Doctors don’t always agree on treatment, even in the rare event that they all have the same information at the same time. I had one internist, one infectious disease specialist, and one surgeon looking over my case. They were all kind. They were all busy. The information flows sluggishly through hospital filters, for reasons too arcane and manifold to list. So you have to ask a lot of questions. You have to remember what one doctor said and make sure your nurses and other doctors know what you know. But even then there’s miscommunication. It can’t be helped. As tired and awful as you feel, you have to be alert and sharp. If you’re lucky enough to have a loving advocate like a spouse, parent, or sibling, give that person all the information you get. People make mistakes. Even experts. It’s okay until it isn’t.
I went into the MRI machine for my leg. To cover the deafening noise of the machine, they piped pop music into my headset. I lay there and listened and tried not to move. The results of the MRI might determine if the surgeon would cut into my leg. Anxiety tightened everything to a high whine. The MRI field trip was a welcome break from the monotony of television shows watched on Netflix. I chatted with the intern who wheeled me to and from the MRI chamber. Despite everything, I made extra effort to be friendly and polite to everyone. Cracked jokes. I can do that with young women and not be creepy. Dad jokes. Most of the time I don’t know what to say to anyone.
The surgeon looked at the results a day later and said that he didn’t think surgery was necessary. You can imagine my relief. The swelling had subsided some. Despite the pain, I was improving, bit by bit. Then the infectious disease doctor came by and hinted at potential surgery again. Then the internist said the same thing. Cutting into me was back on the menu. What I didn’t know then was that they hadn’t spoken to the surgeon, so they didn’t get the memo. A fear-filled day passed. Then they all talked to each other. The infectious disease doctor thought I should have surgery, but the surgeon didn’t, so they went with the surgeon. When the person whose job it is to wield scalpels doesn’t want to cut into you, it sends a powerful message.
I felt good enough to eat a little more. I had no appetite, but I had to eat. I’d lost over twenty pounds. I’m not terribly unhappy about that, because they were pounds off my gut and face. That’s not a bad weight loss plan. To get food, your doctor assigns you a menu. For whatever reason I was assigned the Heart Healthy menu. You call the number on your menu and pick what you want for your meal. For breakfast every day I had fruit and a yogurt drink. You have to eat yogurt because the antibiotics kill the flora living in your gut and you don’t want to spend your hospital visit shitting brown water all day long into the miserable commode under the sink. I hated yogurt, so I got the yogurt drink. The drink wasn’t so bad. I also found that I don’t hate yogurt anymore. So I eat it every day now. For lunch I’d get a sandwich and the yogurt drink. For dinner, two yogurt drinks. I wasn’t hungry for anything else. Sometimes I’d get a small packet of Lorna Doone cookies that I’d eat if I wanted to celebrate something, like not having to go under the knife or being able to sleep more than 40 minutes at a time. You count your blessings.
Every morning around 3:00 someone would come in to take blood from me. A couple of times it was the same phlebotomist with an Eastern European accent, which tickled me to no end. At least she didn’t bite my neck. Eventually they got enough of my blood to narrow down the infection and give me more specific antibiotics. Now the question was: when would I leave? I’d been here for the best part of a week. One day they told me I’d be out by Friday. The next day they told me it might not be until Monday. I was reaching the end of my rope. I had to get out of there.
On Thursday they told me I was getting out the next day. I’d have to have a nurse come to my home a few days a week to change my bandages, but that was okay. That was…heaven. A final night, with more blood draws, blood pressure checks, stomach injections, and IV changes. My wife came by the next morning and waited with me. She’ll never know how much better she made me feel, just being there. I think they were probably sending me home because they’d done a bed count and had to close my ward anyway for lack of patients. Getting me out of their hair.
When I got home Friday I took a look at myself in the mirror and didn’t recognize the gaunt, hollow-eyed face staring back at me. He looked exhausted, with a head of thinning hair and a full beard. Who the hell was that? I’d shrunk. At least I was home. The worst part was over.
Later that day my wife went shopping and bought me a box of Lorna Doone cookies because I’d liked them in the hospital. I couldn’t help but laugh.