The Brighter Side of Almost Dying (part 3)

One of the interesting phenomena of being hospitalized at length is the hospital visitor.  Between St. Anthony’s and Kindred, I was in the hospital for exactly five weeks, from Friday December 21, 2007, to Thursday January 24, 2008. For many people, the most difficult thing about being in the hospital is…

Wait.  I don’t really like the word “hospital.” The Germans, bless them, have superior verbiage for many things, and the place where sick people are warehoused is just one of them: Krankenhaus.  It’s like “rattlesnake.”  What’s a rattle? A baby’s toy.  In German, we have “Klapperschlange.”  Fantastic! It sounds deadly and scary.

So anyway, when most people are in the Krankenhaus, in addition to the pain and illness (and non-good food), they suffer from loneliness. The loneliness didn’t get to me for two reasons.  First, I’m sort of like Scrooge, in that I’m, “Secretive, self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” The second reason is that I was blessed with a good number of regular visitors.  My parents live an hour away, and they came to see me most days.  Carrie lives here in St. Petersburg, and she came to see me most days. The others were a ragtag lot, a combination of friends from AA and radio, even family friends who came more to see my parents than to see me.

Okay, that last group sounds dodgy, but one of them brought me some beautiful flowers, and the other brought two twelve-packs of Diet Sunkist Orange Soda, so I can forgive them.

One of my visitors my first week, my ICU week, was Abby.  I have an annoying-to-some habit of issuing nicknames to people to delineate them from others with the same name.  For example, I have about a million Jennifers in my vortex.  To me, it’s only natural to have Jenn the Lesbian, Jenn the Dame (who resembles a 1940’s film actress), and Jenn my Twin (I was closer to Jenn than her twin sister, Jo).

Even though I have no other Abbies in my life (of any spelling), this Abby was “Little Orphan Abby.” Basically, she’s the little sister I never had.  Abby worked at WSJT when I was there.  She put herself through college, and asked me to perform her marriage ceremony.  I did.  Then I checked into the nutbin for a month.

Anyway, Abby is family now.  She and her husband, Bryan, join my parents for Thanksgiving every year.  Like I said, I consider her to be my sister.  And she’d sprained her ankle in December 2007, but she managed to crutch her way all the way through St. Anthony’s Krankenhaus to ICU, where she spent a lovely 90 minutes visiting me.

And I didn’t remember her being there.  The next week, I gave her shit for not visiting me, and she exploded.  Oh, well.  We laugh about it now. (I laughed about it then, but remember that I had the Dilaudid pump)

One Krankenhaus phenomenon is that everything you do–input and output–is measured and recorded.  If I didn’t eat my obligatory morning oatmeal, somebody made a note.  Every time they emptied my catheter bag, the nurse measured and recorded the quality and quantity of my urine.

And there was a lot of it.  I had nothing else to do, so I drank an awful lot of sodas people brought me: DIet Pepsi (my parents), Diet Mountain Dew (Carrie), and Diet Sunkist (my mom’s friend Mary).  Being catheterized is a wonderful thing if you’re chugging huge amounts of soda.  Keep in mind, I’d gained 24 lbs in the four days before I entered the Krankenhaus–all of it water my down-shutting kidneys didn’t process–and the pill lady brought me Lasix a couple times a day.

Between the huge amounts of fluids and the diuretic, I was a peeing machine.  I think I set a record at some point, although the Guiness people never showed up to confirm my feat.

I was assured, though, that I set another record.

My first few days in the Krankenhaus, I didn’t…well, I just didn’t go number two.  I hadn’t really eaten, and Lord knows I was taking lots of constipating narcotics, so this was one process I didn’t need.  The doctors had some sort of conference, and decided that the world would be a better placer if I “moved my bowels.” Accordingly, they slipped a double-secret pill into my evening cup o’ meds.

My nurse that night was Joanne, a lovely French-Canadian woman with an awesome personality. Despite my rather un-suave circumstance, I found myself flirting with Nurse Joanne.  She had a great laugh.  I remember that.  My brother Marky called that night, and I was chatting with him, hydromorphone-giddy and happy to be alive.  Suddenly, a great, thundering rumble of borborygmus shook my bed and caused plaster to fall from the ceiling.  Or so it seemed. I told my brother I’d call him back, and started pounding on the call button.  Joanne came in, and I immediately requested “the litter box,” as we euphemistically called it.  After what seemed like an hour, I pushed the button again, then called my brother back.  Nurse Joanne returned, and we began anew our flirting.  My brother told me I was shameless, and was talking about football or something, when Joanne exclaimed, “Mon DIEU! That has to be the biggest bowel movement in the history of the world!”

(sfx: wilting)

My brother laughed himself incontinent, and I just started mashing my Dilaudid button in self-defense.

The good thing is that both illness and pain meds allowed me to forget this incident. The dark cloud of this silver lining is that my brother was neither ill nor on narcotics.  A couple nights later, we were talking, and he asked if I’d broken my world record.  I asked what he meant, and he imitated Joanne’s sense of alarmed wonder perfectly: “MON DIEU!”


Puddin (aka, “Michelle”) came to see me in St. Anthony’s one night.  She got very lost en route–indeed, St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things, and Michelle’s ass was definitely, and ironically lost. While she was lost, we were talking on the phone, with me trying to give her directions.  Yeah, like I had any idea where I was–I was seeing glowing words on the damn ceiling tiles and gaining reassurance from Nigel, my middle fingernail–but I did my best.  Finally, Michelle not only found St. Anthony’s, but queased her way through to ICU.

Two things I should mention.  First, Michelle hates hospitals under the best of circumstances.  Second, ICU is not full of cute healthy babies or puppies.  The people in the other ICU rooms probably had missing limbs, or ventilators, or they were just a head in a jar, or a giant tank of mixed viscera into which the nurses dumped medicines or MSG.

So I invented the verb “quease” advisedly to describe Michelle’s walk through the fires of hell halls of St. Anthony’s.  As she was queasing along the hallway, my Jamaican nurses came in to tell me I was being moved.  I had my computer and my phone already in my bed with me.  The nurses took my fan and Christmas tree, and piled them on top of me, then bade me farewell and left me in the hands of two orderlies.  We shall call them Dumb and Dumber.

That might not be fair–maybe they weren’t dumb.  However, at this point in my life, I was not a keg of beer.

Once again, I mention that I am Hagridian in size, and I had an appropriately Hagridian bed.  This is the only bed I’ve ever slept in where my feet didn’t dangle off the end.  I liked this bed.  D&D, however, had some problems with it. We hadn’t even made it out of the room, when BAM! They rammed the bed into the door jamb.  BAM! They hit the nurses’ station.  Apparently, I made quite a comical face when they BAM!’d me, because Michelle was laughing at me.  I waved goodbye to my BAMFLINCH nurses, as we hit a pothole.  Seriously? A pothole in the ICU corridor? Yup.

Michelle came over and kissed my forehead, then lifted the fan off of my lap. Narrow doorway…BAM!

The journey’s slapstick pinnacle had to be when they tried to maneuver me into the elevator. The problem is, the bed was, say, x inches wide.  The opening to the elevator was x-1 inches wide.  BAM to the left; BAM to the right; BAM to the left; BAM to the right.  I flashed back to slamdancing in a college punk club.

Finally, Michelle was blushing and giggling, and I sort of snapped: “WE NEED A DIFFERENT ELEVATOR!”

“Oh.  Yeah.  We should try the other one.”


One last exuberant BAM against the wall, and we were off to the other elevator which–shockingly–was designed to carry beds and things.

Michelle didn’t stay too long that night.  Quite honestly, she couldn’t stop laughing.  Plus she was queasy, and she was afraid that suppressing her laughter would make her puke.  She asked me if the BAM!s had hurt.  I explained that yes, I had an open wound where half my nardsack had been cut off, and that yes, the BAM! pain factor was pretty high.

Thankfully, so was I, so I managed not to explode.

Michelle never came back to the hospital to visit.  After the Keystone Kops orderlies, I didn’t blame her a bit.  I didn’t really want to come back either.

But I was alive, and I was slowly and painfully healing, and I was grateful enough for that.

Plus, my place in human digestive history was now secure.

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4 Responses to “The Brighter Side of Almost Dying (part 3)”

  1. You had a hell of an experience. I'm glad you lived to tell about it. "It" being the bowel movement, of course. 😉

  2. Oy, the things you have been through ….and then make them sound absolutely hysterical!

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