I have been a lucky person, very healthy. The first time I spent overnight in a hospital was when I was 44 years old - and that was for a flesh-wound, not the malfunctioning of my human machinery.
Yes, even when my son was born, 10 years before that, they sent me home the same day.
So I am not used to hospitals, or ERs, or critical care.
Oh, I admit as I've grown older can't deny evidence of my aging body. I've had those recommended tests to probe my innards or mash my parts. And I've had the occasional out-patient procedure I don't like to talk about.
But in general my personal experience with health care has been limited.
That may be changing.
Earlier this week I visited my family practice doctor because my tummy-ache was not improving. She referred me to our network's Emergency Room for a CAT scan to check for appendicitis. I drove myself there, walked in, and spent the next couple of hours lying on a gurney in the hall waiting my turn in the tube. They gave me some pink goo to drink that would illuminate my guts for the machine.
Fortunately I had brought a couple of books. One was a history of 19th Century Colonial rule in the Belgian Congo. The other was a novel.
Time is elastic in the ER. If they say the doctor will be with you in "five minutes," you can bet it will be fifteen. You don't even get mad if it's a half hour. Maybe you ask someone after an hour.
So I read. It seemed a little awful to read about the horrific cruelties King Leopold's men inflicted on the Congolese people while watching the comings and goings of EMTs and patients of all kinds, so I turned to the novel.
It was a cynical tale of a misogynist artist-wannabe sellout living in the outer boroughs of Manhattan, pontificating about the shallowness of modern culture and the growing gap between rich and poor. After the first thirty pages I went back to King Leopold.
I figured it would be less depressing.
By the time the doctor came to tell me the results of the scan, it was already past 6:00 pm and [The Man I Love] had arrived.
I was glad he was with me to hear the diagnosis. I don't have appendicitis, but I do have another gastro-intestinal problem.
They decided to check me into the hospital for a bombardment of antibiotics and observation, for a couple of days. I can't eat anything or drink even water.
I was a little surprised at the news.
I'm not in serious pain, although oddly, everyone expects me to be, and that frightens me. The doctor actually said, when he approached my gurney in the hall, that after seeing the CAT scan he was surprised to see his patient quietly reading a book.
The doctor explained my condition to [The Man I Love] and me right there in the hall, while we sat on the gurney. He pulled over a monitor, logged in and brought up an image of my torso on the screen, cross-cut like a Damien Hurst cow, or perhaps a delicatessen head-cheese. As he moved down from my upper to my lower torso, each slice of the head-cheese had a different assortment of organ meats - liver, stomach, gallbladder, then small intestine and appendix over there, then large intestine, colon and kidneys.
Jambon persillle, anyone?
It was so cool to look at I had a hard time connecting the image with my own gurgling gut.
Then it was time to check in to the room, and in the peculiar time-warp of the hospital this took another two hours.
I was alarmed when they stuck me all over with connectors for monitors. A heart monitor? Really? For me? And after six hours without one, why was it so critical they needed to hook up a portable monitor just to gurney me through the halls?
Anyway, my alarm was slightly moderated as I spotted a WiFi repeater high on the wall in the corridor. Oh, good. [The Man I Love] could bring me my laptop, along with my pajamas, clean underwear, and a magazine.
But the first night was uneasy, lying there trussed up with cables and tubes, the pale light filtering beyond the curtain glaring my eyes.
I dozed and woke, read, dozed and woke again. All night long something booped and beeped regularly/irregularly. I thought in my mind how to describe it metaphorically like a heartbeat, until I realized, like a fool, that it was in fact a heartbeat - my own.
Distant toilets flushed, doors opened and latched. Gentle voices of the night nurses spoke Tagalog, Spanish and English. I was frightened by a disturbingly regular sound like an agonized cry down a distant corridor - until I realized it was the gurgle of fluid in a hose. Some one turned on the TV at 3:00 am to watch the Royal Wedding. I was bored, uncomfortable, cranky. I was starting to feel sorry for myself.
I finished "King Leopold's Ghost" by morning. That put it in perspective a little. I wasn't suffering, I was in a safe place, being cared for by people who meant the best for me.
I was all right. I will know more soon. I will be okay.
Thank you for all your concern and good wishes this week. If you know me well, you know I'll be writing more about this.
NOTE: For those wondering about a slight time warp between this and Pink Saturday's post - before I went to the ER, the post was scheduled to publish early Saturday morning. I was out of commission for a couple of days.