Thursday, January 13, 2011

Down With the Sickness, Pt. 8

 "Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;"


The new digs were, mercifully, a single room. I don't know if this is standard or not, but I imagine that keeping stress to a minimum may be the idea. That maybe once, the patient's well being is thought of before the bottom line. Needless to say, I welcome the solitude.

Nurses, nurses, everywhere. Four at the moment to be exact. Jodi, who sports a haircut that reminds me a little bit of a Flock of Seagulls with her hair flowing to points that encase her face, seems sweet. There's also Cheryl and the Nurse Newbie from ICU to get me into bed. Plus, one young cutie that reminds me that I may still have actual blood pumping through me.

Painfully as shit, I finally settle onto my back. On my back is where I shall be for a while. A giant water container, filled with ice, is brought to me. I gulp this like a man who's been dehydrated for weeks. It tastes like nothing I've ever tasted. God, is it good and it's that of which I've been dreaming. I am informed that lunch will be coming soon.

Methinks: "Really?" Hunger no, water good.

The room feels hot and I ask for a wet washcloth for my forehead. This cools me down and mellows me out pretty fast. In pops in Dr. S, my anesthesiologist from my appendectomy, and instantly has a laugh about the washcloth. I smile. You have to admit, the man is being extremely nice and thorough at his job. Maybe there's another reason that I don't need to metnion again, but that might jsut be paranoia.

Lunch arrives and as expected, it is a liquid diet. My stomach says, "No thanks," but thirst says, "Drink the milk." The milk is WHOLE milk. This is not a cardiac diet, people. It's skim milk for me from now forward. I don't care and drink the damn thing. If I send it back, there's little chance food will come back before dinner and the damn thing will be ice cold. There's beef broth. It tastes like old shoe soup. God awful. Lunch is over.

What to Do with Yer Time?

Lay in bed, stare at the walls, watch TV, and a revolving rotation of nurses come and go. "Hi. I'm here to check your blood pressure." The cutie has come in and I don't try to muster any charm. I must look and smell awful. I thank her as I do every nurse who does anything for me. They have my balls in a vice.

I am helpless. If I move my arms-pain like God. Move my body? Nay. That inevitably involves your arms which involves your chest. Pain like God. I have the pict line, the neck IV, chest bandages complete with plastic bulb for drainage and a heavy bandage on the left side of my groin. Good times. I am not a man. I am a pain ridden, confused, Percosett popping glop in a gown. A blob on a hospital bed. Color me gone.

The heat in the room seems to be on Blast-O-Matic and this doesn't help the feeling that my heart is running a marathon. I feel every heart beat and it feels like I've got a V8 in there. She's revving for sure. Perhaps I need to find solace in the printed page.

I mention to a nurse that I'm going to try reading and she says, "Yeah, good luck until the room starts spinning around." Goddam if she wasn't right. My eyes can't stay on the words because they keep moving. I give that up and begin the cardiac patient coma chill.

Pain meds come in the form of Percosetts-two of them to be exact. The other pain med is a liquid form of an anti-imflammatory. Either one will do the job, but together they are paradise. You'd figure the Percosett would be wonderful, right? Here's the rub: everybody reacts to drugs differently. The morphine they gave me earlier in the month was an easy ride and did the trick. Percosetts make me so confused that I'm not sure what I want to do, what I'm doing, what I'm supposed to do that all I can do is stare at the clock. The game in my head goes like this.

"It's 1:35. When did I last check. Oh, it was 1:30. When did they give me pain meds?"
TV drone, not comprehending anything, back to the clock.
"What does it matter? Wonder when they will bring dinner?"

At night, the "Percs" give me such thoughts that you would have believed that Salvador Dali was orchestrating my brain. I wish that I had recorded my thoughts, but I was afraid that if anyone heard them, I'd be committed. There were times when I was wondering whether or not my mind was unraveling.

Let me stop here to express something which may not be possible to be expressed. Recovering from major surgery for me was not just about the horrid pain, but the deep psychological confusion which no one warns you about. It feels as though everything you were has been erased and you are starting from a deep, primal place of fear, dread and confusion. Once I hit that room, I began to come back in short waves, but never as a whole. You are damaged, drained, changed, and fucked up beyond the boundaries of what you knew to be yourself.

Told you it was hard to express.

Dinner comes. This meal is not cardiac, but a regular diet. Turkey and mash spud with gravy and to boot, two desserts- chocolate pudding and Black Forest something-or-other in a glass bowl. You'd think I would have delighted at eating "real" food. At that point, the whole idea of ever returning to this hellhole via my own lax eating habits is a complete turnoff. There is one enlightenment: warm chicken broth. I slowly drain it from a bowl with a straw. This is another moment when I realize that I may return to what I used to be. This sounds inane to you, but the smallest things matter when all of them have been stripped from you.

Sleeping, even on heavy narcotics, is a joke. This is a hospital after all. More bus station or railway station than quiet place of healing. My neighbors across the hall wake me from one of my numerous broken half-hour or two-hour sleep sessions with a loud: "ARE YOU ASLEEP?" Fuck, lady, if any of us poor bastards were, we sure as shit were awake now. Thanks. The woman had no "indoor" voice and talked that way all day and most of the night. The neighbors who shared a wall with me evidently felt it necessary to knock against it loudly. The female portion of those neighbors also talked loudly, but it was indelicately tinged with grit holler speak. "You goin' ta bed. now?" Or a huge laugh al a Jesco White: "Har aharhahrhahrhahr." You get the picture.

Thou Art a Vision

Joann was the nurse who came on Saturday morning at 9. Why do I remember this so clearly? Because the woman could have chosen a career in modeling. She was blond, slender and her eyes were a vivid, bright blue. Stunning. She also did her job with absolute professionalism and kindness. When she brought me my meds, she made sure I could swallow them. Not easy after tube city, people. Any question or concerns I had, she answered them very clearly-clear enough for a mud head like me to understand. She also told me some very valuable advice: "Never be shy about asking for pain medication. You don't want to hit that barrier of pain because you will end up taking shallow breaths which could lead to pneumonia." Amen, sister love. I followed her advice and was never shy.

Johann and I shared many intimate moments, though she never asked for them. That is to say, when you go "Commando" long enough, you tend to forget that thou art nakid beneath thy gown. Plus, I could not get out of bed without assistance (though I did because I wanted to get on my feet asap) and she would knock twice and then come right in, sometimes when I was draining the pipes. I wasn't embarrassed (shyness goes very quickly as I have said before) and she handled the situation by turning her back and looking at her computer screen. 

The young and cute Tara had the unpleasant misfortune of helping me bathe. When you notice your own stench, it's time to clean up, Chumlie. The young Tara washed my back and my feet. It felt wonderful and weird at the same time. Wonderful for obvious reasons and weird because I have been with the same woman for many years.   

The evening nurses sometimes were scarce, sometimes seemed a little bitchy and some were angels. On Saturday, I croaked into the call button that I needed meds. Mainly I needed them because my neighbors were thumping about and shouting like invading Goths. This sweet angel came in and with a flash gave me the anti-imflammatory and two Perkies. I slept the most peaceful and longest sleep since Monday. I doped and dozed for about six hours- a personal record up to that time.

You Can Keep My Things...

Sunday comes and my heart surgeon's nurse comes in to inspect my wounds. All looks well. Later, the good doc himself comes in and looks and asks the million dollar question:

"Do you want to go home today or wait another day?"

I want out.

Get those remaining tubes and whatnots out and this blob can go home and begin to feel again. The wheels of medicine move glacially and in a specified order, the lovely and capable Johann got all of them out. Another moment you realize that there may be another side to all this misery. The mandatory talk and discharge papers follow. I'm in a wheelchair and heading out.

It's mid-afternoon and I'm riding in a car to the drug store to get prescriptions filled. The seat belt I hold away from my delicate chest area while wondering what would happen if we get into a car wreck. But we're taking the back roads and that lessens my fears. I'm glad to be out, but not really of the world. In fact, it will take another eight weeks before I feel like my old self.

The first time I shower at home, it's an experience. To see your body so torn up (I had had three surgeries within three weeks.) is quite the shock. I am home, but not. I speak, but don't really recognize my voice as my own. It's still a bit rough and weak. I cannot lift a gallon a milk, nor drive, nor crawl into bed on my own, nor get off the couch without help. Basic decisions are difficult, except one- taking Lortab. Even then, I write down on a slip of paper when I take them because I cannot remember.

I will end this long series by saying this: unless you have been there, words are "useless into the darkness in which they peered." They are blown, incoherent scraps of paper, inadequate to the purpose. There is one truth: there is life before open heart surgery and life after. In order to repay the debt of getting a second chance, I must totally change my diet and begin an exercise program. I've already begun the diet aspect and cardiac rehab will begin the latter. Whatever choices I make here forward, I know I have been made anew and have a sense of obligation to continue a healthy path.

My worst fear in life I have survived. I'm not sure quite how; I certainly do not possess what I would consider the proper courage or fortitude. There is a certain element of acquiescing to your destiny. Like most of the major (and horrible) stuff in life, you are just taken along, adrift with the greater force that pulls you.

One thing's for sure:

they ain't fucking putting that tube down my throat again. : )


Mister Ed said...

I'm so glad you made it through, old buddy. Now we plan when we're gonna meet up again!

eclectic guy said...


Al said...

Hospitals: if they don't kill you, they make you stronger. Glad you survived!