So my story is not the worst, not the most meaningful, and certainly not the most politically important. I have had much more serious hospital stays and injuries in my life, here and abroad; one word of advice, avoid hospitals in Laos if possible (but don't avoid Laos, its a great place!).
But the last week has, in its own way, made it clear to me that no one can escape taking a position on the health care disaster which is our current system. Sooner or later, it hits you, and it came at me from out of the blue last Monday morning.
Sunday night was a Sunday night, although an easier one since I had my friend's car to borrow, so I went about, did errands, and then ended up at an internet cafe to both study and get a leg up on the evening's work. This evening I happened to have a great conversation with a few strangers at the cafe, got very little done, studying or otherwise, and then headed home to stay up late and do my actual work. I finish around 1-2 am, crash, and the rest is the rest.
I had been feeling tired the week or so before, but I cannot say if that had anything to do with what ensued, most likely not. I woke up, around 6 am, in a cold sweat, feeling like I was going to vomit, and with the room spinning before me. It was a bit of a shock, but I tried my best to hold it together and sip some water from the canteen near my futon bed. But that only made the nausea worse, and the room continued to spin. So, I tried to get up, which was not easy, and dragged myself to the bathroom. I tried to aim at the toilet and vomit, which I succeeded in doing at first, but for some reason, the act of aiming was making me puke more, and I ended up just firing away; the floor, the wall, wherever. At least I had not eaten a big Italian meal or something, I thought to myself, most of the puke was pretty harmless. But even this free form puking was hard, so I just settled to the stable cold of the floor, lying in a pool of my puke, and actually started to feel a little better.
But I needed help. So I called to my housemate, "HELP!" and he came running to see the puke scene I have described to you. Thus began the flight to the hospital, which is actually very close to our house. He tried to hold a bowl in front of me, but I batted it away, which was the only way for me to communicate that aiming was not a priority for me. We arrived at the ER, and we went through the standard procedure. However, for the next two days, I really cannot tell you too much detail, as the only way to keep me from puking and feeling wretched was to keep my eyes shut; this did provide for some nice hallucinations, though, I must say.
At first in the ER they thought I was some drunk. The questions were like "what did you do last night" and I mumbled "work" which my roommate concurred with. Then they noticed that I had on my favorite pants; my red Budweiser pants! But I do remember a doctor making me open my eyes, doing a few tests and then pronouncing "yeah, he has vertigo, no problem."
Vertigo? Wow, I thought, just saw that movie this year for the first time, go figure.
But as I would learn soon enough, there are two types of vertigo; benign positional vertigo, and vertigo caused by Labyrinthitis and Vestibular Neuritis. According to my housemate, the doctor said I had the not so benign one, but all I knew was that I was admitted to the hospital.
The first two days were a blur. Or as I said, a shut-eyed hallucinatory wacky ride. I was medicated, mostly to relieve the symptoms, but I really did not know with what. I could not eat or drink, and was on an IV all the time. watching TV was not possible, but I could tell others around me were. Honestly, I am not sure just when I started to come to, but I do remember being amazed at how many new faces I would encounter in such a short time; nurses would come and go, doctors were dropping in and saying I'd be fine, with hints of my possible discharge. I started to remember that I should maybe tell people where I am, cancel appointments, that sort of thing. Not to plug, but the combo of my iPhone and Facebook mobile was very effective at getting the word out (until the battery died, but my friend brought the charger when I feebly called and asked for it).
There were two other beds in my room, soon to be occupied by older men, both deaf, and both watching TV at high volume; at least one had good taste, he watched the Pete Seeger 90th birthday show many a time that night; I remember meeting the musician once, backstage after a tribute concert for Harry Chapin. I said nothing to him, just smiled, and he smiled back in his way, I can remember the feeling of that moment well.
Sentiment aside, tough, the TV had to end that night, sorry Pete!
As I started to feel better enough to maybe talk and open my eyes for short bursts, doctors kept coming round individually and in groups to check on me. They seemed to think I was improved enough, and that I would keep being that way for the next few days, after which point my benign condition would right itself. But there was a hint of nervousness and lack of sureness in them, I could tell.
That was day 2- no was it day 3? I really cannot remember. But then, I do remember this. As my discharge orders were going through, a physical therapist came by my bed. A middle age woman, short brown hair she asked me to do a few things, look here, follow my finger, etc etc. It took about 5 minutes, and she became somewhat serious. This was not a benign case of vertigo, she said; I had an inflamed infected inner ear, the nerve itself which controls my eye coordination and is also connected to my balance, and I needed to be on the right treatment, and not discharged. I think there was some discussion on the phone of possible lasting symptoms, but such chatter had to be put out of my head at the time.
So I stayed. And after some hours, I think until the next morning, I finally started getting the meds I was supposed to get in the first place, namely steroids, tranquilizers, and others to take care of the nausea. And I must say, the change was perceptible and palpable.
So I spent the last day & night watching TV (some double vision, but this soon went away) and started to eat quite a bit, even of the hospital fare. But steroids had another effect on me; constipation. I knew by the evening, that I really had to get some assistance. So they gave me a laxative, warned me it was strong, and that when I receive the call, to heed it.
Yeah, right dude. How about make mine a double? The first shot just got the stuff moving in the general direction of my ass, but not much more. The second shot, that one was even worse. Now the mass of shit in me became a solid wall and was going no further; it even blocked the mass of gas behind it. And it was now at least 2-3 in the AM, and I could not sleep, with the added steroid factor to blame.
So the next move? A suppository, at least that is what I thought, would do it. But whereas the last two requests were fulfilled, now I was challenging the system and demanding that I actually knew what I needed for my body; how dare I!
I went through 4 nurses, and yes, I used the word shit with them and not stool or some stupid euphemism, which did not help. Finally a doctor on call came to me, and she seemed to also possess doubt that I could possibly know what was wrong with me; but after checking that maybe I had ingested an alien or was busting out with appendicitis, she left, and a nurse appeared with a good sized suppository... and a gloved, lubricated hand...
"You know," I said to her, "I think I can do it myself."
Which I did.
And the walls of Jericho they did fall down, and I slept, and it was good.
But come morning, the discharge began, with one slight problem, my housemate was not able to come get me, nor my neighbor, and my two best friends were out of town. But, my neighbor did have a friend, one who was staying at our place at that time (she arrived while I was in the hospital), so she said to call her, but with one caveat; "she's kind of nervous." In my state, I really could not care about such things. I called her, told her to come by as I was starting the discharge process.
And so the process began. A large man took me on a wheelchair from office to office, signing forms, getting medication, feeling both eager to leave and worrisome as to what the recovery process was holding in store for me. Now, my ride called me as I began the process, as she was in a bit more control of her time than was I, but I told her I would be at the discharge parking lot (I had to ask the nurse where that was & where I was, as I had been so out of it the first two days or so), so I assumed she was sitting tight somewhere nearby.
I emerged, with drugs and the knowledge of a scary, but at least not billion dollar bill coming my way, into the light of a warm afternoon, my first in days. And I was a sight to see.
For four days, I had not been given any clean clothes; no robe with my ass hanging out, nothing, just me and my Budweiser pants and a T shirt of some sort; oh, they did give me socks for the wheelchair ride out though!
I also had not, as far as I could tell, been bathed or had my hair washed. Even when I arrived in the ER, I could smell my own sweat, and it was strong, and this was 4 days after that. Add to that, I knew that vomit had gotten matted in my hair quite nicely from the morning in my bathroom and the ER, and I do not remember anyone cleaning my hair at all; again, thank god there were no chunks!
So I was eager to clean up and all. And my home really wasn't that far away, about 8-10 blocks maybe? I get up from the wheelchair, and I look around, looking for the car that had been described to me as my ride, but I see nothing. The man who brought me down is now ignoring me, and I try calling my ride, but I get no response (and I had been texting her the whole ride down).
So I say "fuck it," let's walk down the street, get out of this silly small lot, and get more visible. I walk, with a cane, wobbling down the sidewalk, and as I near the next cross street & its requisite convenience store, I get a call from my ride. I say hello, I tell her that I am near these cross streets, could you swing by....
And she says "well, maybe you can walk home from there, ah..."
I didn't even bother listening, I responded "No, come pick me the fuck up!"
To which she replies "I have been waiting for you for 30 minutes, and...."
I hang up. I keep walking. I am filled with anger, vulnerability, pain, and the fear that I had yet to confront, when the hell will I get better; will I ever get better?
As I am walking, the man who brought me out to the lot is running behind me; I turn towards him, wave him off, and keep walking. He must have turned back, for I did not see him again. Odd, that.
Now I just need to get home, and I am disgusted; it is a cardinal rule for me to visit friends and family in the hospital, and to take that seriously. And if someone calls me to do such a pick up, and I say I will do it, I do it, no arguments, no freak out, no 'nervousness."
I get about 2 blocks, and then I see her car, with her honking and yelling for me to get in. I ignore it. I walk the whole way home; it was no marathon, but I must say the world around me was less than stable. But I made it.
There was some yelling, some accusations, some demands for an apology, which happened, but after that, I avoided my temporary new roommate until her departure. Sometimes, you get off on the wrong foot, and there is just no need to try and rectify the matter. I will say though, that when she left the other day, she said goodbye to me, wished me well, and I thanked her for that. For me, that works fine.
And then began the recovery, which continues as I write. The symptoms are slowly fading, but then again, the medication I am on is also strong, so I have to take that into account as well. I should be done with the steroids soon, thank god, they have caused me to gain at least 5 pounds, I've just been eating so much more than usual, its... well, its been ok, except for the other side effect of constipation. So, the struggle continues!
I hope that you all enjoyed this story, and as I said, it is by far not the worst out there; a friend of mine recently lost a cousin to Hodgkins, my cousin's son is autistic, an old old friend from years ago lost her best friend to cancer, etc etc...
But with all the hoopla and hysteria going on, we always need to ground ourselves in what is real, what is actually happening to our lives, to our very bodies and minds. As for the politics, it seems to me that the corporate powers of health care have this one pretty much under control, and the idea that we will see some sort of civilized medical system in the USA is very, very unlikely. Right now said powers are too profitable to allow it, and there are more than enough crazy shock troops at the behest of the Becks, the Hannity's and the Limbaugh's of our world to distract, antagonize and spread their bile for cover.
But struggle we must. First, I intend to 'arbitrate' with my HMO. Then I will take it the next step, and the next. Who knows, I may join a group or two. Don't get me wrong, much of the care I got was good, but along with that were quite a few not so good moves as well.
Here's to a real and full recovery, for us all.