the appendices. actually, just one appendix. but lots of stories about it. part 2.

Hope you visited the restroom and dropped by the snack bar for a wide variety of mouthwatering treats during the intermission. The lights are flickering: it’s time for…

Act III: In which I escape the sucky small-town emergency room.
Setting: An ambulance on I-55 in 2008.

So the tiny doctor with the enormous name found a surgeon willing to remove my appendix. He was an hour away in Springfield. I had been so extraordinarily impressed with the local fine health care professionals that my departure would be wrenching, indeed. I left anyway. And this time, they didn’t make me walk. Because for the moment, I was still checked in.

My new ex-boss, who had been fired just a week prior, was an EMT. In a rare bit of good luck that night, he was NOT on my ambulance staff. It would have been awkward to greet the guy who hired me, and then got canned, in an ass-baring gown, much less ask him for a plastic pot to pee in.

And oh, my God, did I have to pee. I hadn’t gone since I got to the hospital and with the CAT juice and the contents of a jillion IV bags in my system, my bladder bulged like an overripe cantaloupe. The (male) EMT was both competent and kind (clearly not a hospital employee) and handed me some weird pitcher thingie that was supposed to be ergonomically simple to use. It didn’t matter.

I soon discovered that my body will not urinate when someone is watching. Or listening. Or nearby. It didn’t matter how many times I begged my internal HAL: the pod bay doors were not going to open.

Fortunately, the hospital was not that far away. I got a gurney ride from the ambulance through about 40 corridors , or maybe the same corridor 40 times (flourescent lights all look the same), and finally to a semi-private room. With a bathroom. And more importantly, a bathroom door.

Relief is a marvelous thing.

By now it was about 3am.Still on a gurney, I met my surgical team. They looked like legitimately fine health care professionals, though it’s hard not to be impressed by anyone in actual surgical scrubs (not those dental-assistant Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas) leaning over you. Or people who look perky in puffy blue hairnets at 3am, for that matter. Hands were shaken all around, I made a few wise-ass remarks (it’s what I do), and then it was off to la-la land.

Act IV: In which I discover the perils of a semi-private room.
Setting: A semi-private room.

The return trip from la-la land was a bit bumpy. I woke with a hellacious headache and an equally hellacious roommate. This hospital sucked, she said. Everyone there was stupid, she said. She said a whole lot more, most of it on a cell phone that she shouted into like a toddler with a Fisher-Price walkie-talkie.

My migraine and I retreated behind an enormous icebag and some naproxen sodium (Aleve is my shepherd – I shall not throb). My husband came to visit, and there may even have been Olympics on TV. My sense of time was severely skewed, and I was in and out.

But even semi-conscious and semi-coherent, I memorized my roommate’s life story. Her problems had all started a few years back when she was working at the DMV and slipped on the sidewalk and hit her head and she wouldn’t have been outside in the first place if any of the idiots she worked with had known the first damn thing about doing their jobs. Sure, she got a fat settlement, but that was already all spent on a new car and stuff for the kids, and now she wanted more money, but what can you do, and she didn’t have health insurance any more, but it didn’t matter because she wasn’t going to pay this damn hospital one red cent.

Severe diverticulitis, they said. Go easy on the fat, they said. Lay off the butter, the meat, the eggs and cheese, they said. She hadn’t checked into the hospital for stupid diet advice – she wanted them to shut up and give her some medicine. By the way, did I know that I could get a milkshake for breakfast? The kitchen would send anything on the menu!

I listened (it wasn’t like I couldn’t) to her order breakfast. Sure enough, they sent up a chocolate milkshake to go along with her cheese omelet. And a side of bacon. Within a few noisy minutes, it was gone. And not too many minutes after that….

How is a seagull different from my roommate? A seagull flits along the shore.

That’s right. All that richness rocketed through her diseased system faster than she could react, and fell into a trail of noxious puddles from her bed to the bathroom. I hit the nurse call button and tried to sleep.

I woke up to my roommate on her cell again, setting up her own big welcome-home barbecue with all her favorites – ribs, steaks, beer and baked beans with lots of bacon. Then she called some smoke shops to see how much cigarette rollers cost, because her husband, on oxygen thanks to emphysema, still smoked three packs a day and it was too damned expensive even though she’d switched him to generic cigs and he hardly noticed the difference, since his sense of smell was just about gone and he couldn’t taste a damn thing.

I despaired for the future of the human race. And I tried to sleep.

Act V: Denouement/Epilogue

They sent me home too soon. My insurance wouldn’t cover more than 24 hours in the hospital, and the clock started ticking when I was wheeled in the door.

I’d had a laparascopic appendectomy, which meant instead of an LBJ-style zipper scar, I had smaller holes for lights, camera and action. I soon suspected that they had used IMAX equipment. I hurt! But I also had a high-deductible policy and minimal savings, which meant I was homeward bound.

I needed to change out of my beautiful buttless gown, but I still only had my bathrobe and jeans stuffed in the bag that went with me on the ambulance. I asked my husband to bring me a shirt, bra and undies, and when he came to take me home he had clothes in hand.

A thin white t-shirt. And two pairs of panties. Where was the bra, I asked, since wearing a t-shirt without one was not an option. My husband pointed to one of the panties. “Isn’t that a bra?”

So now joining the remnants of my migraine and the ache in my gut were disbelief and disappointment in my husband’s lingerie discernment skills.

And I ended my adventure as I started it – doubled over in jeans and a bathrobe. And checked out.

–Finis–

the appendices. actually, just one appendix. but lots of stories about it. part 1.

Act I: In which I think the local hospital emergency room might suck.
Setting: a small Illinois town in 2008.

So I had just started a new job in a new state, and lived in a new house.

And I was sick.

Sicker than I had ever been. Repeated purging from all possible exits did not lessen the ache in my belly, and I believe I was actually writhing in pain. I finally gave up on stoicism at about 8pm and let my husband take me to the emergency room. We lived in a very small town, and I’d never been to the local hospital, but I had seen the emergency room sign, so I knew it was there, less than two miles away.

Being so new in town, I hadn’t heard all the horror stories. Which was probably just as well, because I could soon write my own.

We drove up to the emergency entrance, the only car there. And my husband escorted me inside. There was a full staff and not a single patient. Everyone was gathered around computers in what looked like a check-in booth. So, doubled over in my bathrobe and jeans, I hobbled to the booth. Two of the fine health care professionals looked up.

“I need help; I’m really sick,” I mumbled intelligently.

“Are you checked in?” the fine health care professionals asked in unison. A third one said, “Where are you parked? Because you can’t park in the emergency lot.” Their concern for my well-being nearly brought more tears to my eye.

No, I was not checked in. “We can’t help you if you’re not checked in,” the fine health care professionals chimed, not quite in unison. “You can’t park in the emergency lot,” repeated number three.

Where was one to check in, if not in this check-in booth? The hospital admissions office, whose location, indicated with a finger flick, was down a long, long hallway. Could I have a wheelchair? No, not until I was checked in. Could I have an escort to show me the way? No (repeated with some frustration and escalating volume), not until I was checked in. Number three, however, was eager to escort my husband outside to enforce the no-parking-in-the-emergency-lot rule, even though he was not checked in.

I stumbled down the long hall, past all the empty treatment rooms, past two more fine health care professionals coming back in from smoke break, took a left, went down another hall, took a right and then another right and sank into the chair in front of the hospital admissions person.

She was as happy to see me as the fine health care professionals.

With that puffing sigh that gets twelve-year-olds slapped, she glared at me for a moment, then said “I’ll get to you as soon as I’m done with this,” and completed her project with no further eye contact. By the time she was ready to deal with me, my husband was back, and asked me how I was doing. His concern merited another disgusted puff-sigh. But she finished the paperwork, and now that I was checked in, I was eligible for a wheelchair to take me back to the emergency room. Except there weren’t any nearby, so I walked.

Act II: In which I become certain that the local emergency room does suck.
Setting: Hospital emergency room, surrounded by fine health care professionals.

The doctor on call that evening was a small man with a big name. He said little, but got me on an IV drip of Toradol, which quickly made me much, much happier than I had been for many hours. He looked at my history, poked here and prodded there. “Appendicitis,” he pronounced. “We’ll do some tests to make sure. I’ll see if we can find someone do to the surgery.” And he was gone.

One of the smoke-break fine health care professionals came in right afterward. “Appendicitis,” she scoffed. “It’s not appendicitis. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.” I believe I blinked. Probably owlishly.

This lovely team-player and a cohort prepped something I needed to drink before my CAT scan. It was orange flavored and in two styrofoam cups. I needed to chug the first cup right away and drink the second cup as marked. In ballpoint scrawl it said “1015.” It was about 930, so 1015 sounded fine to me.

In the meantime, I was visited by the phlebotomist. She didn’t look like a nightmare. It was a good disguise. “Hello, Bahbarahhhh,” she said in a wispy voice. “I need to get some blood, Bahbarahhhh….” Now, I have champion veins. Until my recent health issues, I was a regular blood donor, my left arm sporting what is known in the trade as a “gusher.” I pointed it out to her. “Oh, that’s nice, Bahbarahhh…” she said, and stuck the needle in my arm. I saw the blood spurt into the tube – and then stop as she pushed the needle straight through the vein. And damn near through my arm. Over and over. Until she gave up and sampled from my IV line. In 48 hours it looked like I’d been mauled by a bear.

Team-player and her friend came in to see if I’d drunk both cups of CAT juice, though it wasn’t yet ten o’clock. And my behavior merited another puff-sigh (apparently a hospital communication method of choice), as “1015” clearly meant “ten to fifteen minutes after the first one.” I started drinking.

Sick people are such a colossal pain in the ass.

The fine health care professionals took my blood pressure a lot, and it was in the “near-death” range. Seriously, like 50 over 30. But even though my corpuscles were creeping along like an overloaded corn truck, they insisted that I get up and walk to the CAT scan. Apparently the wheelchairs stacked in the hallway were only for ambiance.

So get up I did. And the world started going black, from the outside in. I remember telling the fine health care professionals that I was getting dizzy. That everything was gray. My husband’s memory is clearer – he recalls me emphatically stating, “I’m going down!” and then doing just that.

Next thing I knew, I was being yanked from a warm, comforting, black and peaceful place. One of the fine health care professionals had actually had some foresight and, according to my husband, caught my falling body in a wheelchair and rolled me out the door.

I remember being on a gurney in the CAT scan room. Don’t know how that happened. The fine health care professionals told me that I would feel like I had to pee, or that I had just wet myself, but not to worry, it was just a fakeout. And I needed to be very, very still. As I lay there in ultimate stillness, I heard a definite click, then “oops,” then a mumbled apology, and then another click. I wondered if I had just received two scans. When I got my bill, I found out that I had – that first click was $2500, but the second was a bargain at just $1800. That “oops” was a revenue stream.

It was now well after midnight, and all the tests had confirmed appendicitis. Team-player was not happy. The doctor came back in to say he’d found a surgeon for me, up in Springfield. And an ambulance was on its way to take me there.

—Intermission—