So, in the ICU, they need to get an IV in me. I’ve always been a “hard prick,” as they say in the profession, because my veins are small and deep. They usually have to go in through the hand eventually. My nurse was really nice and trying her best, but she couldn’t get anything. I’m not afraid of needles and, as you know, I am definitely not a baby about pain, but I had more needles in me than a fucking Christmas tree and three of them collapsed the vein, leaving me with wonderful huge bruises that I am going to somehow explain to clients.
They were about to bring in a physician to put the needle IN MY NECK, but another nurse finally got one in–the ulnar artery in the wrist, which is usually a last resort, but who cares, it worked.
They gave me some liquid valium and my body finally relaxed for the first time in days. It was wonderful. Then they started draining bags and bags of saline into my dehydrated mummy body.
The doctor on rotation, who was a woman who seemed nice and not an asshole (which is always a relief after knowing the Surgeon) came in and asked me what was going on and about my DTs and how long I’d been drinking and been sober blah blah the usual. I told her I hallucinated.
“Spiders? They almost always see spiders at night. On the ceiling,” she said.
Holy shit, I thought.
“No, there were two apparitions in my room talking to me but I couldn’t understand because they were murmuring. I was asking them why they were there and what they wanted. I knew I was hallucinating and I would close my eyes and say to myself ‘I am Margo Adler and this is my bedroom and this cannot be happening, and when I open my eyes, they will be gone.’ But when I opened my eyes they were still there. I knew they would go away when the daylight came. I wasn’t scared of them because they were not trying to hurt me. I was only scared because I knew I was seeing things that were not there. I even tried to touch them.”
“That’s a new one,” she said, not sarcastically.
She went away and I relaxed blissfully with the valium. I was extremely thirsty but they wouldn’t give me any water, just the IV.
Doctor came back in with my test results.
“Well, your liver enzymes are slightly elevated, but it’s healthy. Bad news about the pancreas. Your pancreas is really mad at you. It’s scarred.”
“Pancreas?” I asked, confused. Pancreas never occurred to me. I was worried about the liver.
“It’s moderate damage and it can be at least partially healed. For now, your stomach must remain totally empty. Not even water. I’ll give you small amounts of ice chips. In a few days, you can start a liquid diet.”
Well, okay. Sorry, pancreas, but the bullshit I put you through.
Valium wore off and then shit got gnarly. They hooked me up to an EKG and periodically my heart rate would shoot up to 170 or 180. Then my blood pressure would drop to 85 or 90/60. I was sweating the freezing cold. A nice nurse wrapped me up in warm blankets. He put socks on my feet. He was very compassionate and did not make me feel like a scumbag.
Then a psych nurse came in and asked me questions like who was the president, and what year it was, and what was my full name, and did I know where I was? I was cogent so I knew.
They gave me pills for my heart, liquid potassium that tasted like shit (I didn’t complain), librium, and ativan. Despite being doped to the gills, I would have attacks of pure anxiety, even terror, that would last for minutes, and I would close my eyes and shake my head and whisper no no no no no no. I knew it was irrational because I was in a safe space and it just meant my brain was broken.
Then my legs totally cramped up and I could not bend my knees. Get this: they put a diaper on me just in case because I could not walk to the bathroom (for the record, at least I did not need to pee my diaper, thank God). They also put an alarm under my body so that they would know if I got out of bed, because they were worried I’d fall and break my fucking skull, which is hilarious, because I couldn’t get out of that bed if a ravenous polar bear charged into the room and wanted to eat me.
“Is this normal? and my panic attacks?” I asked the nurse.
“Totally normal,” she said.
Holy shit, I thought.
“I’m not paralyzed forever, right?” I asked.
“It’ll pass,” she said.
After a day, when they were sure they had me under control and I was no longer dying, they moved me to the alcoholic psych ward. It was small and I had only one roommate, who, blessedly, was quiet and slept all the time. She was discharged and I had the place to myself for a few hours. I felt good enough to watch TV, so I watched Judge Judy, which was a really bad idea. And I sucked greedily on ice chips.
Then the nasty junkie bitch moved in.
I can’t judge addicts because I’m one myself. But there is no reason to push it onto other people. The staff at the hospital loved me; I overheard the nurses talking about me at shift rotation and they said I was very pleasant and “totally compliant.” This woman was not.
She was 60 years old, a dilaudid addict who also used Oxycontin and who knows what else. She was screaming at the staff–not politely asking or explaining–that she needed her shot RIGHT NOW because she was “in pain.”
Yeah, lady, that pain is called “withdrawal” and you have to get through it if you ever want to get healthy again. Why are you here if you don’t want to get better?
The nurse calmly explained that she could not give her a shot for another two hours because that was the schedule.
“I’m not going to ask you again! Give me my shot NOW!” screamed the woman, as if she had anything to threaten this nurse with. Making demands of the staff, ha…ha…ha. Let me know how that goes for you.
“I can’t do that for two hours. I can give you one Oxy.”
Woman proceeded to fake-cry and whine loudly for the next two hours about being “in pain” and how this wasn’t a “real hospital” because “nobody cared about her.”
This continued for the next few days. When she got her shot, she passed out for a few hours and blessed silence reigned once again. I finally got to start eating pudding and chicken broth and water. My tremors stopped. I started to think clearly again (well, clearer). Otherwise, I slept as much as possible, when it was quiet.
The staff would come four times a night to take my blood pressure or draw a little blood out of my hand. It only took 5 minutes because it was just taking blood and not an IV (I was still taking saline, by the way). I didn’t mind. I always said thank you for your help.
The nasty junkie next door woke me up at least 4 times a night ringing madly for the nurse and demanding her dilaudid. When they explained they couldn’t give it to her yet, she’d fight with them over it, as if she was the only human being in the room and I didn’t need to sleep at 3 AM. She started wetting the bed on purpose and saying “HA! There, YOU clean it up, since I’m sick and you won’t give me my medicine!”
The long-suffering young nurse’s assistant would sigh and say, “I’m not certified to give you any medication at all, even if a doctor said you should have it. I can’t give any prescription meds, only things like Tylenol.”
The junkie accused her of being a liar while the poor girl dutifully cleaned the bed, changed the sheet, and got the woman a new robe.
When she wasn’t howling at the staff or complaining about her “pain,” she tried to talk to me. Constantly.
“Aren’t these people awful?”
“Actually, everyone I’ve met has been very professional and compassionate. I’ve been very impressed, actually. I expected to be mostly ignored, especially because I don’t have insurance.”
“HA! I send all my medical bills to Michelle Obama! She can pay for them, with that goddamned Obamacare!”
I bet your creditors and collections agencies are really going to respect that decision, I thought.
This woman hates the Obamas. Especially Michelle, for some reason. Here she is, in the hospital, complaining to a complete stranger (and whoever she was talking to periodically on her cell phone) about how much she hates President Obama and Obamacare. She even called him the N-word once. (I feel childish saying “N-word” but I also feel uncomfortable saying the word nigger, so it’s a dilemma).
“Did you know that for two years I sent so many phone calls, letters, and emails to Obama that I got notification from the government that I was forbidden to contact him anymore? That’s why I write to Michelle instead,” she said.
Jesus fucking Christ. I interned for a US Senator. Like all major politicians, he got a shit-ton of nasty, complaining, demanding, petulant, critical communications every single day (one of my duties was to answer some of the simpler, more common communications, but I read a lot of the others. The most memorable was a guy who wrote his Senator a very angry email because there was a dead raccoon on the street by house, hit by a car, and it had been lying there for a week and nobody had done anything about it! I’ll never forget that one. If it bothers you that much, jackass, get a shovel and throw it in a bag in the trash!). It’s water off a duck’s back to politicians unless you’re sending death threats or threatening family members or doing some serious stalking, like taking pictures of their house across the street. Do you realize how far you have to go to have the Secret Service or authorized staff visit you or send you official legal communication that you are FORBIDDEN to contact the politician again? You have to be batshit crazy. Ted Kaczynski obsessed, although, obviously, I doubt this woman ever taught Mathematics at UC Berkeley. Ted was nuts, but at least he had a few brain cells to rub together.
She had other noxious opinions she shared with me or with her friends on her cell phone, apropos of nothing. She was mad about “Obamaphones.” First, the Obama administration did not, and COULD NOT, create a program to give cell phones to welfare recipients. There is such a thing called jurisdiction. The president cannot just do whatever the hell he feels like doing, which is why Gitmo is still open. It is, in fact, a federal program that offers reimbursement to pre-paid cell-phone companies who offer phone service to qualified (very) low-income people. It’s a spin-off of the LIFELINE PROGRAM implemented in 1984 under that great champion of the poor, RONALD REAGAN (I know all this shit because it’s what I devoted my academic life to studying when I was a professional scholar, instead of whatever the hell it is I am today).
These “Obamaphones” are shitty little flip-open trak phones that cost $9.99 at Kmart and they get 70 free minutes a month.
Now, the most GERMANE thing here, is that I am sure this dilauded junkie is unemployed and has been for some time, unless she’s a housewife, she’s sending her bill to Michelle Obama instead of Medicaid or trying to make payments on it, AAAANNNND–
How the hell is a welfare recipient supposed to get a job, any job, without a telephone? Think about it. You fill out an application and the movie theater wants to hire you to work the ticket booth or snack counter. How do they contact you to come in for an interview? Or the Temp agency? Are they supposed to send you a message by a fucking carrier pigeon? If your kid gets sick at school, how are they going to reach you to come pick her up?
On the third day, I was coherent enough to speak intelligently and I was completely fed up with her.
“I’m sending my bill to Michelle Obama!” she repeated for the millionth time, like Michelle held a gun to her head and made her a pathetic bitter narcotic junkie. Like Michelle is actually going to reach into her handbag and cut a check. Maybe send flowers and a “Get well soon!” card.
“I think Michelle’s great! I actively campaigned for Obama and voted for him both times, and my candidate won, both times! I also interned for (famous Democratic Senator junkie lady hates), and I used his letter of recommendation to help me get into my Ph.D program in New York (junkie lady hates NYC and San Francisco)!”
(Now, it’s true that a few of these statements are exaggerations or lies–the Senator did write me a letter, but I was only an undergrad, for example–but who cares? It’s not like I was lying to the IRS. I was just lying to piss her off.)
Her mouth dropped open. She’s one of those conservatives who lives in such a tight little conservative bubble, such an echo chamber–all Fox news, all talk radio, all Republican friends, all Free Republic forum (if this babe can even write), all conservative Church–that she just automatically assumes everyone thinks like she does. She thinks leftists can only be identified if they’re wearing tie-dyed t-shirts, man-sandals, and peace medallions, coming back from Burning Man.
She never spoke to me again, which was a huge relief. The whining and fake crying and transparent attempts to manipulate the staff continued. She refused to let them bathe her, either in the shower or a sponge birdbath. She complained about the food, as if it wasn’t being made in a hospital (I bet when she’s home high on narcotics she’s a real Cordon Bleu chef, boy, I wish I was invited to some of her dinner parties!).
Meanwhile, I was getting healthier every day. I could read again, so I read Harper’s and National Geographic. My legs worked again and they let me go for short walks with a walker (just in case) up and down the hall a few times. I became fatigued very quickly, but that’s because I was still sick and I couldn’t have been eating more than 600 kcal/day. It was still pudding and broth for every meal. Sometimes chocolate milk.
A group of residents from the local med school came to see me. I knew they were residents because they were so young, and in a group. I apologized for looking like a scrub (unwashed hair, no makeup). I tried to make a joke: “I didn’t think I was going to run into Liam Neeson around here!”
They asked me all about the symptoms I had before I came in and then told me that all my test signs had improved, and my liver enzymes were down (already?) and even my pancreas looked better and my blood pressure was stable and blah blah blah. They wanted to see if I could eat solid food.
I told them that it hurt really, really badly to swallow. Not so much in my throat, but further down.
That is because I burned the hell out of my esophagus puking up acidic stomach bile for 11 hours (I’m on 3 medications for that now so that it can heal and I can eat. God bless lidocaine and sucralfate). They said, “Well, GERD does hurt.” No, doc, this is not just GERD.
Anyway, I wanted to get out of there, so I forced myself to eat a small pancake. It hurt. I ate it anyway. Once it was in my stomach, it didn’t hurt at all. It was just getting it down.
Then I did something bad. I cheated.
I closed the curtain to my room, wrapped the other pancake in a paper towel, and shoved it down the front of my underwear. I left two pieces on the plate to say that I “couldn’t finish it.” Ah yes, an old trick from my anorexic days. I know how to get rid of food or hide it secretly or discreetly in a million ways.
I went to the bathroom, broke it up into lots of little pieces, and flushed it in 3 parts.
The doctors were happy. I was free to go. IV came out. Mom drove me back to her house, where I stayed in the guest bedroom for a week. I went to see a Gastro doc and he put me on these meds that are making me better already and I can drink water in small mouthfuls. I can’t eat real food easily yet, but I can eat yogurt and frozen yogurt and bananas (even tho I hate bananas, but they are good for my heart, and soft, and I do not want to have a heart attack). I drink Ensure, that drink for old people that is a meal replacement, and slim-fast, which reminds me of (bad) old times, but at least it has lots of nutrition. I make protein shakes with soy milk. If I have to eat something more substantial, I take a dose of lidocaine, which works for about 30 minutes. That shit is great.
My house is clean because I had it cleaned by a professional cleaner before I got home. I am still weak and I have to rest for 30 minutes after I do anything strenuous, but my plants are alive and Abe is back home, and last night I slept for 9 hours in my nice clean bed, and I didn’t see any shadow men.
And I lost almost 15 lbs. So, something good came out of it. From the outside, I look great. Healthy.
The inside, though, is not so pretty.