A day last week, I played tennis in the morning, hustled home, cleaned up, and joined a four-way ZOOM teleconference call for an hour and a half. About 30 minutes of the call was actually value-added; the remaining time dedicated to trouble-shooting technical issues on one end of the telecon or off-the-subject rabbit trails. Maddening. |
I can report that a week later, we are no closer to our goal; have accomplished nothing positive; maybe took a step back. It was basically another exercise in listening to ourselves talk. We’ve been participating in this futility for years. It’s like we’re in a story written by Franz Kafka.
Anyway, midway through that day, I figured I was finished with any activity resembling responsible pursuits; and could goof off, sip a cocktail and read a book. Later, Kay and I met friends for Happy Hour. It was a relaxing, carefree, mellow kind of day. I like those.
That evening it happened.
Pain—familiar and insistent—on my right side. The OMG type. Damn! I recognized it from having experienced it years ago on my left. A calcium/oxalate kidney stone stepped to the plate and announced itself in an earnest and robust manner. “I’m b-a-a-c-k!”
So, I’m thinking maybe if I ignore it, it’ll go away. You see in 2010, a 9mm rock caused me no end of suffering, it being much too large to travel through the 5mm diameter ureter and splashdown in the commode. That stone had to be pushed back into the kidney, nuked (lithotripsy), and the pieces passed into a hand-held screen. It was like mining for gold. Tried to sell the collection on eBay, but no takers. This time, it was my firm belief that I deserved a break; that it would pass on its own—save me certain agony and a time-dragging, expensive trip to the emergency room. Alas, entropy struck again.
Thirty-one agonizing, sleepless hours later I stood before an ER admitting clerk at a nearby hospital—part of a large medical campus. Everyone wore masks, and seats were separated and curtained off for social distancing. Visitors were not permitted. The complex is huge with all the pandemic protocols being observed. I asked a logical question, mainly: “How many COVID-19 cases are currently in the hospital?”
“But certain of my doom-and-gloom neighbors claim hospitals are bursting at the seams with COVID-19 patients.”
“Well, those neighbors must be caught up in social media hysteria because we have none. The other hospitals in town are similar other than an isolated case here and there. We have people coming in for broken bones, random accidents, and associated aches and pains. The only COVID-related work we’ve done over the past several weeks is for people coming in for testing.”
“When’s the last time you had a positive test?”
“Maybe last month.”
Over my stay of three days, I asked several nurses, P.A.’s, and physicians the same question, and received the same answer. The news was encouraging to me, but some of my neighbors probably don’t think so. You know the type: those who wallow in denial; those who attach political importance to the virus; those who revel in and celebrate bad news and hateful rhetoric. Everything’s dark and pessimistic to that crew—permanent scowls; no sense of humor; the sky is falling. Me, I couldn’t go through life with that attitude. They define themselves by who and what they hate—rather than what is worthy about society and life.
When I was finally admitted to the ER, they hooked me up to a saline solution and morphine drip to manage the pain. At the time, pain had settled down so I didn’t think I needed the drip—wanted to save it for future misery. But later, when the pain came back, the solution still in my system did help—significantly.
I was shuttled into the bowels of the hospital, and a private room (all are private now) on the third floor smack across from the nurse’s station. A white board advised that the patient (me) was to have nothing to eat and drink. While I hadn’t eaten for several days, I didn’t feel like it anyway. Drinking was another matter. Even with the 24/7 saline drip to insure hydration, my mouth became uncomfortably dry—like the entire Iranian army had walked through it barefoot. When I was sure no one was paying attention, I popped out of bed, rolled my drip contraption to a lavatory, and rinsed out my mouth. (I may have swallowed some water, but—hey—who’s keeping score?)
By and by, a perky nurse came bouncing in. “W-e-e-l-l-l, Mr. Myers, what seems to be the trouble?”
Sigh. Was she kidding? From unending, repetitious questions since I arrived, and the information written on the white board, everyone knew exactly why I was there. I decided to play along. “Actually, nothing is wrong. I just checked myself in for the fine cuisine.”
Screwed up, confused facial expression. “But you’re not allowed to have any food until after surgery.”
Wha…? Surgery? That was the first I’d heard of it. At the ER I was told some imaging would be done to pinpoint size and location of the stone after which a plan would be formulated. “What kind of surgery?”
“Um… I have to go, but I’ll check in with you later.” She smiled with her mouth, but not her eyes, and zipped out of there.
Off-and-on I slept fitfully, but there was a never-ending parade of scrub-clad personnel waking me almost every hour to see 1) if I was all right; 2) take some blood; and 3) ask the same questions—date of birth, previous surgeries, pain level, power of attorney / living will; do I smoke; do I drink; how much; 4) replenish my drip, 5) check blood pressure and body temperature, etc., etc. After a while, I started making things up to see if they were paying attention. I slipped in “a bad haircut” as one of my surgeries.
A resident and an intern walked into a bar…no, wait, it was my room. Same questions. An hour later, it was a third-year medical student. Same questions. Having nothing else to do, I responded to their questions with embellished answers, and chatted them up about the wonders of using duct tape to cure plantar warts.
Sometime after 12noon, my bed was pushed to radiology for some MRI images. My driver was not skilled, running into walls, door jambs, elevator walls, etc. The radiologist made me suffer again through the same queries! However, on a positive note I was injected with a solution that warmed up my insides. Felt good. Said it was to provide images with greater contrast.
Several hours later, I learned that a 7mm stone was lodged in my ureter about two-thirds of the way to the bladder. End of the journey. Too large to move any further. The kidney was working too hard and swelling, so the plan was to insert a stent to allow urine to flow freely around the stone, which would relieve the kidney. Later, the stone was to be broken up via laser, and the stent removed.
Before installation of the stent, an unkempt, fudge-hammer, semi-lard technician with crumbs in his beard came by to administer an EKG, which these days is standard before surgery. I passed! Yea, me! Twenty minutes later he returned, and started putting terminals on me again.
He asked, “Ever had one of these before.”
“I have indeed.”
“When was that?”
“Twenty minutes ago.”
He ripped the terminals off, and with as much dignity as he could muster, slinked away.
I have to tell you that I’m one of those guys who some think draws unfair conclusions. For example, if I see a coffee stain on a drop down aircraft table, I figure they’re slacking on the engine maintenance. This crew at the hospital? I figured they were going to experiment on me.
By Gene Myers, cadaver in training.
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