Folks, you cannot make this stuff up. I promise you that everything in Joniopolis is true, and the names haven’t even been changed to protect the innocent. Generally that’s because people aren’t all that innocent.
Take St. Bob’s cancer surgery this last week. I realize I haven’t mentioned it before because it’s prostate cancer and most of our jokes have been husband-wifey jokes inappropriate for a youngster to read. I delude myself into thinking I have young readers from time to time. But now the humor has metastasized and cannot be contained. Here’s what happened.
Bob’s cancer turned out to be in the aggressive, better-do-surgery category, so we booked the operation with a world-renowned urologist at UC San Francisco, two hours away.
Our check in time was 6 a.m. last Tuesday, which meant getting up at 3 a.m., or staying in San Francisco the night before and sleeping on an uncomfortable bed. Rather, failing to sleep. Turns out you don’t sleep anyway when you know you have to get up early.
But the Sunday before, I am attacked at 1 a.m. by kidney stones. This is like being awakened in the night by a crazed maniac who keeps stabbing you in the side, using a knife made from barbed wire.
You wish he had a gun instead, because being shot would hurt much less. You realize at once that it must be kidney stones because everyone you know who’s had them swears they’re worse than labor pains and the description is apt. Well, except for having my son, Richie, who was turned posterior and for whom I endured 36 hours of hard, Pitocin-laced natural labor. But most women haven’t had such a birth, so they are comparing kidney stones to regular birth pains. Which are considerable.
Here’s the gross part. Severe pain makes you throw up. For hours. In between shaking and shouting to your husband to Google kidney stones and find out what to do. Turns out most people try to take pain pills, but if you can’t keep anything down, then you go to the emergency room. I could just picture myself heaving in an emergency room with gunshot victims (in far less pain, I assure you), plus people coughing and hacking who knows what germs all over my husband, who’s about to have surgery and can’t risk getting sick.
And what if they put narcotics in an I.V. and then I’m so loopy I can’t function on Tuesday? I choose to tough it out at home. By Sunday evening, I feel better, and Bob is accusing me of trying to upstage him. Only the Hiltons would manage to have kidney stones and cancer surgery in the same week.
So off we go. Bob has his surgery, the doctors say everything went perfectly, and by 2 p.m. Bob is in recovery. Except that now I am spiking a fever and one of the urologists says my kidney shouldn’t still be hurting so much. Yikes. I am told to go “downstairs to the emergency room.” I can’t believe I have to leave my husband, who has six incisions, but if I don’t, I’m told I could risk sepsis. Marvelous. So, mad at the insane timing of this, I march downstairs and ask where the ER is. “Oh, there’s no emergency room here,” someone says. I pause, not even sure how to ask this, but finally I say, “Then how is this a hospital?” Turns out it’s a cancer clinic. Ah. I go back to Bob and tell him it can’t be done. Someone directs me right down the elevator again, and insists I take the shuttle to the ER on the Parnassus campus, which makes me think of pertussis and pernicious. And pan-fried. But that last one is because I haven’t eaten all day and am hungry now.
I am told to stand outside on the curb, between two garbage cans. This is the shuttle stop. I am wondering what kind of shuttle this is, and if it will stop at Hogwarts. I get on and notice there are 8 other people already on there, not one of whom appears to have a medical emergency. All eight are texting. Every single one. So, since there is no one to talk to, I stare out the window at lovely Victorian homes on Stanyan Street.
We pass a library where a golden retriever is tied to a bike stand, staring obediently and lovingly at the doors, waiting for its owner to return. I imagine trying this with Mickey, and picture her barking, leaping about, chewing on the leash, and getting tangled in the bike rack. Block after block goes by, and I realize this ER is nearly three miles from Bob’s room!
And I would like a muffin.
We pass countless corner markets and delicatessens where I can see happy shoppers inside, buying sandwiches and cookies, not one of them starving.
Finally we arrive, and I am shown to my room where I climb onto a gurney and lie down. No one comes in, so I stare at my feet. I am wearing brightly striped socks on the advice of my fashionable daughter, and I discover that if I wiggle my toes I can have a puppet show. Almost.
And now a Chicken Caesar Salad sounds really good, but unattainable. I remember that Nicole, serving a mission in Norway, has just sent me a Norwegian chocolate bar, and I have it in my purse! I decide to eat it, to survive. I am like those women you hear about on the news, who drive off the road into a gully, and stay alive for three days, eating nothing but toothpaste.
I want to call Bob, but I have his cell phone in my purse since you don’t usually take such things into the operating room. Eventually, they run lab tests, do an ultra-sound, and determine that I have a kidney infection. They give me one pill, and a prescription for antibiotics. The good news is that I don’t have to have surgery. The bad news is that it’s now five hours later, and I am dying to get back to Bob. I am walked to the wrong shuttle stop, finally find the correct one a block away, and get back to the hospital where I dash up to see Bob. He is doing fine and insists I eat something. I go down to the cafeteria, but by now it is closed. I find a vending machine and get a tuna salad in a tiny can, with some crackers. I open the tuna, and it smells like cat food. I am sitting in a hospital with a kidney infection, away from my husband who needs me, looking at a stinky little meal your cat would decline.
I buy some Cheetos that are not on the Kidney Stone Diet, and head back to his room. We take a photo of our matching hospital bracelets.
I am allergic to morphine and codeine, and I notice the triage nurse has misspelled them both on my bracelet. I am appalled and cut them off immediately.
Bob wants to go to sleep, having just had surgery and not having slept much the previous night. I’ve been planning to sleep there beside him, so I unfold the little chair by the window, which makes into a cot of sorts, and is about the size and firmness of a diving board. Did I mention that my Sleep Number is 15, and that one of our sons thinks my side of the bed is like a bounce house? I cannot sleep on hard surfaces, but that turns out not to matter because we are not going to be sleeping, anyway. We are awakened every 30 minutes, like clockwork. Vitals, trash pickup, clanging doors, beeping equipment, a nonstop barrage of activity.
When I mention to various medical students, who want to pop in and ask the same questions the last group asked, that it’s three in the morning, and my husband could use some rest, they all chuckle and acknowledge that it sure is hard to get sleep in a hospital (oh those silly hospitals, right? Wink wink).
At 4 a.m., there is a catheter tutorial. At 5 a.m., the “pretend” urology team pops in to repeat what we’ve already been told four times. At 5:15 a.m. I begin looking for a hidden camera, thinking this has to be a joke. By 5:30 I am ready to strangle the next person who comes in to say or do anything that could wait until morning. But there are five more interruptions, spaced exactly as I imagine them to be at Guantanamo Bay, in the Sleep Deprivation Torture Chamber. One of them teaches Bob how to give himself daily injections to prevent blood clots. I do not strangle anyone, but we elect to come home at noon (we miss lunch, having hoped to get away in the late morning), and with a throbbing kidney and a returning fever I drive at speeds I will not admit to in this blog, just to get Bob home before rush hour hits. Twice Bob tells me to slow down, but I wait for him to doze off and then gun it again.
I pick up 14 prescriptions at the pharmacy, down an antibiotic, and we both go to bed by 5:30 and sleep for 13 hours. Turns out we went big, AND we went home. And that’s how to do it, I think.