Hospital-ity – Not!

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I have had my share of stays in the hospital. Besides giving birth three times (and they actually used to let you stay for awhile in those days…it was none of this “okay, you-had-a-baby-its-a-boy-see-you-in-six-weeks”  like it is now.) I also had surgery to have part of my patella removed, a torn meniscus, a  severely torn retina which required  surgery, umpteen stitches for various injuries, emergency surgery for a ruptured disc in my back and a pin placed in my finger…and I’m sure I’ve left out a bunch of other things. Oh, and we all remember the infamous sailing accident, but I don’t really count that because I was only in the ER for an MRI and X-rays and was discharged.

Of course, my incidents of injuries/operations have never been just run-of-the-mill. I must have something secretly tattooed on my body where I can’t see it that instructs medical personnel to make absolutely certain something out of the ordinary happens to me.

First example? The spinal surgery for the ruptured disc. I’d been suffering from severe back pain but was determined to still spend time at the beach with my family. Apparently I had a herniated disc which no one diagnosed and it ruptured…over the Fourth of July weekend…at the Jersey shore. Try getting a doctor over the Fourth of July weekend. Even better, try getting one at the Jersey Shore when your personal physician, already 75 miles away, is also on vacation.  I wound up with someone covering for someone who was covering…for someone else. He actually was in the very northern part of the state; the equivalent of your being in say, San Clemente and your doctor is in Santa Barbara. I was not going to the local ER at the beach and sit there with all the bar brawl derelicts and  the idiots with fishing hooks through their hands for seven or eight hours. I couldn’t even stand up, no less do that.

So, off I went on a trip north, by ambulance, of which I have no recollection because I was so heavily medicated…by a doctor I’d never met whose name sounded like a dish I ordered at The Bombay Restaurant a couple of weeks before.

I met my neurosurgeon at 6 p.m. and he operated on me at 10 p.m.

Of course, it was general anesthesia and hospital protocol was to catheterize a patient coming out from anesthesia until they were steady enough to get out of bed. I vaguely remember being brought up to my room and it was still dark. The next thing I remember, since I was still not fully conscious,  is someone lifting the sheet and then my hospital gown, exposing my, shall we say, “nether parts?”

Almost in the same instant I felt the cool rush of air on my lower half,  the nurse exclaimed, “Oh my God! It’s you!

Still very groggy and with my eyes still closed, all I could think of was “How would someone recognize me by looking there?

When I opened my eyes, I saw a nurse holding a chart in her hand, which obviously would have my name on it.  She actually was a friend I’d lost touch with over the past couple of years; we’d volunteered together in town and she was an RN on staff at the hospital. After she removed the tube-from-hell (you lose all sense of propriety when in pain!) we started to catch up for a few minutes. She’d gotten divorced, moved closer to the hospital and worked three 12 hour shifts so she could still be there for her kids much of the time. She took excellent care of me and actually, I fixed her up with one of my clients on a blind date and they went out for several months.

My other “favorite” hospital-related story took place in the early ’80′s two weeks before Christmas. My whole office was coming over for a holiday dinner and I had the candles lit on the table, appetizers in the oven…I was even dressed. The ex was out dropping the kids at various friends’ houses, so I was alone with the puppy we’d gotten several weeks before. Said puppy started circling and crying a little so I knew he had to go out. For whatever reason, I opened the door before putting his leash on and yep, he took off like the proverbial bat out of hell. I tried to run after him, but he went full throttle into the dark night in his black fur camouflage suit.

I called him several times and then I heard him barking, behind the fence that surrounded our property. We lived near a little stream, so part of the fence had about a two foot high cinder block wall around its base to keep the water out of our yard during heavy rains. I climbed up on the “step” trying to look over the fence and in the darkness, didn’t realize there was a gap between the fence and the block and fell between. As I climbed out I could feel my pant leg was very wet and at the same time, puppy decided he was really “Lassie” and all five pounds of him came bounding over to help me. I grabbed him, stuffed him in my pocket and went inside to change before the guests, due any minute, arrived. My left shoe was also squishing as I walked and I thought it was probably filled with mud.

Entering the house, I looked down at my feet and realized that it wasn’t mud, but blood in my shoe. I pulled up the pant leg and (the squeamish should speed read over this part) apparently I had lopped off  all the skin covering my knee cap and the blood was pouring into my shoe. I sat down on the steps in the foyer and was attempting  to stick my knee cap back on with Strawberry Shortcake band-aids (because that’s all we had) when the ex returned home. He looked at me and said “Now what did you do?” (He was used to my catastrophes.) When he realized how bad it was he said, “I hate to tell you this but you definitely have to go to the hospital for that. You need stitches!”

So now not only were we faced with the imminent arrival of twelve people for dinner, but once again the holiday/hospital dilemma. It was a Saturday night, two weeks before Christmas, when every office party in the world takes place and drunks fall down stairs, etc. I had no desire to go to the ER. We discussed what we could do to avoid that and remembered that one of our best friends, an OB/GYN, had privileges at the local hospital. There were no cell phones in those days, remember. We were really lucky because when we called him,  he was at home, entertaining his office. He said not to worry, he’d call ahead to make sure I got priority treatment upon my arrival. I hastily taped a note on the front door explaining what happened so my co-workers would have some idea of where I was.

When we pulled up to the ER entrance, there was a doctor, a nurse and an orderly waiting for me with a wheelchair by the ER doors and they quickly whisked me away.  I bypassed the packed waiting room and was immediately put in an exam room. They began taking my blood pressure and asking me how badly I was bleeding. I said it was pretty bad, but I’d slowed it up by putting band-aids on it. They all exchanged glances.  Then the doctor asked me if I’d hit my head. You know, in that kind of knowing way, that something wasn’t quite right upstairs? I said no. He asked me if  the cramps  were regular or irregular in pattern. I couldn’t figure out why he would ask me such a thing…leg cramps?  I had no answer for that one. He repeated the question as he took my pulse and before I could ask him what he meant, he looked down at me lying on the table and asked, “When is your baby due?”

I shook my head and said “I’m sorry?” I knew I’d gained a few pounds from Thanksgiving, but really?

He repeated the question.

I told him I was not pregnant, just pleasantly plump. The only thing coming out of me at the moment was about a pint of blood, from my left leg.

Now there was real consternation among the staff attending me. Doctor and nurse exchanged glances, nurse and aide exchanged glances. I felt like they were part of some secret society sending signals to each other. He looked at me and said “Why did Doctor B call us to get you right in? We thought you were in premature labor.”

I went into the whole story of what had happened, the dinner party, the time of year, etc. I don’t think they were terribly pleased with either me or Doctor B.

43 stitches and a soft cast so I wouldn’t bend my leg and tear them out and I went home. To this day, I think he could have sewed me up with only 20 but he was annoyed.

We had party food all week for dinner. It was a good thing, too, because I wasn’t exactly mobile. Do you have any hospital horror stories?

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