Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Have Stared Into The Maw Of Death And Have Been Afraid.

I spent Friday night in the hospital. That sucked.

There are few things scarier than being connected to at least thirty-six tubes and wires and contemplating your mortality, with nothing to look at but your worried wife and the florescent lights. To answer the same questions over and over again while trying not to keep wincing in pain, and to steady your breathing so you can mutter the same answers again. And the worst of it is thinking about that lovely wife and two beautiful little girls having face the fact that Daddy isn't coming home anymore, and you grit your teeth and hope the meds are going to kick in soon.

Friday night sucked.

The short of it is, I took some over-the-counter cold medicine and it made my heart flip out. I took much less than the recommended dose for three consecutive days, and on the fourth day I had none, and my heart jumped out of rhythm. For the long of it, continue reading.

I can't think of any better way to recount the story than by some kind of a time line as the whole experience seemed to be governed by the clock, but before jumping in, let me give you some backstory.

I've had a bum ticker, but I had it fixed. In high school I went through a short bout of fainting spells and I went to the doctor about it. They figured out I had Wolfe-Parkinson's-White syndrome. I had a very minor birth defect that amounted to a very small, extra piece of flesh on my heart that would let my natural pace-maker shock itself and flip out. I had surgery that I watched them perform on the monitor, as they were doing it, that burnt this off of my heart using sound waves. I would like to think they used the first few bars of Black Sabbath's Iron Man, but I'm not sure if medical science was that advanced in 1992.

Regardless, I've had trouble with it before, but not since 1992.

Jump to Friday morning 6:38 am. I rise, pee, and get a glass of milk and notice on my return trip to bed my chest feels "off", but not enough that I can't blame it on indigestion. Return to sleep.

7:58, rise again and ready the kids for school. I don't feel "off" anymore. I feel as if I'm being gently strangled. My heart that always goes Bump-Bump, Bump-Bump is now going Bump-Biddy Bump Bump Squish. It is hard, but I get the oldest off to school and the youngest and I come home to snuggle on the couch and watch television while I doze in and out of sleep.

Anyone with an ounce of sense would have consulted a physician at this point. I did not. I kept thinking that with the next beat, it would right itself and I could get on with the laundry I had to do. I just needed a short nap and I would awake refreshed, energised, and my heart would give up it's love of the Latin rhythms.

When 2:33 rolled around, I decided that I needed to consult a physician, as it didn't seem to want to right itself, but I was hindered. I had the youngest and I had to pick up the oldest from school in an hour, who would watch them while I went to the emergency room? In my oxygen starved brain, I couldn't think of anyone. So I decided to pick the oldest up from school, stop at the gas station and purchase candy ring suckers for the girls and a sub sandwich and wait until Flannery got home. She would know what to do. As grandly stupid as this sounds, it all seemed to make sense at the time.

Flannery comes in at 5:32, and knows what to do. She made a call.

Faster than a delivery pizza, Cap'n Ergo and Spooky show up as impromtu babysitters. Spooky comes in and looks at me as if she is trying to read fine print on the far wall and says, "You look like Hell!" I take her at her word as I'm sure it's true.

At 6ish, we arrive at the ER and go to the front of the line. BS, vitals, and a disgruntled male nurse named Chad later, I'm in a bed with ten sticky pads on me and corresponding wires. The nurse laughs when I hold my backless gown over my breasts in a gesture of modesty. She snickers so long the next nurse coming in asks her what she is laughing about.

7:00-8:00 I take turns cracking jokes with the nurses and trying to put on a brave face for Flannery. I keep asking her to read me more of this book about a middle-aged French barber who changes careers and becomes a matchmaker in his backwater town of 33 people. It is a pleasant distraction and I can whisk my way there, instead of the cold lights of the ER, the sound of alarms and cries of pain from other rooms. Between the life of a French matchmaker, I listened to a Spanish speaking family lose there grandfather. My Spanish isn't that good but I know the word for dead. The nurse asks me if I would like to change into the bottoms that go with my backless gown and I told her no, as I just remembered that I was going "commando" and there was a reason why I really needed to finish the laundry at home.

8:20 the Doctor accesses me and perscribes some medicine through the IV that they have crippled my left hand with. He is short, and very tan against his green scrubs, and has a smile that could win votes. I try to sway him into just shocking me and sending me home, but he sticks to his guns and his meds, and promises to check back with me soon.

8:30 to 10-something, I contemplate the fact that I might be done for, while the story of the French barber turned matchmaker gets good. At first my fear is palpable and tastes like aluminum foil on my fillings. I will have been and then cease to be, much like the $1 American coin. I will be in circulation for a while and then be the oddity you find in your change from the bank. Is this as much as I've achieved? No park will have my statue for birds to crap on? I will never be a minor footnote in some eggheaded historty book? All of the novels I was going to write to line the discount racks of the world's bookstores would end with me? My friends and family will never again have any of the help I could provide? My grandchildren will never know me? Who will look after the cat? My one and only fuse is sputtering to it's end and I will never ever know the taste of a popsicle, hot coffee, or cold beer ever again. I will never know the feel of Flannery's, Riley's, and Lucy's hugs again? My God, what a faboulous life I've squandered!?!

At 10:11, I made peace with my Maker, while Flannery reads to me about the French barber and his best friend going fishing. I try not to grit my teeth against the pain as I don't want to worry Flannery or interupt the story.

10:30 the medicine starts working and I'm not going to die, it just feels like it. I explain to Flannery that the show is over and there is nothing more to see. With a lot of persuation, I convince her to go home. I will only be suffering the indignity of being admited from here on out and I remind her that the kids are going to be up early. My appeal to her motherly instinct works, but only after many promises that I will call when I know something. The nurse who laughed at my breasts tells her I will be on the nineth floor when she comes looking for me.

12:00 am My heart beats like it is supposed to and I want to leave, but my room is ready now and there isn't a good oppurtunity to make a break for it. I'm here for the night. I kid the tiny woman who guides my 800 pounds of guerney and me to my room about how Friday night in the hospital must be the worst. "No," she confides, "Monday is always the worst!" I suggest that maybe it is because everyone doesn't want to go back to work and she chuckles.

12:34 and I'm in my room. I can breathe now and the nighmare of my impending doom has become the Governer's reprieve. I don't know if I should fight, f*ck, or wind my watch. I meet my night nurses as they come to check my vitals and confirm every question I've been asked for the past five hours. "You have an accent," the older nurse purrs, "I could listen to you talk all night!" I learned what a "Cougar" is from Vikkitickitavi's blog and I think I met my first. She liked me and with my new-found lease on life I was more than a little taken aback, and a bit flattered, as it is always nice to know that "you still got it". What do you say to a woman who comes on to you after you have envisioned your own demise? I said, "Can I get a sandwich?" She straightened her scrubs and promised to have one sent right up and left slowly, trailing her blood pressure cuff.

1:05 my box luch arrives. Turkey sandwich with mayo, baked potato chips, and a Snickerdoodle cookie. The label assures me that they won't throw this out until the 18th of this month. I enjoy my feast and tune my television to the history channel as my roommate is watching this and I can't compete with his volume. It is a series of shows devoted to meteors and aliens distroying the earth and I find it somewhat comforting as I try to fall into a turkey/medicated haze. The trouble is, down the hall a few doors, there is an alarm going off. Every eight seconds there is an earsplitting BLEEP.

It is 2:30ish and I am trying my damdest to fall asleep, but every eight seconds this alarm goes off. I am ashamed to admit that every seven seconds I prayed that a nurse would shut it off or put a pillow over the face of whatever poor soul was suffering the indignity of having to listen to this until their death, if for no other reason than the other 98 people on this ward could sleep. He lived through the night. I could not understand the simple controls that ran the bed, T.V., and lights. The T.V. was easy and I quickly understood how to make the bed roll me into a burrito, but the lights remained a mystery. The reading lamp was obvious but no amount of button pushing could rid me of the horrible overhead lights. Undaunted by the challenges of my new life, I pulled my ballcap over my eyes and tried very hard to sleep through spotlights and an eight second BLEEP with the soft doom of killer comets in the background.

6:02 The morning vampire shows up and wants a quart. She has all of the warmth of a public service announcement as she pulls my liquid life from me. She leaves with the sound of bat wings fluttering. I try and return to sleep.

7:01 The morning nurses come on shift and wake me to the news that they had to talk to me as the night nurses thought I was cute. They giggle that I'm sleeping in my hat. "Oh he IS cute" they gush. My only retort is, "Not at this hour!" They coo and leave. I cannot explain it at all, but nurses love me. I have been told it is because I have big veins. I try and return to sleep while the history channel informs me about the rampant gang violence in Salt Lake City.

7:59 I am awoken and hustled to the stress test that awaits me. This involves twenty minutes of being ignored while I have to take my morning pee and being connected to enough wires and tubes to make NASA envious, while being denied a six month old magizine or a urine bottle with very sharp edges. I spend another twenty minutes in the X-ray tube trying to think about the desert while my arms are held uncomfortably above my head so they get a good picture of my gut while the nuclear charged particals they have injected me with are coursing through my veins and that only make me want to piss more.

8:42 and I could make Niagra Falls look like the drips from the exaust of your car on a damp day and the doctor has been paged twice but still hasn't shown up.

9:02 he phones from the parking lot to say he is on his way up. I spook the nurse when she asks if the metal clip in my waistband is a pager and I tell her no and remove my pocketknife and set it on the bed with my keys and wallet.

9:04 and he drops in to question me about my accent while I run a small marathon for him. The treadmill keeps going faster and faster while the angle keeps rising. He explains that he will never lose his Lebannese accent and the BMW dealer kids him about it, but his children are doing well in their Ivy League colleges. I try not to think about how bad I have to whiz or how my missing a day of work is going to affect the bills. He tells me that cold and flu season is a busy time for him as many people get the same thing I've had from over-the-counter medicine and it flips their hearts out too. This would have been useful to know three days ago.

At 9:26 I find that of little reassurance and quit the stress test, not because I'm tired, but I've reached my target heart rate and I can't stand running with a full bladder anymore. It is too much stress. He makes me return to the treadmill so they can inject me with more nuclear waste. It's cold and it stings in my veins.

9:47 my reward is a pint of milk and a broken straw, but I can't whiz yet. The milk helps define my gut from my heart in the next fifteen minutes of X-rays with my arms above my head. I am trying to be perfectly still while laying down on a bed the width of a 2x4, because I know if I move, I'll have to do it again.

10:04 really stands out in my mind as I've made it to my room and have wheeled my stupid IV stand with it's three bags of meds and two pumps that have dead batteries and the alarms scream at me and the sharp edges of the urine bottle catch me in a sensitive spot, but I could care less. I am two liters lighter and I know the true meaning of a zen-like relief and it seems to set the tone for my new lease on life.

10:12 a nurse's aid who looks sixteen wanders in and asks if I need anything. He is obviously in the wrong room but wants to cover it up with his offer to help. I ask for a cup of coffee and he leaves in haste with the assurance that he will look into that. He is never seen again.

10:15-12:00 Try and nap unsuccessfully while the History channel tells me more about the alien invasion.

12:04 the Nun shows up. She isn't in her habit but at this point I'm missing a few of my bad habits. She turns out to be a good ol' broad and asks me if I'm a poet. "No," I confess, "but I do write a blog." I didn't tell her it was about beer and dirty jokes. We prayed together and she seemed to skip as she left the room as if she felt she had done some good and perhaps she had.

At 1:12 my belly reminds me what it's for. At no point has anyone offered me food. A different nurse comes in and brings me a pill in a plastic shot glass. I ask what this is and her responce is "Exomitrraphedrineamalgumoxide" like I would know what this is. "But don't eat it yet, let me get you some water," and she fled.

1:22 she returns with ice water and I ask what this medicine is for. "It's Exomitrraphedrineamalgumoxide. Here's your water." I decided that further pursuit of inquiry with her was useless and swallowed the match-head sized tablet. "If you are hungry, call room service." She was never seen again.

2:02 My Lebannese cardiologist has sent his over-eager nurse to iterview me and ask me the same thirty questions that I have had to answer since I got here at 6ish last night but she writes it out longhand with arrows to footnotes instead of just checking off boxes. This is a woman who loves her job and her boss, as she jiggles her breasts every time she mentions his name like Pavlov's dog with the bell. I ask her when I might be released as I'm eager to get home. "Oh two o'clock or so."

2:22 I order a large lunch with a grin that I won't have to wash these dishes. I am pleasantly surprised that lunch is good but a bit bland. There are a couple of packets of pepper but regardless of what it says on the front, Mrs. Dash is NOT a salt substitute, merely a placebo. Flannery and the girls come to visit and the whole world seems to shine. The girls show me the cool toys they got in their Happy Meals and Flannery looks worn out but relieved. We talk for a bit but the girls quickly get bored. She takes them home and I promise again that I will call when I've got my walking papers.

3:07 and television can't distract me anymore. I think I've been forgoten but my new nurse comes in with a fistful of papers and offers to help me off with my backless gown. "Get me out of this f*cking thing! Excuse me," I apologized, "I'm just eager to get home." "I understand honey," she said with a smile.

3:09 and I'm dressed and have called Flannery. I pace and wait for my wheelchair.

3:19 and my chair shows up and I fold down the footpedals down so we can leave faster. I tell my pimple-pocked transport that I'm in a hurry and he takes me seriously and pushes me ahead of the rest of the slow moving hospital foot traffic with cries of warning. If I had a twenty dollar bill, I would have tipped him two of them. We moved like a Nascar.

4:10 and I'm home and just need a few minutes with the computer to read your blog before I head to bed for some much needed rest. I'm sitting here for four minutes and I hear the pained call of Markus's wife calling for their little girl who has disappeared. She is in a panic and I join the search party. Moments later she is found in Franklinton's bathroom answering the call of nature. Everyone rejoices at this relief and I find myself at Tiki and have to retell this story. No one wants to hear it but they all extend their well-wishes that I'm not dead and I find that to be a comfort. I hang out at Tiki long enough to eat some of Franklinton's eggrolls and some home-made pizza that beats anything I've ever purchased. I head home early, as I almost died and I'm really tired but I spend the rest of the evening playing games with the two kids, Cap'n Ergo, Spooky, and Flannery only to colapse into bed later.

The next day I worked in the bakery all day and deeply regreted not getting a doctor's note that said I needed that day off. I felt like something you would scrape off the bottom of your shoe, but I toughed it out. I came home and kissed the family and read your blog for a while, but my left hand was still gimped up to the point I couldn't type my comments. I went to bed early and awoke Monday morning to Flannery's kiss and to see both the girls and the cat snuggled up next to me and faded back into dreams of a better life and how to spend it. Seize the Day ocurred to me, but I just needed to make plans on how to snare it and drifted back to sleep. To welcome me home, Flannery bought a 30 pack of my favorite beer and that means a lot.

I have been keeping up with your latest entries, but have only this evening regained my left hand dexterity. Dale, I swear I've have penned a rough draft of your cartoon and it will be yours this week, but the hand wouldn't obey with an IV in it. Cap'n Ergo, your's is next.

To sum it all up, I'm very, very glad to be here with you. You enrich me more than you will ever know, and on a grossly sentimental note, I love you man, and I always will. I am taking steps to be with you for a long time. Get used to it. And if you get the chance, hug someone and have a cold beer.

Life can't get much shorter.



  1. WOW.

    I love that you had so much humor during all this. Hope you keep getting better.

  2. I'm glad you're OK, Doc! Take care of yourself.

  3. So happy you are alive!!

    My son was diagnosed with WPW snydrome about 5 years ago.


  4. Jeeze, Doc. Glad to hear you're okay. No more cough medicine for you, I guess. Stick to bourbon.

    PS it is a well known fact all surgical cutting lasers sound like the opening slide of Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption."

    Military lasers sound like Iron Man.

  5. This is quite the story Doc, and one with a wonderfully happy ending, thank goodness!

    And I have to ask, is "big veins" a euphemism for something? ;^)

  6. Huh. I WORKED in an E.R. for both adults and pediatrics, and NO ONE, neither there nor on any floor I visited as a patient transporter, thought *I* was cute. Must be the hat: I never wore a hat.

    ANYWAY, we're all glad you be here amongst th' livin' and that you're back in bloggin' black. Loved the post!!

  7. Damn Doc....what a weekend!!!!

    So happy to hear you are doing well :)

    Now take it easy.....stay off the suds until tomorrow.


  8. That was wonderful, if excruciating, writing. I'm impressed as hell that you could do that.

    Glad you're with us man. take care of yourself!

  9. Bubs- Thank you, as that is high praise from a man who does your job, but it was a labor of love. I'm glad to be here, and recounting the story helps to solidify my resolve to sticking around.

    #2- I hope you never, ever have the weekend I did. Cut down on your salt and drink more beer. It is good for your heart. And yes, I've been good.

    Skyler's Dad- There is no connection between my veins to anything else, unless you count my thumbs.

    err- Bourbon it is. At least I know that all I'm purchasing is a deep sleep and a hangover instead of a trip to my local hospital. It's a fair trade.

    #1- WPW was a thorn in my side for some time. I hope it isn't for him, and I'm tickled to be here.

    Some Guy- I've been eating my vitamins and going to bed early as I can't miss the next installment of your movies. Those are grand!

    Beth- Humor is what drives me and it would be no fun if I couldn't share it, and thanks for the well wishes. I'm looking forward to finding my costume picture for Big Wicked Online Pageant. I'll send it along as soon as I find it.


  10. Zoiks!

    Reading this I felt like I was at a horror movie, yelling at the screen -- "Go to the hospital, for God's sakes!!! GO TO THE HOSPITAL!"

  11. omfg, doc

    So glad you're ok. What an ordeal for you Flannery and the girls.
    Take all the good stuff this terrible experience has given you ... but I think you already have.

    All the best for a rapid recovery too

  12. I heard about this story today from GT. So happy to hear that you're okay!

    I hope the doctors didn't tell you to lay off the beer.

  13. I'm glad you lived to tell the tale and well, just lived! Wonderfully told for such a harrowing tale. May I borrow your hat? How about if I talk in an accent?

  14. Holy schnikeys Doc... what you won't go through to put together a great post.

    Here's to many, many, many more cold brews in your future.

  15. Good gravy! I'm glad that you are still alive and kicking, please, get better.

  16. OH MY GOD! Do I feel guilty for not having looked at your blog for a while - you know from my own blog that I've been preoccupied, but jeez! Boy am I glad you're OK. And screw Christmas and the hospital bill - I know that part sucks but you are not going to be laying on your deathbed (when you're 105) regretting not having enough money back in 2008. The important thing is that you are still there with Flan and your girls. Peace.



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