Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Here's Where the Story Ends

“Please strip down to your underwear and put on this gown,” the lovely young nurse’s assistant stated flatly as she swung the curtain closed at the foot of the hospital bed.  “Put your clothes in this bag,” she added.

I sat on the side of the bed and flung my new slip on shoes into the wall near where I had left my cane.  I began to wonder if I should put the cane somewhere else, as I suddenly became fearful that I would lose it here. I balled up my wet socks and stuck them into one of the shoes.  My feet had already been drenched with sweat, despite only having them on for the previous half hour or so.  It was inside-oven-hot outside, even though it was only mid-April and only mid-morning.  Plus, for some unknown reason, I have been retaining fluid like I was still a dialysis patient.  My ankles looked like an elephant’s. 

I attempted to fold my pants and shirt, but my left hand was not cooperating.  Ever since the stroke last Halloween, there has been no signs of improvement on that front.  I actually do practice my Occupational Therapy exercises nearly every day, but to no avail.  My fingers fumbled around behind my neck in a feeble attempt to tie the tiny back side open gown.  My left thumb seemed to dart back and forth of its own accord, getting in the way from the simple task of securing the gown.  I started to sense sighs and impatience from the outside of the curtain as I struggled unsuccessfully in the shadows, so I stretched my right arm out to pull the curtain open and requested help.

“You can tie the gown first and put it over your head,” the nursing student was clearly exasperated as she moved in behind me and pulled the strings quickly into a knot.

“Good idea!  Wish I‘d thought of that,” I responded.  I still cannot tie a knot!

“Lie down on the bed,” she commanded as she walked around the bed to the computer terminal, whose keyboard hovered over my left shoulder.  She placed a brand new, apparently disposable blood pressure cuff onto my left arm and asked me to state my name and date of birth, as the cuff automatically began to squeeze my formerly fistula’d left arm so tight I could feel my pulse pounding in my ears.

I looked up at the nursing assistant who was leaning over me with a stethoscope listening to my heart and lungs.  She was likely half my age.  How did I get so old?  It wasn't that long ago that I remember so vividly coming to after my first surgery and seeing a smiling nurse leaning over me, looking like a Madonna Wanna-Be.  I closed my eyes and concentrated on the hum of the air ventilation system and the hushed voices coming from the five other beds filled with people either returning from or preparing for an endoscopic ultrasound like I was.

“Please state your name and date of birth,” came the startling voice of the nurse, who was running this little wing of the old hospital.  She had replaced the young girl who was now observing from the foot of the bed.  “Have you been out of the country in the last thirty days? Have you been in contact with someone who has been out of the country in the last thirty days?”

I felt a few quick slaps on the crook of my right arm.  Another nurse was preparing to insert an IV needle.  She studied my arm closely.  Holding it upright by my hand and smacking it in different places.

“Why are you here today?”

Beep.  The nurse on my left stretched her laser gun across my gut to scan the barcode on my right wrist which I dutifully held aloft.

Slap slap slap.

“Have you ever had this procedure done before?”

Slap slap thud.

My limp arm fell back to my side.  I could a hear a few strips of tape being pulled and ripped and stuck onto the bed’s railing. 

“Have you had any recent hospitalizations?”

“Ready for a poke!”

The poke reminded me of the sudden stabs by the massive dialysis needles they used to slide into my arm three times a week.  Not like the mild sting from the labs I had drawn the two previous days.

“I see you’ve been on dialysis; did you get a transplant?”

“Hmmm.  I’m not getting anything.”

She slowly moved the needle around in a search for my vein.  The poor vein all of the needles are initially aimed for.  It’s no wonder it rolls away from any sign of danger.

Snap!  The nurse undid the bright orange rubber band she had used to tighten around my arm.

“Hi, I’m Doctor Brintha, I will be doing your procedure today.  Please tell me your name and date of birth.”

Slap slap slap.  The nurse began smacking the back of my right hand.

“Have you ever had an endoscopy before?”

“These all look like valves to me!”

“Have you or someone you’ve been in contact with been out of the country in the last thirty days?”

“A little poke!”

An intense burning sensation radiated through my hand.  I opened my eyes a little and looked at the nurse moving the needle around the back of my hand.  No blood was appearing in the tiny tube on the opposite end of the needle, which felt like molten lava being spread evenly onto my hand with a butter knife.

“So, the procedure will take about an hour…”

I closed my eyes again.

“Can you cup your hand?”

“We will spray some nasty tasting goo into your throat…”

“There it is!  Hold your hand still!”

“It will numb your throat, but you may still have a sore throat afterwards.”

“Can you keep your hand in that position?” the nurse asked as she taped the IV needle in place.

“We will be looking at your pancreas.  There are some cysts in there…”

“There you go.”

“If anything looks odd, I will take a biopsy.”

The voices began to fade away.  I felt completely empty – devoid of emotion.  I started to think about an early teenage crush I once had and how I felt sick to my stomach all of the time – not just when she was around – but all the time.  Oddly, not so different from how I felt at that moment.  I wondered if this would be the last of this hospital shit for a while, or just the beginning of another long stint.  Like that long ago crush, I somehow knew that nothing good was going to come from this.  


  1. This is so powerful, Chris! You express the feeling of being a piece of meat in the medical establishment's world so well. I wish it wasn't like that, but it so often is. What a frustrating, demeaning set of experiences. I hope that there are some rays of light outside the hospital that keep you laughing. Thanks for sharing the view from your vantage point. Sending love and light.

  2. This gave me chills. The presentation is perfect - the repetition of the quotes, the impatience of the first nurse, the "slap slap slap" - it really conveys the feeling of doom and resignation. Wow.

  3. I realize that I'm only commenting on the writing. As if it's just an exercise or assignment, not your real life. I don't mean to minimize that aspect of it. But it's powerful on its own merit as writing, not just because I know you and it's horrifying to think of what you go through. If that makes any sense and I didn't just put my foot further in my mouth....

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    2. Thank you Mindy. Your words are very kind.