I've been somewhat amused by the recent trend in which online outlets like Slate and Salon publish long-winded essays that accuse atheists like myself of being unfair to believers by not recognizing the legitimacy of religious belief, or accusing believers of being stupid, or something. I say "amused" because I used to be a believer, have many loved ones who claim to believe, and have never called anyone stupid for that reason. I guess it's a good thing that they feel a need to defend themselves. In doing so maybe these folks will set aside some time to think about what they believe and why. But I'm afraid that I may have hurt someone's feelings in a recent encounter, and in his retelling I will no doubt come off as a big meany atheist. Sorry, but I had my reasons as described below the croissant.
I went in for surgery Monday morning. Pretty major: six hours of general anesthesia, two incisions, hardware installed, and a possible four-month recovery time, although there is hope it will be much less. I had an IV dilaudid drip for the first two days, and even with that and regular hydrocodone doses I was in pain most of the time. My lovely wife was with me in the hospital almost the entire time and it was not easy for her to balance work with taking care of me, but she did it.
I was able to get up and walk a little on Tuesday with PT guy following me with my IV and my urinary catheter suspended on a rolling cart. When PT guy came back later, I walked again, a little more easily. Everyone remarked on how well I was doing. My whiteboard had "Wednesday" as my discharge day, but I knew that that was a little optimistic considering how much pain I still had. Also, I had not farted, and that was the trigger for giving me solid food, which in turn was the trigger for my release. No going home until I prove I can eat. Fair enough.
Wednesday morning came and my day began with both my IV pain meds and urinary catheter being removed. I missed them both, the first for obvious reasons and the second because it was so nice not to worry about that particular function, it was going to be difficult to get up. But since both removals were due to my progress in recovery, I couldn't really complain. I went for two little walks and showed that I could climb stairs, another condition of my release since I have stairs outside both entrances to my home. After dinner, my third meal of clear liquids for the day, I let out a little fart that was just the best ever. I immediately called my nurse with the good news. Solid food for breakfast, and then maybe go home, but only after clearance from my surgeon.
Thursday brought an airplane-quality omelet with sausage that I really savored. I went for another walk, the best yet. The internist came in and said that despite a slight fever and elevated BP, he saw no reason to keep me. So it was all up to the surgeon, whom I was told usually did his hospital rounds before lunch. By that time I was really hoping not to spend another night in that room. My wife needed to get back home and it seemed that there wasn't anything I was doing that I couldn't do just as well if not better in my own house. And even though we have very good insurance, I knew that each additional day would add thousands of dollars to our bill. I expected my surgeon to knock on my door at any time.
The next knock was my nurse with my meds. Asked if she had seen my surgeon, she said no but she would do everything she could to get him there, as she agreed that it was time for me to leave.
The next knock was lunch. Turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes. After lunch ,I asked my nurse again about my surgeon. She promised to page him. Saw her again about 3pm, she said he was "tied up in clinic" but was doing his best to get there. I told her that I would be extremely disappointed if I had to spend another night just because he was too busy to see me. She agreed that that would suck and promised to keep trying.
PT lady knocks at around 4pm, sad it was her but went for another good little stroll. Another knock around 5pm, another disappointment because it wasn't my surgeon but my nurse's assistant to check my vitals for the billionth time. By then I was getting quite agitated and told her so. "Where is Dr. Surgeon? Can you please find him? I want to go home!"
The next knock precipitated this diary. I saw a male face at the door, and had a momentary flash of hope: some other doctor had been deputized to discharge me! Yay! No. "Hi, I'm whoever, and I'm the chaplain here at Ridiculously Profitable Non-Profit Hospital." CHAPLAIN??? WHAT THE BLEEDING FUCK?! Not only had I not asked for a chaplain, I had very clearly stated in one of the many pre-admission interviews that I am an atheist. I managed to limit my initial response to just that: "I am an atheist". He responded, "Oh, that's OK, we're here to talk with anyone who needs blahblahblahblah" I cut him off. "I'm happy with the attention I'm getting from the nurses, I'm hoping to go home soon, and I don't really have anything to talk to you about." "OK, I'll put that on your chart." Shook his hand to thank him, I said for coming but really for leaving.
I don't know if the nurse's assistant called for him in an attempt to calm me down, but I was outraged that declaring my atheism was not enough to prevent this visit. There were many times during my stay that it appeared that the hospital was understaffed, particularly when they had an older, out of shape nurse attempt to move me in my bed by herself in the middle of my first night, when my body was its most fragile and my pain the greatest (I weigh 180 pounds). If the chaplain could have helped with that, I would have loved him. Instead, precious resources were wasted on sending me spiritual guidance that I neither requested nor wanted. And I don't care if it's the smallest line item on what will surely be an obscenely large bill: if I see one nickel going to "religious services" or whatever they call it, I will get it removed. If anyone has read this far, thanks!
9:34 PM PT: Thanks so much for the comments! Nothing I have probably never had such a large and interesting audience for my writing. One thing: many of the nicer pro-chaplain folks have said I should have welcomed the company, and I have replied to those. To give a little more background, I am not a real chatty person with strangers, nor is my wife. I do have friends, and they offered to visit but I declined those offers. I was grumpy, in pain, and just wanted to get better and get out.