Smokers outside the hospital doors (Part 2…)

20 09 2009

Sunday

Here’s the deal with hospitals: They are easily the least restful places on earth.  You’d assume that a place that’s sole purpose is to make people healthy would put a big emphasis on making sure those people are resting well.  But between the twenty-four hour noise going on outside your room and beds that feel like they are made out of plywood, sleep isn’t an easy commodity to come by.  Another problem: The nurses are just dying to take your vitals.  Morning, noon, and night, every hour on the hour, you are guaranteed to hear:

“Hey, Tim, can I just take your vitals real quick?”

It’s 5:45 in the morning.

“No, I’m dead, go away,” I mumble to Hot Young Nurse, who’s hotness and youngness are completely uninteresting to me because of my current lack of sleep.

Hot Young Nurse somehow sees through my “I’m dead” ruse, and takes her precious vitals anyway.  Thermometer in the mouth, blood pressure clamp, the dorky white clip thing they put on your finger for some reason.  Then, sit up and take deep breaths while they listen with the stethoscope for…something.  I don’t know…maybe U2 is doing a concert in my lungs?  Anyway, it must be something good, because they seem to love listening.

“Okay, everything looks good,” HYN tells me.  Yep, just like it did sixty minutes ago.  And will again sixty minutes from now.

I get a little more sleep before I receive a somewhat surprising visit from New Oncologist.  I like New Oncologist, because he’s pretty straightforward, and also because he isn’t a pessimistic creep like Old Oncologist.  However, New Oncologist does have this annoying habits of asking me personal questions about myself in an obvious attempt to form some sort of bond, and then completely tuning out when I answer.  Like now:

“What is that on your screen?” New Oncologist is asking about the desktop background on my laptop.  It’s a cool piece of artwork: A giant sphere consisting of every hole card combination you can be dealt in hold ’em.  I start to explain to him that I downloaded off the internet because I thought it looked cool, but he’s already reading something off his clipboard and not listening.  “Oh, yeah, sure, the internet,” New Oncologist nods and reads.  Just to amuse myself, I think I might just start inserting random things into our conversations to see if he notices:

“So, are you working on any plays now, Tim?”

“Yeah, I’m in a show in St. Paul.”

“Oh, yeah, St. Paul, sure.”

“It’s nice and convenient, because that’s where all my hoe’s operate, so I can pick up my cut when I’m there for rehearsals.”

“Oh, yeah, sure, hoe’s…that’s great.”

New Oncologist starts with a quick apology over the disaster this whole biopsy thing has turned into.  I shrug him off, as blaming doctors for any health problems I have seems counterintuitive.  He then gets into the meat of his visit: “Well, the results of the biopsy are back, and I’m afraid it is positive for melanoma.”  Disappointing, but expected.  And then comes the moment that epitomizes why I love New Oncologist.  It’s at this juncture Old Oncologist would have stared at me, waiting for me to…I don’t know what.  Cry?  Shake my fist at God?  Beg him to tell me he’s joking?  And then he’d ask if I have any questions, and when I inevitably shrug and say “Not really,” he would stare some more, and the whole situation would become more awkward than an escaped fart on a first date.  New Oncologist, however, makes his announcement, casually shrugs as if to say, “So, whatever, that’s what that is,” and then says, “So, here’s our options at this point…”

These “options” are less than exciting, and to my great disappointment not a single one of them involves me banging an asian girl, which I maintain would be the cure for cancer if there actually was a God.  Instead, most of them involve the usual combination of hospitals, drugs, and studies.  Except for one option, and this is the one that is quickly becoming the most appealing to me: Doing nothing.  Now, if you’d have asked me a year ago if  “doing nothing” was ever something I would consider doing if I had cancer, I would have said “fuck no.”  But I’m finally reaching the point where maybe I’ve had one too many needles shoved into my chest, one too many sleepless nights at the hospital, one too many attractive nurses helping me into a hospital gown…

New Oncologist leaves to go do whatever it is oncologists do all day while they are busy not curing cancer.  A different nurse, this one not at all young or hot, and in fact kind of big and scary, tells me the plan is to let me go home today.  So they are going to remove the chest tube?

“No,” she tells me, “you’re going home with it in.”  Um…is that a good idea?  “Well, we’ll prescribe you some pain killers to take with you.”

Sweet?  I weigh the relative pros and cons to going home with a plastic tube sticking out of myself, but getting some sweet pain killing drugs.  I finally rule in favor of  “sweet drugs” and make preparations to head home.  My mom, Aunt B, and Aunt B’s Hippie Boyfriend come and pick me up, and I am allowed to leave after a brief discharge process that takes a mere two and a half hours.

Sitting outside the front doors of the hospital, waiting for my mom to pull the car up, I see a group of a half dozen or so smokers taking desperate drags of their cigarettes.  They are all in hospital gowns; most of them look deathly pale and gaunt, like this is the first time they’ve been outside in years.  The obvious irony of sick people poisoning themselves right outside the building where they are trying to be cured bubbles into my mind for but a moment…but immediately bursts and is replaced by a much more lucent thought.  These people are ill, probably are stuck in this place for far longer stretches than I ever am, and spend a good portion of their day in some combination of pain, fear, or discomfort.  Right now they are outside on a beautiful day, enjoying the simple pleasure of smoking.  Isn’t the physical damage of this activity balanced out by the emotional benefit?  Are we crushing the last shards of our sanity in this place as we try to cure our bodies?

Hell if I know.  And now my mom’s pulling up in the car, so I shove these thoughts away and replace them with the pleasant knowledge of a comfortable bed, vicodin high, and minimum forty-eight hours away from this place that is my immediate future.





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.





Five Wishes…

18 11 2008

When you have a serious illness, hospitals like you to fill out a “living will” that states how you would like your medical affairs handled in the event your condition makes you unable to advocate for yourself.  The hospital I am currently being treated at, St. Johns, has one specifically for their hospital that not only deals with the legal technicalities of medical treatment, but emotional and spiritual decisions as well.  Filling out a living will is a somber, important, sometimes frightening task that should be done with all due seriousness, and with the advice of family and close loved ones, in the privacy of ones home.  So tonight, I thought I’d get drunk and we could fill mine out together!

Come on…it’ll be fun.

WISH 1

The Person I Want To Make Health Care Decisions For Me When I Can’t Make Them For Myself.

Pretty straightforward: Who do I want making my medical decisions if I am in a coma or unable to respond due to failing health.  No mention if it covers me if I can’t make medical decisions due to the fact that I have skipped out on my doctors appointment and am currently using my medical insurance money to enter a poker tournament.  I’m going to assume it does.

I listed as my first person my mom.  Seems like an obvious choice: She has known me the longest and probably would be able to deduce what I want for myself better than anyone.  Also, she is the only person in the world I am nearly 100% convinced isn’t part of a secret government conspiracy to kill me and steal my precious bodily fluids.

In case my first person is dead, incapacitated, or lazy, I need two back-up choices.  For my first backup I listed my sister Amber.  I maybe should have listed her first…she is probably the most level headed person in my family, and unquestionably the most organized.  However, there is still the slight issue of a stolen Teddy Bear and its untimely demise from when we were toddlers, and I’d hate to have the plug pulled out from me just because my sister is still broken up about Mr. Wiggles.

For my third choice…and it is here that I depressingly realize I have no third choice.  I decide to list my dad because I can’t think of anyone else, but quite frankly if it comes down to him, I suspect that hospital staff will be too busy listening to his complaints of how badly his back hurts to worry about me at all.

After filling out the names, I notice this at the bottom of the page:

Choose someone who knows you very well, cares about you, and can make difficult decisions.  A spouse or family member may not be the best choice because they are too emotionally involved.

Well fuck.  NOW you tell me this.  If there is any two people in the world that are too emotional, it is my mom and sister.  Hmm…

After giving it some thought, I decide to scratch out all three choices and replace them all with former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher.  Bill Cowher doesn’t know me well, and I have no idea if he cares about me, though I’d like to believe he does.  But he’s definitely a man that can make difficult decisions.  If you can figure out whether or not to go for it on 4th and 2 with 1:13 left in a tie ballgame, I think a little something like whether or not a 30-year old cancer patient should continue to live or die should be a snap.

WISH 2

My Wish For The Kind Of Medical Treatment I Want Or Don’t Want.

This section contains statements that you are supposed to cross out if you don’t agree with them.  The first statement is:

I do not want to be in pain.

God damn, if only my college exams were this easy.  Yes, I am quite amicable to agreeing to that statement.  No crossed lines yet.

I do not want anything done or omitted by my doctors or nurses with the intention of taking my life.

This magical document is reading my mind.  It’s like it knows me personally and has already figured out what I want.  Yes, magical living will, I do not want my doctors to purposely not do something in order to kill me.  Good call.

WISH 3

My Wish For How Comfortable I Want To Be.

This is a fun section.  If this is any indication, being almost dead will be far more pleasant than my daily life.

I do not want to be in pain.

Yes, I am still in agreement with this.

I wish to have a cool moist cloth put on my head if I have a fever.

Fine.  But just the cool, moist cloth.  No gay stuff.

I wish to have warm baths often.  I wish to be kept fresh and clean at all times.

Um, sure, why not?  Might be a nice change of pace from my currently lifestyle…

I wish to be massaged with warm oils as often as I can be.

Yes, please.

The only statement I cross out is this one: I wish to have religious readings and well-loved poems read aloud when I am near death.

Open message to my friends and family: if anyone is reading any “well-loved poems” in my room when I am about to kick the bucket, I am rising out of my bed, and my sick ass is taking you to the next life with me.  You stand warned.

WISH 4

My Wish For How I Want People To Treat Me.

Most of these are fairly obvious and uninteresting.  Several involve praying.  I cross them out.  The only time I want to hear God’s name invoked is when I’m in bed with a girl…if you get my drift.  Huh, huh, do ya?  Ya get it?

I’m talking about banging a chick and having her say “Oh God.”  Just thought we should clear that up.

One interesting statement: I wish to be cared for with kindness and cheerfulness, and not sadness.

I do want that, but at the same time, there is something creepy about the idea of being in my hospital room, dying, and my nurse walks in humming the theme to Mr. Rogers and makes me a balloon animal.  I’m not sure how I will feel about that…

WISH 5

My Wish For What I Want My Loved Ones To Know.

I wish for my family and friends to know that I love them.

I wish to be forgiven for the times I have hurt my family, friends, and others.

I wish to have my family, friends, and others know that I forgive them for when they may have hurt me in my life.

I want memories of my life to give [my family and friends] joy and not sorrow.

I don’t cross out any of these.

Finally, there is a space asking what I would like done with my body, with the option to circle “buried” or “cremated.”  I cross out both of these and write in the margin: I want my body stuffed, placed in the entry way of my home, and posed the way my family and friends will surely remember me–a sexy facial expression, my crotch thrusting outwards past my torso, and arms gesturing alluringly towards my body as if to say “I know you want a piece of this…”

Because nothing sums up my life like implied necrophilia.