Give Him The Enema!
Who hasn’t heard the complaint of a weary airline passenger when they get off the plane: “Why is it that I’m always the one who has to sit next to the screaming baby?” Although I have often complained about that, a screaming baby is a birthday at the beach compared to the person I inevitably get as my hospital roommate.
I have a history of cardiac problems. It’s not that I’m overweight or don’t eat right or don’t exercise, or at least one out of those three. My parents should never have bred. My father was 51 when he checked out from a heart attack. Several years later my mother had valve replacement surgery and a pacemaker stuck in her, and she was never the same after that. Why I got all the bad genes and my sister is totally unaffected in any way from this mishmash of foul genetic combinations is something that makes me wonder if maybe, just maybe, my dad wasn’t actually her father.
In my early forties, I was a hospital inmate for 6 days with a messy bout with appendicitis. When I was first wheeled into my room, I got stuck with a barely cognizant man, easily twice my age, which is typical for me, because I’m usually in the cardiac wing. When you’re in the cardiac wing, you’re pretty much guaranteed that your roommate is going to be someone’s great grandfather. For this visit, I wasn’t in the cardiac wing, but I got the octogenarian anyway.
I always, without fail, end up with the screamers, the moaners, the complainers, and the violent, and they all poop in their beds (so do I, but that's another story).
Don’t deny it, nurses. You always wait for the one new patient who looks most likely to not complain. Once you find him, he becomes the person you place with the screaming nut case. You see me coming. I hear you whispering. “Looks like this one’s ripe for the picking.” is what you’re mumbling, isn’t it? ISN’T IT?
In order to be a hospital employee, it helps to be a gambler in order to pass all the free time they have. So they all take bets on the time they think someone will die, or, in my case, when I would finally break down and begin to complain about the accommodations.
So after a while, my roommate was sound asleep, muttering quietly to himself. I could live with that. I drifted off to sleep with his gentle yammering not disturbing me.
When I awoke to the screaming, my heart was pounding, and I had the uneasy feeling that a macaw had been released into my room.
“AAAAAAAAA! HELP! HELP! HELP ME! HELP ME!” screamed the tropical bird. After I tucked my heart back into my chest cavity, I realized it wasn’t a macaw at all. It was my roommate. I then thought, why don't hospitals have some kind of Match.com website where you can pick someone compatible? I'd put in for a quiet reader, maybe a Ipod listener of 60's folk music who spoke only when spoken to.
The screams were still echoing down the halls, and nurses came running into the room, not to aid him, but to help me. It seemed that the needle on the pulse-o-meter from the heart monitor on my chest sent out a code blue signal.
“Are you all right?” the nurse asked.
“Yeah, I’m all right. It was him screaming, not me,” I said.
“Yeah but your pulse shot up to 200,” he told me.
“That’s because he was screaming,” I tried to say with a sad look on my face, the kind that would send them the “I need a private suite with a whirlpool spa” message.
“Yeah, he goes on like that all night, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Well can I get moved to another room, then? This is crazy,” I snapped.
“All beds are full now, but maybe tomorrow we can get you in another one.”
“Please?” I begged.
The nurse moved out to the hall and yelled out, “Okay, whose name is in the 3 am box in the complainer pool?”
Someone called back, “Dr. Ansari.”
My nurse cursed, “Damn! It’s always a doctor who wins!”
Just as I was drifting back to sleep, the feathers flew again and the macaw started back in with the screaming. He sounded like a helpless girl in a B movie about to be stepped on by a dinosaur.
That was it. I took my pillow and my plasma-on-a-pole down to the family visiting room, which, at 3 am, was naturally empty. I stretched across half a dozen brick-hard chairs. When I woke up, my body felt as if it had been attacked by killer woodpeckers.
The next day was my surgery. The appendix and part of my intestines were successfully removed, but damn, I forgot to tell the doctor I wanted my appendix for show-and-tell.
Which brings us to the story of the first time I was hospitalized. I was seven and went in for a tonsillectomy, complete with ether anesthesia, which I can smell clinging to my nostril hairs to this very day. Before the surgery, I asked Dr. Bagby if I could have my tonsils to take to school for show-and-tell. He amusingly granted my request, and later sent them home with me in an old mayonnaise jar full of formaldehyde. They were enormous and red and just the thing to make the girls run away, screaming in terror. I’ve never seen the inside of a scrotum, but I suspect I could have convinced people they were testicles. But I was 7; I didn’t yet know what testicles were.
After my recovery, I couldn’t wait to be the envy of my second grade class with my Removed Organs in a Jar. My mother drove me to school that morning, but somewhere between my bedroom and the ’57 Chevy, the jar started to leak.
“What’s that smell?” my mother sniffed.
“What smell?” I pretended not to be a part of this.
“It’s those tonsils! Throw them out, throw them out now!” She pulled over, stopped the car and threw it in Park.
“Give them to me!” she demanded.
“No, c’mon Mom. It’s just a few more blocks,” I whined, pathetically.
“What’re you gonna put them in? They just don’t have empty jars in your classroom.”
Actually, they did. If you think back to second grade, you probably remember a high cabinet full of donated baby food jars that were used for doling out tempera paint. But before I could make my case, Mom snatched the jar from my hand, rolled down my window, unscrewed the lid and splashed my testicles, I mean, tonsils into Mark Pintaure’s next-door neighbor’s front yard. She tossed the jar on the back seat and sped off, as I carefully marked the spot where they fell, because I hoped to rescue them later. But alas, that afternoon when I walked home, I searched high and low, but the tonsils were gone, probably to a crime lab somewhere where someone was probably looking for the rest of the body.
Back to the appendectomy post-op scene. My second roommate was a 20-something mutt with long, greasy hair and teeth that had probably never seen the overhead light at a dentist's office.I waved as they wheeled me by him. “At last,” I thought as I pressed the morphine pump, “a young one who won’t scream.”
I woke up to him screaming on the phone, demanding that someone come pick him up, because, “I ain’t got no health insurance. You gotta sneak me outa here. “No, I di-ant drive here. They brought me by ambo-lance.” He was one of those odd white boys who spoke ghetto and thought that because he wore his pants belted at the knees, he was just as cool as the brothers who do the same. But he wasn’t.
After he finished his rant, a social worker came in and told him that he qualified for assistance in paying his bill. After that he called his friend back and told him to gather the white homies to come see him.
The next day, while eavesdropping, I learned from his ER-assigned doctor that he had only been dehydrated. The doctor told him to drink more the next time he went to the beach. It took a night’s stay and thousands of dollars of publicly-funded testing to figure that out.
Meanwhile, each time I woke up, it was to a room full of scary-looking white people and blasting hip-hop music. Once I woke up as Mr. Dehydro, waiting for his discharge papers, was reading the riot act to a nurse, demanding a better (free, publicly-funded) lunch. Mercifully, I was one with my morphine pump, and I just knocked myself out again.
Not long after that, I was back in the hospital for the first of two unsuccessful cardiac ablations. As I walked into the room I glanced over to see CNA's and volunteers waving dollar bills, eager to get in on the pool. I saw this as a bad sign. This time I roomed with a loud, old couple, even though he was the designated patient.
This great-grandfather and his wife were the bitterest wintering couple I have ever listened to. He was in for some kind of intestinal blockage and had just completed one of those luxurious barium enemas.
There was constant bickering between the two of them, even after visiting hours were long over.
He: Why can’t I see my doctor?
She: Because the doctor’s a stupid schmuck.
He: Well get the noiss, then.
She: I just went to the noiss. She said she’d be here in a minute.
He: They don’t care. You think they care? That was an hour ago. Tell her if she can’t give me an explanation, then I want to check myself out. I want to go home.
The nurse finally came in just as the doctor arrived, who insisted grampa would not be released until they figured out why he couldn’t keep any food down. Along with his wife, the patient (the word and the man both being oxymorons) demanded that they be told what was wrong right now; they were tired of waiting, and they were going to report the doctor to the AMA. The doctor said there was nothing he could do until the tests came back and made a hasty retreat.
A second nurse arrived with a bag and a hose, and the two of them hit him with the news. “We have to wash the barium out of you, otherwise it’s going to turn into concrete.” I don’t know if this was medically necessary, or if they just wanted to punish him. Naturally, the old couple flew into a rage.
As they got into a physical fight, Nurse Ratchet said to Cherry Ames, “Give him the enema.”
“I’m going to call the police!” he threatened, trying to slap the nurses away.
“The police won’t come, because there is no crime being committed,” the nurse argued. Then back to Cherry Ames, Butthole Nurse, she screamed, “GIVE HIM THE ENEMA!”
“I’m calling all the newspapers when I get out of here. I swear to God I am!”
The enema quieted him down. Or maybe it didn’t. You see, this time I had brought earplugs and forced them with my pinky way down in my external auditory canal. You learn you have no control over these kind of things. I drifted off to sleep, and in the morning I was taken in for the heart surgery, which was a picnic at the park compared to the ranting of Mr. and Mrs. Enema.
When I woke up, I was in a private room. No whirlpool spa, but completely void of noisy strangers. Apparently, if you don’t complain before you have your procedure, you win the pool.
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