Thursday, September 29, 2005

Homage to Nurses

Zzzzzzzzzztata-ta. Zzzzzzzzzztata-ta. Zzzzzzzzzztata-ta. Zzzzzzzzzztata-ta. Zzzzzzzzzztata-ta. I knew I wouldn’t remember the exact sound because of the phenergan that had made my tongue thick and because of the morphine which really didn’t do much to abate the stomach pain. Nonetheless, I sat, half-awake, half-asleep, listening to the sound of the IV-pump as it sucked about five or six drops of saline into the line leading into my arm. My fingers grew cold from the influx of room-temperature fluids that were being forced into my body.

I had taken the quick route to dehydration the night before. It started about one in the morning, when I woke up suddenly to that salty, mouth-watering signal that I was going to be sick. I jumped from the bed, and made it to the toilet for what turned out to be the first of about ten trips to empty my stomach, and soon, I found myself experiencing diarrhea as well. By morning, I had hardly slept, and I had not been able to keep down any medication to stop the heaving that was going on. Perhaps worse than anything, I had snorted acidic fluids through my sinuses so many times that I think I might have cured any infection that I had brewing in there before this bout of stomach troubles. I finally fell asleep and awoke about noon with more diarrhea, so I called my doctor. He asked if I were lightheaded, or if I had a rapid pulse and I felt my pulse to find it beating away at about 120 beats per minute. I called my friend Steph to take me to the clinic.

A year or so ago, I had closed a folding table up on my pinkie and it popped the fingernail from its bed. Yes, it sounds ghastly, but it happened so quickly that I didn’t actually feel it until the exposed nail bed started to sting. I learned that night that you should never drive yourself to the hospital. The nurses handed me a couple of pain pills on my way out of the emergency room the next morning with instructions not to take them until I got home. Because they were not technically administered by the ER staff or anyone other than myself, Medicare would not cover the charge for the two vicodans that I was given. Furthermore, because the drugs were not administered to me, the government does not involve itself in the price that is charged for the pills, so the hospital is allowed to recuperate any number of shortfalls in this small way. Those two vicodans ended up costing me about forty dollars and then they made me sick and I threw them up before they took effect.

Knowing that I didn’t want to have to pay through the nose for any treatment, I hitched a ride with Steph to the clinic. Once there, a kind gentleman wheeled me back to the clinic from the front entrance. When I arrived at the clinic, they were waiting for me, and a wonderful, sweet lady whom I shall call Nurse B. took me in her care. We went into the back room of the clinic where she inserted the IV line and then hooked me up with saline. After she had started the pump and made sure that the line wouldn’t "blow out", she injected a dose of phenergan for nausea. A few minutes later, I started to try to say something and my tongue got all in the way of my mind. I was phenergan drunk and it felt pretty good compared to what I had experienced the night before.

My stomach was hurting acutely because it was empty and I suspect, so used to having something in it to fight off the pain of exposure to my thirty-or-so pills a day. I asked the nurse if there were anything I could do for the pain of having an empty stomach. She said she would call my doctor and left the room. I was expecting crackers, but a few minutes later, she returned with an injection of morphine. Amazingly, it didn’t seem to affect me any more than the phenergan did, yet my stomach pain soon became less of an issue, especially after having a few boxes of children’s fruit juice. Those things are damned near impossible to open when you are normal, but exponentially more difficult when you have had phenergan and morphine. It wasn’t getting the straw into the box that was tough, it was getting the straw out of its plastic wrapper that was vexing me. Nurse B. came and helped me out and I had soon downed a couple of boxes of fruit juice. About that time, I remembered a story I just had to tell her, with my tongue thick and unruly when I tried to talk.

º º º

In 1993 at Christmas, my Dad, who had retired three weeks earlier, was experiencing a very bad recurrent cough. It was obvious that he thought that there was a sinister reason and he had dreaded a visit to the doctor. A couple of weeks into the new year, he was finally convinced to get himself checked out, and the radiologist discovered a mass in his chest. Dad was sent to a clinic in Raleigh for further interpretation of the results.

We arrived for his appointment and waited in the lobby for a while. Eventually, my uncle who had accompanied us, and I went to search for some coffee, and when we returned, we found that my dad and mom had gone back to be seen by the doctor. I walked back to find them and entered the room just as the doctor said, "it is probably cancer, but we won’t know more until we get through the bronchoscopy that we need to do." My dad looked up at me and calmly said, "He thinks it is cancer," as if he were discussing the ailments of an old automobile engine.

After we finished up at the clinic, we went for lunch in a restaurant that my uncle had recommended and as we started to eat, my dad broke down and cried. It was unbelievably touching, surreal and frightening to see him crying in public. The only other time I had ever seen him cry was when someone came out of the intensive care unit at Sampson Memorial Hospital in Clinton in 1972 to tell him that his own dad had just died.

A week or so later, we were at Wake Medical Center waiting for Dad to be wheeled back for his diagnostic exam. He was going to have a probe inserted into his lungs to examine and biopsy the mass that had been found and so he would be put under anesthesia. They took him back to prepare him for the surgery and then we were allowed to join him.

When we walked in, dad was in a hospital bed. They had removed his dentures and given him a silly looking green shower-cap and most importantly, they had given him morphine. He had the biggest toothless smile on his face that I have ever seen and he was rubbing his feet together like a baby often does. He looked really silly there with no teeth and a shower cap, but at that moment, he seemed to be the happiest man alive. Now that I think back, it was perhaps that day when his innocence preceded him in death. A few days later, I was on a three-week business trip to the UK when my dad found out that he had stage 3-B lung cancer. About six months later, his life having changed dramatically from his awareness of mortality, he died while we stood by his bed, my mother hysterically calling out his name as if he would return to her from where we had just witness him go.

º º º

I don’t quite think that the phenergan and morphine that I had been given enhanced the telling of my story, or that the nurse appreciated why I just had to tell it to her yesterday, but tell it I did. A few hours later, when the last of the fluids had drained into my vein, I was allowed to leave the clinic. My friend David had agreed to pick me up, so I met him outside the clinic entrance, my tongue thickened with a departing dose of phenergan to get me through the night. He drove me home and then walked me into my house to make sure that I would be OK alone.

I was only able to eat a bag of multigrain chips last night, but did try to make a bit of rice to eat. Once it was done, I sat down to eat and had had about four forks full when I felt the urgency of diarrhea coming on again. I rushed off to the toilet only to hear the remote control of my television fall onto the floor. When I was finally able to return to my living room, I found an empty plate of rice and Zelda, my puppy, looking quite plump and very smug, sitting in my chair. She had managed to down the whole plateful of rice in the time I was away.

Today, I slept until almost one in the afternoon, and then had a light breakfast. Everything has stayed down, so that is good news. I am still not fully recuperated, still having a lot of pressure in my abdomen and less frequent diarrhea, but I feel much better than I did yesterday.

Thank you to all the nurses who cheerfully take care of us when we are sick.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Kim said...

Great story, Ron...thanks!

9/30/2005 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

only at your blog could I possibly find a story which so intimately entailed diarhea, and come away touched...

How do you do that!?

10/01/2005 12:09:00 AM  
Blogger Vickie said...

Let's hope you're on the road to recovery. I know you said you hadn't felt well several days ago.

You do have a way with words. You make even your illnesses into great stories. I'm sorry it entailed a trip to the clinic, but glad it worked out better than the emergency room visit!

Take care, hon.

10/01/2005 05:02:00 PM  

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