My Second Life Part IV: Just One Last Test…

In which I find out that I’m screwed.

There’s a lot of testing that goes on in hospitals. It seemed every hour or two, day or night, someone would come in and take blood, test my blood sugar and test my blood pressure. It really didn’t bother me at all, I was glad that someone was checking on me. I always asked what my numbers were and began to mentally chart my stats. It seemed to me that I was improving!

Diabetes is a strange disease. As I said one of the things that they were constantly testing was my blood sugar levels. A couple of times in the middle of the night my sugar levels were too low. It made a surreal situation even more bizarre to have a nurse shake me awake saying, “Mr. Hires? Mr. Hires?! I need you to wake up and eat this turkey sandwich”.


“Eat this turkey sandwich and drink this juice”

OK …um, what time is it?

“Its two AM. Eat the sandwich.”

Its not a conversation that I’ve had before or since.

Periodically I’d be wheeled out to some remote location on another floor to be x-rayed or otherwise scanned. On these journeys I got to see more of the hospital then the curtains around my bed. A few things disturbed me. First was the “art” that lined the hallways. My God people! How is this allowed to continue? I think the intention of this night gallery of pastel landscapes and vases of flowers was to sooth the nerves of the sick and their grief stricken visitors. It had the exact opposite effect on me. I felt I was being wheeled through a fun house where the walls were festooned with the works of Saturday afternoon PBS painters run amuck. A kaleidoscope of the mundane – visual muzak. Certainly a shame when there are so many talented local artists.

My other observation terrified me. The hospital was run on Windows! My god my life was in the hands of Bill Gates! I prayed that a service pack or some crap DLL didn’t inadvertently kill me. Every time I was x-rayed I thought, This is it! This is the time a Windows security loop hole allows in a virus, I get zapped with a billion rads of gamma radiation and become a monstrous shambling beast. Oh it happens all the time! They cover it up.

Finally I was told that they’d run one more test and I’d most likely be sent home. Yeah baby! Home! Home where I could get more on the TV than Walker Texas Ranger and House. Home, where I could take a shower. Home, where most importantly, there were no damned room mates! What’s the test? Bring it on!

Well, it turns out that they want to tap a big vein in my leg and run a camera up my circulatory system and snoop around my heart a bit. They’d inject the area with a dye that they could use to scan my heart. See what’s really going on. Oh, and what’s that? I’m going to be awake through the whole thing? Swell.

The next morning a burley and indifferent orderly wrestled me on to a gurney and sped me once again through those corridors of bad taste to a room full of equipment designed by Jack Kirby. There a Doctor and several rather attractive assistants got me ready. Some pain killers and some movement of equipment later they were ready. To tell you the truth I didn’t feel a thing. And then there it was – my heart on a grainy video monitor beating away.

“Well that’s not good.”

Those words are very high on the list of things you don’t want to hear at a time like that. It turns out that out of the four major arteries that feed the heart one was totally blocked and two others are about 85% blocked. Holy crap! Suddenly I’m not going home. I’m going to the cardiac unit at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Camden for triple bypass heart surgery!

Next: I take the most expensive car ride of my life and get a new room mate. 


The Emergency Room, the First Hospital, and the First of the Room Mates from Hell

Part III – My Second Life
Sorry for the delay in releasing this chapter of my on going saga. Christmas, New Years, and a bit of writers block got in my way. 

So you’d think that I’d have rushed right to the emergency room from the doctors. I mean that would have been the reasonable course of action especially since the hospital is directly across the street from the doctor’s office. I literally could have walked there but for some reason I went home first. Why? To tell you the truth I don’t actually remember! The closest I can come to an explanation is that there most have been a few things I needed to do thinking that my Dad and other relatives would be stomping through my house. I didn’t want to have them passing judgement on my while I was laid up. Also I really didn’t think I’d be in the hospital for any length of time. I felt bad but not life threateningly bad.

When I got home I called my friend Netty one of the few people I knew I could get hold of in the middle of the afternoon. I thought it best that someone knew where I was going. Netty volunteered to come drive me to the hospital so that my car wasn’t sitting around in the parking lot. This was, in hindsight, a very good move, otherwise my car would most likely still be in the hospital’s parking lot!

Emergency rooms are strange and busy places. The last time I was in one it was five AM and I was pretty much alone. This time there were a wide variety of people waiting around watching bad day time talk shows to pass time. Heart issues get a priority so I didn’t have to wait too long. However I remember one woman waiting in a corner with her family who looked so tired and hurt that I wished they would take her before me. It was obvious from her bald head that she was fighting cancer and it seemed to me that she was very brave as she patiently waited to be called.

Seemly quickly I was ushered into a curtained area where I was examined, blood was taken, and I continued to wait. At one point I was taken out for chest x rays. After a small wait while the blood work was being done I was informed that I was indeed having congestive-heart failure but also had high blood pressure and diabetes. Swell. So I was to be admitted for “a day or two” while they got my condition stabilized. Little did I know that it would be weeks before I saw my home again.

I should say a word about the hospital, Kennedy in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. While it was obvious that it was in need for a infusion of cash to fix up the physical plant the staff was top rate. I am especially impressed with the nursing staff bout here and at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. The shear amount of abuse and bullshit that nurse have to put up with is staggering! I’m in in total awe of their dedication and patience.

I was wheeled up to a room on the fourth floor. The usual modern standard is one or two people per room. Here it was four. I felt like I was in a malaria ward and it was here that I was first exposed to “the room mates from Hell”!

The absolute least offensive was an old man who did little but sleep and moan. I felt bad for him. He had a gaping down turned mouth and looked like a withered weathered old tree. He was never awake for more than fifteen minutes at a time and received no visitors. Periodically he would moan like the wind was whipping through his branches. He was just sad and I never did get to know anything more about him.

Directly across from me was a guy who was a sheet metal worker in for some tests. At first this guy seemed quite normal. That lasted until they took him down for some testing. Upon returning him to the room he declared that his cell phone had been stolen. Now I never saw him with a cell phone and, in fact , had I both a cell phone of my own and my laptop with me that were never touched regardless of how many times they dragged me out of the room for tests. The Nurse claimed that she had warned him to have anything of value locked up with security. However he had apparently passed on this and left the phone on his bed. Returning it was now gone. I’m not sure what kind of phone it was but it must have been solid gold from the way he carried on. He started screaming and cursing out anyone and everyone involved with the running of the hospital. As he built himself into a froth he became progressively more and more hispanic. What I mean by that is he initially came of as an average guy but the time his tirade hit fever pitch he was like an X rated “Speedy Gonzolas” cartoon. Doctors showed up. Nurses showed up. Orderlies, security, just people who wanted to know what the hell was going on began pouring into our room. Eventually his girl friend came and he got dressed and stomped off into the night not to be seen again. The next day the hospital’s administrator came by the room and apologized personally to me. She didn’t apologize to anyone else – just me. I think there must have been some guilt for keeping me in this mental ward.

The worst of the lot was the guy to my immediate right. I never saw him because of the sliding curtain that separated us but if he wasn’t in for falling off a roof I’d have suspected him in the great phone robbery. Where do I start with this guy? I guess I should begin by explaining that while you want to give those you are trapped with their privacy it’s pretty much impossible under these conditions. I mean I would have slept better if I knew absolutely nothing about this guy but that was impossible. He had a running number of phone conversations and arguments where the details of his life unfolded to me like some poorly written after school special. Over the course of several days I found out the following about him:

  • He was about 22 years old and homeless living on the streets of Camden since his girl friend had thrown him out.
  • He had been working as a roofer  when he’d fallen of the roof hurting both his legs and back.
  • His parents, whom he called “Mommy” and “Daddy” (which is just creepy for anyone over the age of eight) wanted nothing to do with him.
  • He had been in Narcotics Anonymous.
  • Although he had a history of mental illness and violent outbursts it had been a while since he had last “wailed” on someone.

So just terrific! Here I am confined to a hospital bed and the guy next to me is a homeless psycho drug addict with a history of beating the crap out of any one that even looked at him funny. I spent a lot time being quiet and pretending to be asleep.

He, in the other hand, spent a lot of time on the phone vacillating between threatening his girl friend and begging her not to throw his clothes out into the street – again. It was during this period that I began to really appreciate the incredible and difficult job that nurses do. Whenever a nurse would come by Captain Psycho would beg for pain killers and then argue about the amount and types he was being given. It was as if he was ordering from a wine list – “What do you have in the way of a dry dilaudid?”. He’d argue that the pills he was being given weren’t the same size and color as the ones he was used to. When the nurse would come around in the middle of the night to take blood and blood pressure he’d curse them out and then spend several whiney minutes apologizing before he asked for more pain medication. What an ingrate! A couple of hundred years earlier he would have been thrown over the city’s wall and left to rot in the moat! These men and women weren’t doing anything but trying to help, trying to make us well, and he heaped abuse on them at every opportunity. Nurses are saints!

Eventually they took him away. Off to the ungrateful bastards ward I assume and the bed to my right was blissfully empty for almost half a day – but it didn’t last.

The final room mate I’d have at this hospital was an older gentleman and in comparison to psycho homeless guy he was alright. His only problem was he was that he was partially deaf and refused to wear his hearing aids. Subsequently everthing he said was expressed as a shout. So at three AM “so you’re going to take my blood pressure” translated as “SO YOU”RE GOING TO TAKE MY BLOOD PRESSURE!!!”. Annoying but all in all an improvement over being scared for my life.

Next: How “just one more test and you can go home” became two months.

The First Doctor in Just Years

Note: Not really understanding how WordPress works the first part of this thread exists as a separate tab/page. Not being able to figure out how to add to that page I’m continuing my story as part of the main blog.

So I made the decision to get myself to a doctor. But my insurance has always baffled me. I needed to find a “primary care physician” and had no idea how to start. Blue Cross Blue Shield had sent me a phone book of doctors that were in their network. Most were specialists in fields I was unfamiliar with. All I needed was a general family doctor and I just had too many options to make a good choice.

So I decided to use the internet. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this sooner. I practically live on the internet. So I looked up Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Web site and sure enough they had a search engine for the doctors I could use as part of their “network” right on the front page. Well that was easy. Sort of felt like an idiot for not thinking of it sooner.

A little searching latter and I found a family practitioner  right in my neighborhood. Great! I was almost all set. I found my battered insurance card where it had lurked in the back of my wallet for years and gave them a call. Unfortunately they were booked up and couldn’t see me until Monday. Had I understood the seriousness of my condition I would have called another doctor. But I was determined to stick with this one in that I knew where his office was. In retrospect another stupid move.

So I waited. It was a long miserable weekend. Not only did I feel terrible but I was horribly bloated. Now for those of you who may not know me I’m pretty fat. I never really thought of myself as fat but that is the reality of the situation. I think I must have the opposite of the condition where skinny young girls starve themselves because their self image was that they are fat. It just didn’t enter my mind. But here I was all bloated and the quality of my flab had changed. It was hard and unmoving. I thought maybe in addition to an antibiotic that I could get the doctor to give me a diarrhetic as well.

So eventually the weekend passed. I spent it in bed watching TV and being miserable. When Monday morning rolled around I started to get ready for my appointment with the doctor and I panicked. Where the hell was my insurance card? I remembered taking it out of my wallet on Thursday. I even remembered thinking to myself that I need to put it right back where I had found it because I was going to need it. But here it was an hour or two before my appointment and it was nowhere to be found. Damn!

To this day I don’t know what happened to it. I searched my bedroom – no luck. I searched the house. I even went so far as to go through bags of trash like a raccoon spreading the refuse out across my kitchen floor but the thing was just gone.

I called the doctor’s office and explained the situation. Thankfully they agreed to accept a recent bill with my ID number on it in leu of the actual card. Whew! I calmed down a bit and got myself ready. I remember having to wear sweat pants and having some difficulty getting into my shoes but I managed to get in my car and drive to the doctor’s office.

I parked and got winded walking into the office. Once in there I checked in with the front desk and waited to be called. There were a couple of people waiting, a few kids playing with a box of plastic toys, and many bad magazines. It wasn’t long before I was called and escorted to a small examination room. The nurse asked me to wait and I took a seat on one of those padded benches covered in white paper. Before long she  returned and started by taking my blood pressure. It was really high. I don’t remember exactly what it was but I think the top number was 170. Then she asked me to get on the scale. My weight was so high that the scale couldn’t measure it. I knew I was heavy but this was circus type weight!

Concerned she went for the doctor. He took one look at me and asked her to give me an electro cardiogram. After a couple of minutes on the machine he made his diagnosis. He told me I was having congestive heart failure and I should go immediately to the emergency room. 

Next: The Emergency Room, the first Hospital, and the First of the Room Mates from Hell.