Sunday, May 5, 2013

Humans In The Hospital: What Is Behind The Curtain?

Starting a new facial accessory trend. 

The door flew open too quickly to squeak out its horror movie sound-effect hinge creak. I had no warning; no time to gently derail, to calmly negotiate or even to freak the hell out about what was coming next. I sat up in my bed blinking, disoriented and completely tied down by an IV, a hose up my nose anchored to a wheezing suction machine, and a big heavy metal box trailing a tangle of telemetry wire. 

“You’re getting a roommate,” said a night nurse and her tone made me believe she’d deliver a particularly painful procedure on me if I even uttered a peep in opposition.  She flicked on the fluorescents in the room, all of them, and began to change out all the linens on the “B” bed station in the room. Loudly. 

It was 1 a.m. 

My creaking door was asleep on the job.  Usually a hospital door like that would make me extremely cranky and I would have it WD-40ed. But I loved that door. During this recent hospital stay, that door was my pal offering a pre-warning alarm system allowing me to be alerted to the presence of my nurse. Who was stealthy, believe me.

The door squeak meant there was no sneaking up on me by the 4 a.m. blood drawing vampires who drift silently like wafting fog through the hospital halls in the wee hours.  They roll white Rubbermaid wagons around containing all their “sharps” and tubes and blue latex gloves that they pinch the forefingers off so they can easily find a compliant throbbing little conduit to poke. They can, and do, draw blood unerringly in the dark. They go in and out of rooms in a Rubbermaid ballet collecting samples for analysis before the docs show up at 6 a.m. 

With that noisy door, I got just enough time to wipe the dollop of drool from my chin and arrange my easy access hospital smock modestly to cover my bits before fam and friends can crash in.  And, even better, the hospital’s business office zombie stalkers couldn’t just appear at my bedside like voracious apparitions with claw hands and glowing calculators asking how I would like to handle my co-pay. 

Thanks to the crazy loud dungeon door creak, I had time to pretend to sleep opossum style. Deeply.
After the night nurse’s abrupt no negotiation “you’re getting a roommate” decree, I fixed her with a bloodshot yet potent stink-eye.

“Whoa! I was told that I would have no roommate tonight. Last night with a roommate didn’t work out. I can’t get the rumba tango lambada ringtones out of my head. Ask my nurse, she knows.  Isn’t there any room elsewhere?”

My first roommate spoke a miniscule amount of English causing her drill sergeant nurse to mistake her lack of linguistic facility for deafness. Every instruction the nurse gave her was met with a small frustrated “Que?”  Whereupon her nurse would crank up the decibel level past 11 to ask the same exact question capped off with an ear-splitting “COMPRENDE?” To which the little woman would say “Si, si, si.”  

She also had 4 cell phones that rang incessantly emitting snappy Latin ringtones. She would have up to three conversations at a time, loudly with great drama.

She turned her phones off, however, when a proud little Hispanic woman came to visit.  Her guest chanted a fervent healing prayer for a full hour.  She was a spirit woman so I was especially nice to her. She could’ve been Santeria and it’s best to stay on their good side. She kindly held her hands out over my messed up stomach and delivered a 10 minute mini-chant, no charge, for my healing. I was most grateful. 

I like having all bases covered. 

And the chant was a soundtrack to my pain-killer induced visions of melting artwork, giant cursive writing in red ink on all the walls, and the bunched up blood pressure cuffs resembling that talking puppet, Lamb Chop.

So she left (Gracias, Senior!) and I had the room to myself to cultivate some blessed peace, catch up on the sleep lost, and enjoy the Dilaudid as it did its noble work slipping roofies down the maw of my gnawing stomach dragon.  The nurses all agreed I would have the room to myself unless there was a disaster of some sort. Apparently that didn’t stick…"

And the night nurse said as she fluffed the pillow on my new roommate’s bed:

“I am very sorry, I know you wanted to have privacy, but the scheduler assigned this bed to someone who just got admitted from the E.R.”

“Ok, I can be a sport. Can you get her to go right to sleep once she gets in here?” 

“I’ll do my best.”

And. She gave me earplugs.

My room was at the nurse’s station near the elevator, so I heard my new roommate’s voice booming up in the shaft. The elevator doors opened and we were greeted by a loud, wet, phlegm-filled cough followed by the sharp crack of a throat being violently cleared. To conclude, we were treated to the sounds of a generous deposit of mucus being expectorated, with moist gusto, into a tissue. 

“JESUS H. CHRIST! God damnit! John did you bring the friggin’ vaporizer.”

“I’ve got it.”

“Lemme see my bag.  I got to see for myself. You suck at packing my things I don't see no Mucinex in here dumbass.”  I heard zippers being ripped open and closed.  Her wheelchair was making little squealing effort sounds.

I tried so hard to hide, diminish; make tents of my bed covers and build a sound proof pillow fort for protection from what was shaping up to be a fiasco. Hard to do without yanking out my nose hose or my IV or both causing a cacophony of alarms in the nurse’s station. I am determined to be non-judgmental, to appreciate that, in spite of how rough she may seem to be, I will be gracious and kind and just roll over, jam in the earplugs and sleep.

And it was 1:30 in the morning.

They decanted her from the wheelchair in the hall and she let out a few gravelly annoyed sighs as she hoisted herself up. Her nurse made her walk to her bed which was separated from mine by approximately 3 feet and one of those ¾ length curtains on a curved ceiling rail.

In the brief moment I peeked out to look, I was surprised all that wet whiskey-voiced vitriol came from a petite square-shaped gnome woman of about 60 years in age. Her bleached blonde and steel grey hair stood upright barely obeying an earlier spritz of Aquanet. She was clad in her own pajamas with faded Mighty Mouse cartoons on the drawstring yoga pants. Her very deep tan exaggerated the cascades of Sharpei wrinkles on her arms and neck usually earned during a lifetime of habitual excessive smoking and drinking and tanning. She had very light pink frosted lipstick and those Pepto-Bismol lips were anxiously clamped around an unlit Virginia Slim giving her mouth the sere look of cracked earth in a desert. 

Her nurse introduced her to the bathroom we were to share.

“Oh, good. There’re those fancy toilet seat covers in there. Never know what shit you’ll pick up if you don’t use those. ‘Specially when you have to share a room with a flippin’ stranger.What’s she got? She don’t have something I could catch does she?” She walked by the foot of my bed without looking up to acknowledge me.

Let the games begin.

2 in the morning.

By eavesdropping, which could not be avoided because all conversation with this woman was held at a decibel level that would provoke deafness with prolonged exposure; I learned that the little general's name was Jill. The tall man following her seemed a decade younger than her. He was downcast, exhausted and lugging her stuff.  He was the husband, John. He resembled a beaten down eunuch slave lugging the must-haves of a persnickety bitch queen who would snap his neck on a whim.
Tracking her growling and muttering, I could follow her progress around the room.  She sat on her bed as her nurse explained the paging system, the light switches and how to control the TV. We each had our own TV with a hand held speaker meant to be held close to the ear to hear whilst not disturbing your roommate.


The room tour concluded.

Good they’re done. Lights out. I thought. Nope. Her nurse had to ask a few health questions. This is when I let out a loud pissed off sigh. Maybe more like a hiss.

Highlights? She smokes two packs a day, drinks four hard liquor cocktails every night, and has cardiac arhythmia. Apparently at home, she and John threw down a scene that could only be compared to the vile exchange of virulent insults in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? At the crescendo of their booze-fueled hurt fest, he shattered a martini glass against the wall to emphasize a point and she grabbed her chest and screamed for the paramedics. Her heart was flopping in her chest like a beached mullet. 

Then Jill was up and pacing and tearing at her bags. I could hear things flying.   

“Where’s my water bottle? What the fuck? Did you forget my water bottle you idiot?  Oh! My bad. Heh 
heh. There it is…Now, let me be clear. God help the poor bastard who wakes me up before I am ready, understand?” I heard her unscrew the cap and swig down a few gulps of "water."  Sure enough, the scent of rum floated past my nose. After all, I was tucked in to my bed only 3 feet away and I can smell rum at 100 paces.

“Ok. It’s late and time to go to sleep. Jill climb into bed here and we’ll get you comfortable. Let’s get the rest of this done tomor...”

“I’m hungry. What’s the phone number to order dinner?”

“C’mon Jill! This ain’t the Ritz Carlton. It’s a hospital!” said John.

“It’s late.Way past dinner. Kitchen’s closed. But we have some good snacks up here. Sandwiches. Would you like one?”

“Well, isn’t that just great! Cheap assholes can’t even keep decent food around. I knew this hospital was a craphole. Go get me a McDonald’s John.”

“No” said John. 

I am pissed and tired by now, but it was starting to get good.

What the fuck did you just say? Did you actually say no?”

“Can she use this to help her sleep?” asked John, artfully changing the focus to something else Jill must have.  It was a “white noise generator.” The nurse and John looked around the curtain at me.  

“How loud is it?” I asked trying to be a sport. 

“Real low. Hardly hear it at all!” said John.

“Ok.” I said. “But only if we settle down and get some sleep now! I want to rest before the vampires show up to tap a vein.”

Vampires? What the fuck is she talking about? She think that’s FUNNY? Stupid bitch.” 

This silliness, as amusing as it had become, was getting old and exacerbated my reason for being in the hospital  –  Teeth grinding, black-out quality pain…abdominal pain. A small bowel blockage. I was out on the edge of the Dilaudid plank and the pain was back.

Suddenly, John made a break for it tossing a rapid goodbye to his unpleasant dominant alpha wife and exiting with haste stage left. 

“Call me in the morning and we’ll figure something out.” 

“God damnit! JESUS H CHRIST! You can’t leave now, you selfish bastard. How am I supposed to…”

But he was gone taking the stairs down three at a time to make his getaway.

“Alright Jill, good night!” said her nurse, firmly. “Let’s settle down now.” Nurse put her in bed and I swear she swaddled the little gremlin to keep her immobile.

And then, as she turned off all the lights, the nurse made a break for it too leaving me alone in a room with a complete stranger, a pissed off belligerent queen bitch and an ambulatory drunken munchkin all wrapped up in one freaky package!

I heard her wriggle out of the bed covers and jump down to the floor. She stood in the middle of the room and made three phone calls leaving tortured pitiful voice mails for people who didn’t dare pick up.  No one cared about her. She didn’t deserve how people treated her. Then she dropped a very heavy object on the floor giving me a painful startle.


Then quiet. 

She was just standing in the middle of her part of the room breathing and muttering. She cracked her knuckles systematically working from digit to digit and may have even included her toes in the effort.. 

Then quiet. 

She clicked her TV on, and demonstrated how high the volume could go.


This is where my Rule of Three kicked in. Starting now, three more demonstrably rude behaviors and I will raise hell. 

I was losing my ability to be a sport.

“Yeah, figures. No Fox channel here…damn pussy liberal sons a bitches.” And her TV goes off.
Loud raspy breathing and knuckle popping and throat clearing continued.  Still not in bed. She then shared one enormous fart and found that pretty amusing.

Number One.

She used the button to call her nurse…

“I need something to let me turn the lights on and off while I am in bed.  What can you do about that?” 
In a minute the nurse returned with a long lamp pull that would reach her bed.  “There you go. Get in bed. Now, GOOD NIGHT JILL!”  Even the nurse was losing her patience.

Number Two.

The sound of diesel turbines filled the room, like every one of my neighbors cranked their leaf blowers at once, like the guy who owns the Harleys down the street fired up all of his crotch rockets simultaneously.  It was the white noise generator and she had dialed it up to a volume intended to make ears bleed or small animals spontaneously mutate.

This could be good, though. Maybe she’s going to settle now that the dulcet tones of a Space Shuttle launch provides her with an effective lullaby. I am still trying to be patient, kind and graceful. I had ear plugs too.

Number 3


Lights on.


Lights off.


Lights on.


Lights off.


The unmistakable sound and scent of a butane lighter putting fire to tobacco…

And. There it was.

That was number three plus one

I gathered up my suction bucket, my IV tree and my telemetry box, slid out the creaky door, eased over to the nurse’s station and sat down waiting to be noticed.

“I tried. I really tried. But I can’t do this. Does anyone have an office with a couch or something where I can just get some sleep?” 

And, as the ear plugs ejected themselves from my ears with audible pops because my head was dangerously close to exploding, I told them all about the shenanigans in my room.

Like white cells swarming a bacterium, I was surrounded by apologetic nurses who went directly into action to relocate Jill. I watched four high- ranking nurses go into the room and heard a flurry of cursing and complaining as they extracted her. It was much like prying a barnacle off the hull of a boat.  

“Why should I move?  Why can’t she? This is frickin’ unfair.  I’ll SUE you bastards. Where is that bitch? I want to talk to her…”

Well, that wasn’t happening.

3 a.m.

As I snuggled into my quiet dark bed with all my tubes and wires organized tidy-like and pain under good control, night nurse came in.

“We’re surprised you lasted as long you did. Thanks for being a sport.”

And I got extra purple popsicles for that.

photo by David Treiber


  1. Damn... I just read this and I'm ready to kill Jill for you...

    Some people can be SO annoying!!!!!!

    I trust you are on the mend... :o(


  2. All is well. I suspect that she was well known to various hospitals' ERs. I think when she became incorrigible, demanding,and drunk, her husband would warehouse her there until he could handle her again. That night may have been the last time though. I got the sense that he was done.


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