A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Office

2012 January 16

Last week, I ended up in the hospital. Well, ended up is maybe the wrong choice of words. It makes it sound like I set out for Dunkin’ Donuts and somehow took a detour to the ER on my way to get a large black with one sugar. No, I drove myself there at 7:00 AM, after spending four days unable to keep down food or liquid. I assumed that they’d do a quick check of my throat, figure out what was blocking it and maybe tell me to drink some Pedialyte to fix my dehydration and then I’d be at my desk by 8:30 AM. Eight hours and two IV bags later and I realized I wasn’t going anywhere.

The doctor who came to break the bad news looked like a smaller version of Cee Lo Green, clad in a bronze velour tracksuit, dark shades and a solid gold necklace in the shape of a set of ram’s horns. My liver enzymes were out of whack, my gallbladder and spleen were enlarged and I was turning yellow (no, really). He wanted to keep me overnight and run more tests, because if any organs had to be yanked, they’d have to come out the old-fashioned incision way. I tried not to think about that part.

Overnight turned into five days. And more tests turned into a CAT scan, a HIDA scan, a GI scope and two rounds of bloodwork every day. The hospital didn’t have any free rooms, so I ended up on a stretcher in a former ER operating room that had been repurposed to house patients. The only privacy to be had from my revolving cast of roommates was a curtain that could be pulled halfway around my stretcher. No tv, no internet, no phone, no energy to read. Just me, my thoughts and the insistent drip-drip-drip of my IV, an IV that I had to drag to the bathroom (which felt like a mile away down the hall) with me and required me sleep with my hand just so not to make it ache.

Oh, the aching. I’m young. I’m in good shape. And spending 23 hours a day on a stretcher killed my body. Hips don’t lie and mine were not impressed with what I put them through. And neither was my mind. I simply stopped caring. For a person whose brain is always churning, it was shocking how quickly I succumbed to the torpor of hospitalization. The isolation didn’t drive me crazy. I didn’t find myself pining for Twitter or fretting about work emails piling up. I simply curled up on my cot and dozed under a tangle of thin hospital sheets. When I had to get out of bed, I found myself clinging to the IV stand like a subway pole and swaying my way down the hall like an octogenarian zombie. Trying to wash my hair in the bathroom sink left me out of breath and exhausted. I forgot about the outside world – the weather, the news, anything beyond my own pounding headache and burning desire for ice water (two full days were spent without fluids because of testing). Once a nurse brought me a three-flavored popsicle and I almost wept in gratitude. How the mighty had fallen.

The middle of the night in the hospital is the loneliest time. When you look at your watch to see that it’s 1:47 AM and you wish for nothing more than someone to squeeze your hand and rub the achingest part of your back and tell you that you will feel better and soon. But that doesn’t happen, so you simply readjust your blankets and go back to staring at the flicker of red and blue lights from the ambulance bay play across your wall and then, eventually, it’s 6:00 AM and someone is coming to draw your blood and check your pulse.

I was released on Friday. Not because I was cured, but because I was no longer throwing up and the nursing staff felt sorry for my obvious discomfort at being confined to a makeshift bed in a makeshift room with no end in sight. An internal medicine specialist reviewed my test results, ran through a brief questionnaire (no, I’m not an alcoholic and no I haven’t been foraging for wild mushrooms) and told me he wanted to see me in a week to re-evaluate things. There are several possible diagnoses being floated, with some more serious than others. Now, we play a waiting game. No discharge paperwork to sign (“That’s just on tv, honey,” the nurse tells me), only the numerous pairs of pajamas dropped off by my mother and the vase of flowers hand-delivered by my boss to pack up.

This wasn’t like the movies. I didn’t come to any grand epiphanies, not about the state of the healthcare system or the state of my own life, except maybe a dry chuckle at the fact that it didn’t take long for me to have to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to my resolution to be more accepting of help and support. I didn’t use the time to do some internal stock-taking or to ponder whether landing in the hospital was the penalty I had to pay for pushing myself and my body too hard for too long. And even now, as I’m curled up on the couch in my pajamas eating chocolate pudding and waiting for the all-clear to return to work (the one thing the docs were sure of was that, in addition to my other issues, I have mono), I’m still figuring out how to shave precious time off my recovery period, not basking in a renewed appreciation for the fragility of good health.

Mostly, I just want taking a shower to stop being the most exhausting activity in the world and to be able to leave the house without getting hot and dizzy. That would be enough right now.

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