Smokers outside the hospital doors (Part 1…)

15 09 2009

The saddest thing that I’d ever seen
Were smokers outside the hospital doors

–Editors (“Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors”)

Friday

“Are you nervous?”

This question is posed to me by a plump, very friendly looking nurse.  I shake my head.  I’m not nervous.  At least, I wasn’t nervous.  But now this nurse, who presumably has been involved with a lung biopsy far more often than my zero times, is asking me if I’m nervous in a way that subtly indicates to me that, yes, I should be nervous.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Friendly Nurse informs me.  “You’ll just feel a little pressure.”

I just go ahead and assume she doesn’t mean emotional pressure.

“Also, you’ll hear a small ‘click’ when the doctor takes the sample.”

Did not need that information.  I don’t need to know the exact moment a chunk of my lung is being torn away.

I’ve been laying on the exam table for almost twenty minutes now, waiting for the doctor to begin a lung biopsy procedure that I am undergoing to confirm that my cancer is, in fact, cancer, because that seems like an important piece of information that a person would probably want to be 100% clear on, which is why the doctors rushed me right through and made sure I had this biopsy a mere twelve months after my initial diagnosis.  The doctor performing the procedure is taking his sweet ass time getting to me.  Apparently he is examining my chest scans to find a good “sample.”  Friendly Nurse and I discover that we both went to Winona State for college while making small talk, and we pass the time with an awkward chat about the pleasant beauty of that small town; it being awkward, of course, because I am shirtless, laying in a prone position, and my super manly physique is obviously making her sexually aroused.  Or bored.  I have trouble telling those two apart.

Finally, the doctor, a rather dour looking fellow of indeterminate age, decides he’s ready to give this thing a go.  “Okay,” Dr. Sourpuss addresses me, “I was just taking my time, trying to find a suitable sample.  I was looking at the cysts on your lungs…”

Okay…

“…and there are many, many cysts,” the dour doctor informs me, dourly.

I inwardly curse Dr. Sourpuss for going out of his way to remind me that not only do I have cancer, but apparently I have a huge surplus of cancer.  Then I remind myself that this is how hospitals operate: the nurses are there to comfort, care, and baby you…the doctors are there to fix you.  And they aren’t particularly concerned with being nice while they do.

Dr. Sourpuss goes through the risks of this procedure, the same speech I heard from New Oncologist when we decided to do this.  One of the risks includes something called pneumothorax…which sounds awesomely like a particularly deadly breed of prehistoric beast…but is just a condition caused when a biopsy collapses the patients lung.  I’m told this only happens in one of ten cases.

As always happens when I am quoted numbers, I immediately put things into poker terms: 1 in 10.  I’m 90% NOT to have a collapsed lung.  So…I have pocket aces, and pneumothorax is holding 7-2.  Well, I’m insta-shipping my money in with those odds in poker, so I’m feeling pretty good about this…

“So…” Dr. Sourpuss is talking while he pulls out a needle that looks like it should be a joke prop in a movie about someone who is scared of needles.  I’m not, but…holy shit that’s a big needle.  “This won’t hurt a bit,”  Dr. Sourpuss informs me.

Approximately 45 seconds later, I feel something that vaguely feels like someone driving a knife into my chest.  I’ve never had a knife driven into my chest, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that statement…but let’s just say if you imagined what you thought having a knife driven into you would feel like, that’s about what I was feeling.

Dr. Sourpuss sees my grimace and says, “That’s just me going into your lung.”

Right.  Except you said it wouldn’t hurt, and now it’s hurting, so maybe something is going wrong, and maybe we should rethink this a bit?  I try to calmly explain all this to him in those very words, but I’m in too much pain and it comes out as something like, “Ghaaarrrrrffffuuuu…”

I hear the “snap” the nurse warned me about.  The doctor pulls out the needle, and though I am in agony, I realize it’s over and it’s all sunshine and puppy dog kisses from here.

“Oops,” says Dr. Sourpuss, “that didn’t work.”

Apparently that sample was too small, and Dr. Sourpuss needs to try again…from the other side.  After giving me a few minutes to writhe in agony, the nurses help me flip over onto my stomach.  The second time hurts only 95% as much as the first time.

After the biopsy is done, they give me a chest x-ray and inform me that…CONGRATULATIONS! I am one of the lucky 10% who won themselves a collapsed lung.  Apparently I run as bad medically as I do in poker.  Another doctor, who I can’t picture in my memory because I was in too much pain to focus, tells me to go home and come back for another x-ray tomorrow, because the pneumothorax would probably heal itself overnight.

Probably?

Faceless doctor nods and smiles.  “Yeah…probably.”

Saturday

“Do you currently have medical insurance?” Front Desk Receptionist Lady asks me.  This is the second time in two days I’ve gone through this particular series of questions.  You’d think they’d…I don’t  know…write this stuff down somewhere.

“No,” I reply.

“Are you currently employed?”

Jesus Christ.  I sigh.  “No.”  I also haven’t gotten laid in nearly six months…I wonder if FDRL would like to ask me about that as well, as long as we are in the “All About Tim’s Pathetic Life” category of the Q&A session.

FDRL slaps a plastic hospital bracelet on me and sends me on my way to radiology, where after a short wait I am met with yet another new doctor, this one an impossibly friendly young fellow.  I don’t know if he was a pediatrician in training or a former kindergarten teacher, but he discussed my situation with me using phrases like “Everything’s going to be cool” and “You’re going to be okay, guy.”

Guy?

Dr. Nicely-Nicely informs me that my pneumothorax is not getting any better, and he thinks our best move would be to insert a chest tube that will suck the air out of my chest cavity.  He goes over the benefits of this route, but concludes by saying, “But, you know, it’s up to you, guy.”

It’s up to me?  I mean, I consider myself a reasonably intelligent adult, but I feel wildly unequipped for the task of deciding whether or not this very kind gentleman I just met should shove a tube in me.  I’m not even sure what to base this decision on.  So I do what I always do when I am unsure about a decision…I flip a mental coin in my head.  The mental coin comes up tails.

“Hey, all right,” I say.  “Let’s get a tube up in me.”

*****

Laying on yet another exam table, yet another nurse is asking me, “Are you nervous?”

Aw, shit.

“Well, I am now,” I mumble to myself.

Dr. Nicely-Nicely enters and immediately starts being nice.  “Okay, guy, we’re going to go real slow on this.”  He explains to me the basic procedure that, once you get past all the medical jargon, basically boiled down to this:

Putting in Chest Tube Procedure:

Step 1: Drill hole in chest
Step 2: Put tube in chest hole
Step 3: Lunch break

Dr. Nicely-Nicely steps over to the exam table, pulls out yet another obnoxiously sized needle, looks down at me and says, “Don’t worry guy, this won’t hurt a bit.”

Aw, shit.

Saturday (Later)

It did hurt a bit, but my reward was a high dose of some sort of pain killing drug injected straight into my IV.  I knew it was the good stuff, because despite the fact that I was condemned to spending the night in the hospital, I was feeling pretty warm, happy, and sexy.  My mom was nice enough to bring me my laptop, and I settled in for a night of watching crappy movies and floating on a drug-induced joy cloud.

Except…

A disturbing trend developed as the night wore on.   Every time I went to the bathroom to pee…I couldn’t.  Like, I needed to pee, but when I went to go, nothing would come out.  I started panicking.  After my surgery last year I had this same problem, and they put a catheter in me, and between me and you, I’d rather just die.  I vowed I’d take a life before I let them do that to me again…however as the night got later, I realized the problem couldn’t be ignored, and I would have to tell someone.

That lucky someone happened to be my nurse at the time.  And because I run as bad socially as I do medically and at poker, my nurse at the time happened to be an extremely attractive girl who looked to be a few years younger than me.  The next time she comes into my room to check up to me, I tell her I have a problem.

“I don’t know exactly how to put this,” I said, “but, uh…I can’t pee.”

The look in this young girls eyes as I say this phrase was one I’ve grown all too accustomed to seeing in my adult life.  It was the look of someone who has decided with absolute certainty that there is 100% no way they will ever have sex with you, ever.  Having established that, I decide I might as well go for broke: “I really don’t want a tube shoved in my penis, if you don’t mind, but I just thought I should report this problem.  Do you think it might be from the pain killers?”

“I…don’t…think so.”  My heart swells with genuine pity for this girl.  I don’t envy anyone who has to be my nurse, because I’m mostly ridiculous and when I get sick I tend to barf on the walls rather than into a receptacle.  Nevertheless, the kind nurse fetchs the little machine (I didn’t get its name) that they use to measure how much urine is actually in your bladder.  Apparently, it wasn’t really much.  “Just keep drinking water and trying to go,” Hot Young Nurse tells me.  “You should be fine.”

I should be fine.

It is now going on 4 am.  I can’t sleep because I’ve been sleeping on and off all day, and also I am addicted to sleeping aids and I have none with me.  All the good TV is done for the day, and the hospitals internet connection doesn’t seem to work well for streaming videos off the internet.  Facebook is empty of people to talk to, probably because everyone is in bed.  I’m bored, lonely, and I have to pee.

“Hospitals suuuuuck,” I whisper into the darkness around me.  I take its silence as agreement.


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2 responses

17 09 2009
nikki

I totally agree. Let us never visit them again!

16 10 2009
Tamcatt

I can’t believe all you went through and still get me laughing!
Glad you are staying busy and doing what you love. . . except maybe that asian girl! we’ll have to find one for you for Christmas!!! ^..^

(I had a liver biopsy many years ago and I don’t think it’s a needle,guy! I think it’s a mini-cork screw they pull a chunck of meat out with! Damn dr’s and nurses always say it won’t hurt! ya, them! told me the liver has no nerve endings so I won’t feel a thing, ya right! Idiots!)
Anyhoo, thanks for sharing your adventures!

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