Earlier this week, I said I was reading Time magazine in a waiting room. Well, I was waiting and it was a room, but to be more precise, I was in a bed at the emergency room in a local hospital. On Sunday night, I was experiencing tightness in my chest like I had never felt before and decided a trip to the hospital was the most prudent option.
Let's get the first questions over with. I'm fine. They did tests and the problem was not heart related. More likely a bad case of indigestion. I've had an iron stomach for the first fifty years of my life, but it looks like I need to give my guts a little bit of a rest, which I fully intend to do.
I had no plans to blog about this, but FranIAm had two posts this week about end of life treatment, one about her mom and one a political spot featuring Jack Klugman. That got me to thinking about my two roommates on Monday, the guys who were in the other bed in room 2.
(Warning: graphic descriptions follow.)
I got to the emergency at around 1:30 am. It was very quiet in the receiving room and I was admitted within a few minutes. I threw up twice before they got to me, but I hoped that would be a good sign. My chest was still very tight.
I was put in the second bed in room 2. The first bed was empty. The nurses put a nitro pill under my tongue. I was told that lots of people were going to be coming in and out, and that I would be asked the same questions over and over again. I could breathe, but it hurt.
Less than an hour later, my first roommate was wheeled into the room. I heard his name, but I'm going to call him The Homeless Guy. An ambulance responding to a 911 call had found him slumped over unconscious in his wheelchair in a crosswalk. The temperature outside was "only" in the 40s, but when it's wet here the Bay Area, the cold can really cut through you.
The Homeless Guy was in a lot of pain. Getting him out of the wheelchair and into the bed was a major operation. He moaned and howled in pain as the nurse took off his shoes. He wasn't able to help them in taking off the rest of his clothes, so it was decided to cut his pants off his body. His left leg was horribly swollen.
The Homeless Guy howled and moaned. He tried to speak. The nurse asked him what year it was. She couldn't make out the answer. She asked him who was president. He mumbled something, the last word sounded like "Nixon". The nurses close enough to smell him said there was alcohol on his breath. He was given some medicine for the pain and he went to sleep.
No one knew how he had rolled himself into the crosswalk. Part of the clothing that he wore included a dressing gown from another hospital. It's possible he was discharged from that other hospital and dumped there.
He was there for most of the morning, sleeping, sometimes waking up and moaning. The decision was made to discharge him. The nurses asked if he wanted to go to a shelter. After sleeping off some of the effects of the alcohol, he was more coherent. He said he wanted to be taken to the homeless camp he lives, and gave them the cross streets in a voice clear enough that this eavesdropper knew what he said. So sometime around noon, waiting for tests that kept getting postponed, waiting for a hospital bed that would never materialize, I once again had a private room in the emergency ward.
In the early afternoon, my second roommate was rolled in. He was coughing up blood. I will call him The Clean and Sober Guy. I could hear his answers to the nurses questions very clearly. Had this ever happened before? "Yes, in October." What was the cause? "Alcohol." Was he drinking when this episode happened? "No, I've been clean and sober for 120 days." He went to Stanford the first time and had his stomach banded. I don't completely understand the process, but overhearing other conversations, it was clear that the process hadn't been successful and it was too risky to try it again. Again the curtain was drawn between me and my roommate, but the privacy was only visual. I could hear everything. I heard his grunts of pain as the tube was forced down his throat and into his stomach to remove the blood. I couldn't see him, but I could see the blood in a tube being sucked out of his stomach and emptied into a large container. It was over 300 cc's when I finally left the room to take my stress test.
I was gone for well over an hour. When I came back to the room, The Clean and Sober Guy was there with his mom. She was trying to be helpful, but she accidentally bumped into one of the tubes running out of his body. He asked her to leave and she complied. I could see, and I'm sure he could feel, blood was still being sucked out of his stomach. "I'm dying." he whispered quietly.
I wanted to help. Any human being would. There was nothing I could do but pray. I tried to remember a prayer I was taught maybe fifteen years ago. The correct prayer was "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I didn't think that was exactly what I wanted to say. Also, I forgot if the prayer was supposed to be handed up to Jesus or Mary. I started to chant under my breath. "Blessed Mary, Mother of God, have mercy on us sinners. Blessed Mary, Mother of God, have mercy on us sinners..." If there is a bureaucracy of mercy operating somewhere in the universe, I'm sure I'll be forgiven for my gaffe and my improvisation.
I left the hospital with a clean bill of health. The price of the stay will be hard to pay, but that seems a small problem right now. There's an old Yiddish saying that if we hung our troubles out on clotheslines, most people would take their own back. That's true for most people, but I'm pretty sure that either of my roommates this Monday would be happy to change places with the guy in the other bed in room 2.
Now playing: Tom Waits - Cold Water