twirling a whistle in the sun.  Start time 11am and done at 6p, it was the Holy Grail of summer jobs for a 17 year old with absolutely no experience or skills.  

My father was in sales and yet appeared to know absolutely no one.  It was perplexing really.  I don't know how he accomplished such a feat.  While all my other friends became sun drenched lifeguards thanks to back channel phone calls, I was advised to scour the want ads.  The want ads is no place to get a job.  In Columbus OH at this time the following jobs existed for someone with no skills:  Fast Food, Car Wash, Shifty Door-to-Door sales jobs, and restaurant work.  I had decided that fast food was well below my social standing.  I don't know who the fuck I thought I was that any job whatsoever was below me, but I remember my biggest aversion to the job was looking uncool in a polyester uniform.  In retrospect, I think I made the right call.   I'm glad a photo of me in a horrific mid-80s Burger King uniform isn't floating around out there. 

As the pressure mounted for me to find employment, I began to "expand my search" into areas that I would not have considered just days earlier.  I went to an interview to work at a traveling carnival where I was offered something "on the midway" and a summer of low rent adventure in America's heartland.  I was a complete Rube, yet even I knew that had I taken this job it would have been life changing.  I would now be serially unemployed with a painfully amateur prison style Iron Maiden tattoo on my shoulder, my rusty Chevy Nova as the unreliable transportation to pick up my various children I had fathered around the Midwest with bubblegum chewing girls that smelled like cheap perfume, menthol cigarettes, butter and vomit.  There aren't many success stories that begin with "In my twenties I finally said goodbye to my friends at the Rinky Dink Carnival Company, stopped smoking so much pot, got a haircut, and enrolled in community college."  No, the Carnival life was not the first step to a bright future...

I had a very confusing interview with a guy in an office building where he wanted me to sell knives door-to-door to my non-existent social circle with a combination of can sawing showmanship and implied expertise in the finer points of kitchen cutlery.  This seemed a stretch for a 17 year old punk.  The crippling initial outlay for my own demo knife set rang an alarm bell that this was some sort of suburban scam.  It appeared the only way anyone would buy one of these knife sets was to gain access to the exciting world of being a Knife Salesman.  I did not see a long profitable future for myself in the "Knife Game".  I politely passed on the very insistent man's high pressure close on me.

I finally pulled the trigger on what was to be the worst job I ever had, dishwasher at the Chi-Chi's knockoff chain "Casa Lupita".  Though I had taken two years of Spanish in high school, I was unable to recall in the high pressure interview process that "Casa Lupita" literally translated to "House of Plates With Burned Cheese".  Had I bothered to look that up, I probably would have continued my job quest elsewhere in Capital City.  I think I was so stunned that someone wanted to hire me that the actual job responsibilities were of no consequence.  On their end, they must have been equally surprised to find someone that wasn't a felon that was willing to work in what was openly considered the absolute worst job in the local food industry.  There is no worse job in the restaurant world than dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant.  At the time, there were no actual Mexicans in Columbus, so a steady stream of vagrants (and me) were needed to show up to scrub plates until they realized homelessness was better than Casa Lupita.  

Allow me to take you in the back of Casa Lupita.  A never ending cascade of plates came back to me, each one with cheese melted on to the point where a sandblaster was needed to scrub each one prior to placing it in the plastic industrial tray for the washer.  Every item on the Casa Lupita menu of delights was tossed into the broiler to allow a film of cheese to melt on and cling to everything.  This meant trouble for me.  As the nuclear washing machine exploded into action, I would vainly try to catch up on the ever mounting tower of dirty plates and pans.  It was an impossible situation made worse by the fact that I would burn my hands every single time I removed the heavy tray of plates from the machine, and then have to lift them over my head to a waiting rack.  On weekends I would have a helper, a mentally challenged young man with a wispy mustache named Dennis.  Dennis described himself as "a rocker" and appeared to exclusively listen to Quiet Riot's "Mental Health" cassette, which I heard over and over and over as we labored in the hellish conditions.  Even now if I hear "Slick Black Cadillac" I think of the grim prospect of cleaning an enormous pot of black refried beans with the bottom an unmoving layer of burnt sludge.  It was the worst job of all time.

I remembered the one Saturday night when I was scheduled alone, a suicide mission.  There was no way possible one person could turn the volume of dirty dishes that were dumped around me.  In the culture of the kitchen the dishwasher is on the absolute bottom of the totem pole.  The angry cooks on the line regard dishwashers as cannon fodder.  The servers, the mercurial upper class, would wisk in to complain about the busboys, who would then drop all the filth into the dishwasher's area as some sort of payback to the hated servers.  This meant everyone in that restaurant hated me on principal.  I don't recall anyone even being cordial.  That Saturday night I was there until 130am, my waterlogged bleeding hands criss crossed with open wounds.  My back ached from the constant bending and lifting.  I was making $3.65 an hour.  After taxes, I figured I cleared $20 to spend eight hours doing something I hated with people that were assholes to me.  It was not an ideal situation.

My career in the burgeoning dishwashing industry concluded the next day when I received a call from an earlier application for a cook's job at Schmidt's Sausage Haus.  They were obviously impressed by my 21-36 days of experience at Casa Lupita.  I was now a seasoned restaurant professional, one clearly ready to prepare delicious meals for diners at a German restaurant.  I was hired on the strength of a five minute phone interview.  I don't know what I told them.  "Yes, I am definitely qualified for your line cook position.  I have cooked grilled cheese sandwiches and cans of soup for many years."  It really tells you how thin the potential labor pool is out there.  I think I had to return my Casa Lupita visor and polo shirt as the only real ceremonial passing of the torch.  They sent me my little check in the mail.  I was going places now.  I didn't know it at the time, but I was about to go from "My Worst Job Ever" to "My Second Worst Job".    


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Nurse the Hate: Hate the Hospital

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 life and…”

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?

“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 find out?”  

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.