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3:03 p.m. - 2004-08-04
Crazy for ICU...Or, What I Did Not Do on My Summer Vacation
Crazy for ICU...Or, What I Did NOT Do on My Summer Vacation


You may now be thinking to yourself that this is either (a) a critique of has-been rock stars trying to relive their glory days by charging too much for tickets or (b) a rave about how amazing the concert was. Well, you would be wrong. This is a story about why you should never create unnecessary drama, and what is wrong with health-care professionals in this country.

Our story begins at the end of June. My gay ex-boyfriend (GEB, for short—long story) calls me at work freaking out because he won tickets to see Madonna's concert in Chicago July 11th. Well, I assume that (a) since I'm his best friend and have been for a long, long time and (b) he called me first to tell me, that I am accompanying him to the concert. Plus, his ass is in law school and he's poor, and I have a decent job and a decent car which can finance and make the trip. Silly me. I should have known it wouldn't be that easy. Gay men can create drama out of a simple phone call to decide what time to go out Saturday night.

Enter GEB's ex-boyfriend and alleged friend. He was next on the call list, and then, I get this e-mail asking if HE can go to the concert instead. GEB's ex lives in another city, and he sure as hell won't pay for GEB's plane ticket. However, GEB still wants this ex to be his current, so he attempted to blow me off in pursuit of the dick. After many emotionally-charged e-mails back and forth between all three of us, he finally saw the light and said I could go.

On July 7th, I wake up feeling like my entire intestinal tract is being inhabited by angry aliens. The 8th and 9th are not any better. We are scheduled to depart for Chicago (a 12 hour drive, we're too poor to fly) on July 10th. Well, I don't feel better. I'm in tears. I'm in pain. All I want is to sleep with occasional breaks to drink Gatorade and eat saltines. But, of course, being the idiot I am, I made the hotel reservations on Hotwire…in my name….so I had to be there or GEB would be sleeping at the bus station. I had no choice but to go. We stop at the gas station, I grab my trusty Gatorade & crackers, and we hit the road for "my kind of town."

The drive, luckily, is fairly uneventful, and it is not marred by any run-ins with the highway patrol. After a few wrong turns, we finally find our (unmarked) hotel, and are pleasantly surprised by its cleanly newness. I still feel like shit, but at least I'm not puking. That all changes the following morning….

July 11th. I get up, take a shower, and am brushing my teeth when I notice that the whites of my eyes are a little yellowish. Attributing this somewhat ominous development to the fluorescent light in the bathroom, I shrug it off. However, upon application of the toothbrush to my upper palate, I suddenly get back in touch with my old buddy Ralph.

At this point, GEB suddenly realizes that I'm not making up this whole being sick thing, and he gently suggests that perhaps I should go to the doctor. At this point, it's 10:30 a.m. We have to be downtown at the concert arena by 6:30 p.m. I locate a 24-hour minor emergency clinic in the phone book, and after a seriously shitty set of directions from the receptionist, several wrong turns, and another set of directions from a gas station attendant, we finally locate said minor emergency clinic. Luckily, I didn't have to wait that long.

The nurse whisks me back into the innards of the facility, weighs me, takes my blood pressure, takes my temperature, makes me pee in a cup the size of the one that comes with cough syrup, and then sticks me with what will be the first of many needles. After filling at least four or five multicolored test tubes with my blood, she tells me to lay on a gurney and stabs me with yet another needle to start some IV fluids.

After what seems like a year, the doctor comes in and tells me that my liver enzymes are elevated off the charts. This begins the first set of questions about my alcohol consumption habits. Seeing as how I'm really an occasional (like once a month) social drinker, I know that this does not have a damn thing to do with what is wrong with me. After establishing I'm not an alcoholic on the edge of liver failure, he tells me he's sending me to the emergency room for an ultrasound, because they think I have gallstones. I did inform the doctor and nurse that we had somewhere to be later in the evening (by this time it was about 12:45 p.m.), and they said that it wouldn't be a problem.

Flash forward to emergency room. After a short wait involving some screaming children and parents, I am taken to a room. At this point, I am in pain, scared, tired, and cranky as hell. They come in and played with the IV some more, then got out the test tubes and the needles again. This time, the tech missed, mumbled something about a smaller needle (apparently, my veins are the size of Asian vermicelli) and came back with an allegedly smaller needle….and left me with my first set of bruises.

This whole time, I have not once been offered anything for pain, nausea, or my general comfort. Finally, when the nurse comes in to tell me my ultrasound will be at 3:30 p.m., I start bitching about how miserable I am….so it finally dawns on them that maybe I need something besides a saline drip.

At last, I am wheeled to a dimly lit chamber, where an attractive man awaits with some warm lubricant. Sadly, this was only the ultrasound technician, but it was the high point of my whole hospital experience (other than 2 days of morphine derivatives, that is.)

By the time they come back with the results of the ultrasound, it's 5 p.m. Surprisingly, no obvious gallstones. Do you think this means I get to leave and go to the concert and follow up with my primary care physician? Don't be ridiculous. I am informed that I will staying overnight, and CAT scans are mentioned. Somehow, that doesn't really compare to a free concert, but I am on enough drugs by this point that my disappointment is muted. I tell GEB to go ahead and go, because one of us should at least be having some actual fun.

The wheels of the gurney once again roll, this time upstairs to a room. My roommate is very old. I will later discover that she is also (a) not a native English speaker and (b) very hard of hearing. I am connected to various monitors, given instructions on the TV remote and call button, and then pretty much left to entertain myself until it's time for my next shot. They even give me some footie slipper socks in a lovely shade of puke beige (which coordinates effortlessly with the blue and purple patterned hospital gown), in case I want to go to the bathroom. Not like I need to….I haven't had anything to actually drink in about 12 hours.

3 a.m., July 12th. The night nurses come in and decide that they need some more blood, because clearly the first 12 test tubes weren't adequate. Conveniently, they decide to stab me with needles BEFORE my next pain shot. I always love the feeling of being probed with sharp objects when I'm half awake at 3 in the morning in an unfamiliar setting.

4 a.m., July 12th. The monitor attached to the IV line starts beeping endlessly. I can't tell if it's mine or my neighbor's. Nurse finally arrives to shut it off, after 10 minutes. Glad it wasn't telling them someone's heart quit beating.

7 a.m., July 12th. Shift change. The morning nurse and lab techs arrive. At this point, we're approaching 24 hours without liquid refreshment. I complain of dehydration. They explain that I'm getting plenty of fluids and I can't have any liquids because of more planned tests and/or surgery. After they leave, I go to the bathroom and drink from the faucet. They can kiss my ass.

Here's me in the hospital...dehydrated as hell. Note the Michael Jackson-like glove. It was to keep the IV in place, or make me look like a retard. Not sure which.

10 a.m., July 12th. More needles. More bruises. More painkillers. By this point, GEB has arrived. He asks the nurse when a physician might be arriving. The nurse makes noise about surgery in the mornings and emergencies and doesn't venture a guess. Luckily, I had GEB bring clean underwear and real pajamas, or I really would be cranky. I kept the footie socks on, though. They matched my purple and green pajama pants beautifully.

12:30 p.m., July 12th. I see the first doctor since 4 p.m. yesterday. Said doctor starts yapping about tests and possibilities and how elevated my liver functions still are. More pointed questions are asked about my drinking habits. He pokes, prods, and tells me the gastroenterologist will be there shortly. The bill for his five minutes is $350.00.

2:00 p.m. The gastroenterologist finally arrives. She is very pregnant. She has lots of colorful brochures detailing the functions of my internal organs....and lots more questions about my alcohol consumption. Apparently, I'm not having a CAT scan. I'm having an ERCP. For those of you not versed in medical technology, this involves shoving a long tube with a camera and some surgical instruments down the patient's throat and then possibly snipping and slicing to remove obstructions of the common bile duct. At least they sedate you. She said that, even though the ultrasound didn't show any actual gallstones, there may be "sludge." Super.

3:30 p.m., July 12th. I am wheeled downstairs for the "procedure." The nurse says GEB has to come with me, because I won't remember one fucking thing that the doctor says after I come out from under the sedation. The nurses in this area of the hospital are all wearing lead-lined cheerleader outfits. The first nurse attempts to put on a hospital gown over my pajamas. The second two nurses do something with drugs and then wake me up afterwards. The doctor (yet another one, because the pregnant one couldn't do x-rays) says that they didn't find even a hint of sludgy gallbladder residue, and that they need to test for hepatitis.

4:30 p.m., July 12th. These sadistic aliens finally decide I can have clear liquids. Apple juice and jello have never tasted so good. GEB informs me that he has nowhere to stay overnight. I give him money for the Motel 6. He's also driving my nowhere-near-paid-for convertible. He's a horrible driver in an unfamiliar town. Is it time for more drugs yet?

Overnight, July 12th-13th. Beeping monitors, loud conversations between the nurses and my non-English speaking, deaf roommate. Just another night in the depths of hell.

6:00 a.m., July 13th. The vampires are back. Last needle stick. The bruises on my right arm are growing hourly. I am beginning to resemble a heroin junkie. I ask the nurse when the doctor will be there and when I can go home. She utters the usual "I have no way of predicting that."

2:30 p.m., July 13th. The doctor finally arrives. Tells me that her "best guess" is that I have mono or some other kind of mysterious viral infection. She does, however, tell me I can go home. Good thing, because the jello didn't taste nearly as good at breakfast and lunch. Equipped with various medications for nausea and pain, GEB and I locate Walgreen's and a gas station (since he clearly did not notice the dry gas tank and the handy warning light). At 4:30, we set out for home.

8:45 p.m., July 13th. We arrive in St. Louis. On the way there, I had foolishly promised a visit to the arch. GEB held me to this. In serious pain, I climb the 80 zillion steps, visit the restroom and the gift shop, and wait for him to take some pictures.

2:30 a.m., July 14th. Tulsa. We're on the wrong fucking turnpike, and I have no money. Guess falling asleep was a bad idea. Eventually stop at Wal-Mart to get cash and ask directions. We'll get home….just an hour later than planned.

5:30 a.m., July 14th. Home at last. I fall into bed and sleep for 3 hours, then call work and my doctor's office. They inform me that I have an appointment at 9:30 Thursday morning. I take another painkiller and go back to bed.

10:00 a.m., July 14th. Wake up. Call mom. Very upset that I didn't call from the hospital. I explained that we had a cell phone with no charger and that the custodians of evil didn't let you dial long-distance on their phone. Still, the conversation is over relatively quickly.

3:00 p.m., July 14th. Mom calls again, totally freaking out. This time, it's an hour of me promising that if I'm ever abducted by aliens for medical experiments again, I will call her immediately and give her the phone number.

8:30 a.m., July 15th. I call the doctor's office to make sure they are getting my medical records faxed from the hospital, and am informed that my appointment is, in fact, NEXT Thursday. After chewing some ass, they agree to a 3:30 appointment.

3:30 p.m., July 15th. See the doctor. He agrees that I probably do have mono. Sends me to the only lab my insurance will pay for to have some more blood sucked.

4:30 p.m., July 15th. Arrive at the building which is supposed to contain the lab. I am informed by another tenant that this lab hasn't been there for 2 years, and that they need to quit handing out that stupid list. She tells me to go down the street to the real lab.

4:45 p.m., July 15th. After finally figuring out how to get into the parking garage, I go to the lab with great trepidation. The lab tech immediately makes for the right arm, which I jerk away in a panic. He looks at the bruises, bemoans the incompetence of the techs who did it, and gently takes blood from the left arm. This is the only site that is not bruised. This man deserves a big, fat raise.

2:00 p.m., July 16th. I start calling the doctor's office, inquiring as to the results of my lab tests. No response. I need to know if I can work Monday or not. I don't have any sick time, and haven't for a week.

4:30 p.m., July 16th. Still no response. I call the doctor's office again, and get an answering service. I'm panicking.

4:37 p.m., July 16th. The nurse finally calls and confirms the diagnosis of mono. She also makes some noise about not working for another week. I throw as much of a fit as I can muster about how not physically taxing my job is, and she finally gives in.

8:00 a.m., July 19th. I return to work and have to tell the story of my capture and release about 70 times. At least I didn't get fired.



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