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Thursday, 29 January
Blue Lacuna

Okay, I owe you another explanation. Listen, here's the thing: I don't have one. In the spirit of mealy-mouthed half-qualifications, I have only the same one you've heard already.

It turns out that recuperating took a little longer than I anticipated. Yesterday a co-worker remarked, "Hey, you've got your color back." My color. What color? I'm as white as any piano key, except for the black piano keys. But it's true, you apparently don't just bounce back from pneumonia just because the pills are all gone. (I've still got the ativan--interested parties are encouraged to check Craigslist.)

But I think I'm back in the game now. I actually have proof of this; yesterday at a supervisor's meeting at work (the venue at which co-worker informed me I had achieved whiteness again as opposed to, I guess, wan translucence), I won a plushie armadillo for being the only person in the room who knew what Twitter was, and it wasn't a hallucination. Also, the context of the meeting was our new payroll compensation policies, and I didn't scream out, "OH MY FUCKING GOD, I'M CRYING BLOOD!" and rush out in search of whiskey.

I also had a nice moment with the CEO, who was sitting next to me at the meeting when talks turned to the challenges of catering to the wishes of young workers. "What do you say to young workers who want to work 'alternative' hours or expect more than you might be used to being asked for?" said the consultant who was running the meeting.

" 'You're fired'?" I offered.

"That's what I was going to say!" exclaimed the CEO. The consultant gave us a wintry, alum-mouthed look. I didn't fucking care. I had the CEO behind me and a plushie armadillo in front of me.

But like I said, it took a while getting back. A couple days ago, I pulled on a shirt before work without, as usual, paying much attention to what I was wearing--I'm basically jeans-and-whatever-I-grab shirt. Once I got to work, I looked down and realized I'd never seen this particular pullover zip-top thing in my life. When I got home, I asked the wife re: shirt, "Is this yours? I grabbed it out of the closet by accident, I guess."

"I gave that to you for Christmas," replied the wife. "You wore it for three days when you were sick." Jesus. I really had--and continue not to have--any memory of this goddamn shirt. Then I immediately dashed out the door and went downstairs to our garage to check out the brand new sports car I had obviously forgotten as well. The wife followed me down, puzzled, and found me staring at our parking space, occupied by the same 2000 purple Plymouth that we've had for a while.

"Where's my convertible, you fucking goblin snatch?" I cried. "Don't tell me you parked it on the street."

"What the fuck are you talking about? What convertible?" She had brought a kitchen knife with her, and she waved it unconsciously at her hip in graceful ovals.

"The one I forgot you gave me for Christmas!" I screamed. "Like the shirt!" I pulled the shirt-front up over my head and ran around in small circles, emitting piercing shrieks to emphasize my point, and when I had to stop to catch my breath, the wife had gone back upstairs. I didn't have my keys on me, having left them in the apartment with my pants, so I slept in the car that night, stacking the floor mats on my naked midsection to stave off the cold of the unheated garage, and in my fitful sleep, I heard raccoons saying frankly defamatory things about my uncle Sparky.

So what I took away from that whole thing is that you don't necessarily bounce right back from a serious illness. And, if I'm honest, I didn't help myself out much either in a lot of ways. When you're immunocompromised, dehydrated, and just plain old fucking wiped out, one could do much better than to put on movies such as these:

Wanted
Max Payne
Death Race

But then again, these may have simply been my wife's attempts to kill me once and for all. (You know, now that I think of it, the phrase "kill me once an for all" is basically stupid. As opposed to killing me a few times, halfheartedly and temporarily? Actually, now that I say that, I should write a movie treatment of that and pitch it to Lionsgate.)

Now I feel stronger for enduring them, really. You couldn't show those gray, humorless idiocies to bone marrow transplant patients for fear of destroying them. I don't think Mark Wahlberg is even allowed inside hospitals.

So, sorry it's been a while. My life is pretty dull, but it's a really contented sort of dull, and I think I'm ready to start complaining about it again. Quietly. Stealthily. I still haven't found my fucking sports car, the wife keeps that goddamn knife with her all the time, and you know what? Car mats are shit for keeping you warm at night.

And what you hear about uncle Sparky from those slanderous ball-gnawing raccoons? He was acquitted.

Monday, 05 January
That's Sick

Let me try and tell you what happened.

On the Monday before Christmas--which in Seattle turned out to be a citywide snow day--I woke up with an upset stomach. "I have an upset stomach," I told the wife, because I believe in directness in our marriage.

Later, I was haunted by awful chills followed by raging fevers, and I couldn't keep any solid food down. And because my wife also believes in clear communication, she told me, "You're pretty fucked up." I figured I had the flu, and responded appropriately: by drinking massive amounts of water and ginger ale, and eating Saltines to keep the good old electrolytes up.

I'm a fucking fool. By the following Sunday, I still wasn't eating anything approximating real food--lots of Saltines, though!--and was gulping water by the quartful. The wife wasn't having any of it by this point: "You're going to the hospital because you're still totally fucked up." But! The Saltines!

She threw me in the car--no real feat, since I had by now lost approximately half my body weight--and drove me to Swedish hospital, one of Seattle's finest Aryan-only hospitals. The check-in gal asked what the trouble was, which I answered with an extended hacking cough; she smoothly spun in her chair and grabbed a hospital mask off the wall. "Put that on," she said, as I attempted to cough out the phrase "persistent flu symptoms."

Three hours and ten cigarettes later, we were called in to be seen; nurses swiftly relieved me of a quantity of blood, took my vitals, tutted, fretted, patted my head, and only barely restrained themselves from installing one of those dog neck cones to prevent me from chewing on my own quaking limbs. Presently, a harried (but super nice) doctor presented herself; she was clutching a lengthy, alarming-looking printout and was staring at it with a rather close intensity.

"Well, Mr. Krubk, what I was waiting for was your white counts, but . . . " she stared again at my bloodwork printout. "Look, you're not going anywhere. Your electrolyte counts have made me shit my pants." Or something to that effect. "Your sodium, your potassium, your magnesium . . ." She shook her head. "These are so terrible, it's scary. I could probably shout you into a heart attack if I wanted to." Happily, she didn't seem to be in the mood to cause me heart failure. I got the feeling that she couldn't quite believe I had entered the building under my own power. She also explained to me that I was horrifically dehydrated, and oh, I also had pneumonia.

I mumbled something about Saltines and my dedicated attempts at rehydration, and she just gave me a smile of pity. Funny how my comprehensive cracker strategy had failed to adequately nourish my body, and funnier still was the memory of how often my attempts to rehydrate were immediately followed by bouts of gut-wringing diarrhea. Hard to figure out where everything went wrong, really.

They got me a bed up on the seventh floor and set me up for a night of "full observation." If you've never had the pleasure, "full observation" roughly means: You will get no more than fifteen minutes of sleep. This is because throughout the night, you will be visited by an incredible array of technicians, nurses, phlebotomists, doctors, and, in one memorable case, a nutritionist. ("I see you were admitted with very low potassium. Would you like some pamphlets explaining more about potassium?" Me: " . . . bananas . . . ")

I was outfitted with a set of leads on my chest for monitoring my magnesium-starved heart and was immediately hooked up to several different IV bags all of which groaned on the weird metal IV stand that you've seen in every episode of ER ever. I was also given a basketball-sized group of pills to choke down: apart from the fucking potassium, I don't remember what else they were forcing into me. Most of the IVs were of the passive sort--just draining into my bloodstream--but occasionally they souped up one of the mystery bags with a little motor thing that I assumed was some sort of push mechanism. I couldn't stop staring at the sheer number of bags of liquid being launched into me, and I couldn't help but do some basic physiological calculations: I was going to have to piss at some point, but here's the thing about the IV stand: it plugged into the wall. I pondered this while the nurse gave me one of what was to be three total heparin injections--right into the stomach!--to prevent my motionless self from developing blood clots through inactivity, or also from the hideous amounts of ESPN I found myself helplessly watching.

I dozed occasionally and fitfully, but it's hard to be restful when Don the vitals guy was lurking in the shadows, waiting to pressure-cuff me or when the phlebotomist gal ghosted by my bed, checking her list of luckless victimes, and looked at me and said meaningfully, "You'll be next."

I didn't have a private room, but I might as well have; I shared the room with a demented octogenarian who produced susurrations of the low-tide variety along with a varied medley of basso flatulence that somehow never stopped being sort of funny.

Once, at about two o'clock, yet another doctor came to visit me. He almost immediately irritated me by asking me to take off my glasses so he could perform some "follow my pen"-type diddlings. I wanted to ask him if he wanted to check out anything else completely irrelevant, such as my scalp or my nail beds. He casually asked me if anyone had told me when I could expect to go home, and I told him that the original doc had said that if all went well, I'd probably get sprung the next afternoon.

"Oh, I don't think so," he said nonchalantly. "You'll probably be here two or three days." I wondered if I had the strength to clout him into unconsciousness with my cell phone, but said nothing. I mentally vowed that no force on Earth would keep me in this place beyond the afternoon, provided it ever came, or that I was still sane when it rolled around.

After Dr. Downer split, I did another body-check. Yeah, I definitely had to piss. I eyed the IV apparatus again warily; there was no question that I was going to the bathroom. The question was, who was going to freak out if I dared move? The thing was still plugged into the wall, but I could be damned if I could figure out why: the IV push device had long since been removed; all of the IVs seemed to just be draining into the Hydra configuration sprouting out of my arm. Fuck this, I thought. The staff was, I'm sure, completely used to patients irrigating the bed, but I'd be fucked if I was going to lay in it or endure a professionally efficient sheet change. I reached over and unplugged the IV tree.

Nothing happened, at least that I could tell; no alarms went off, no nurses ran in to tackle me. Feeling positively subversive, I wheeled my ponderous IV thing over to the bathroom and exploded from two of my favorite orifices. It was a nearly religious experience, were I even remotely religious.

Later on, when I tried this operation again, I stood up and promptly and wetly crapped my pants (yes, I was still wearing pants). Trying to clean myself up in the bathroom, I realized that I just didn't care. I had my eyes on the prize: getting the fuck out of there in a few hours. Soiling myself, at this point, just represented one more lonely milestone to be passed. I would endure it stoically, if only to give the metaphorical finger to Dr. Asshole: Yes, I shit my pants, and I don't care. I'll take whatever I can dish out!

Finally, the morning came, and I forced myself to order some food: a couple scrambled eggs and some wheat toast. What I received was two planks of melamine (with butter) and an unidentifiable mass of matter that had almost certainly never been countenanced by, much less produced by a chicken. I ate it anyway, figuring it would give me brownie points with the unseen cloister of huddled doctors. "Hey, Mr. Kurnup powered through some death eggs! Maybe he won't die." "You owe me ten bucks."

Another doctor, this guy holding a strange plastic apparatus. "Heard you were having trouble breathing! Ever heard of Albuterol?" I allowed that I had. He was pretty excited about the Albuterol; he was pretty excited in general.

"Well, want to try some?" he asked, bouncing. It's a drug deal! I thought, And it's covered by insurance! "Hell yes," I said, though my shortness of breath had been somehow drowned with the incredible amounts of liquids and antibiotics that had been blasted into my system.

And as if to complete the whole drug deal aspect, Albuterol is an aerosolized drug delivery system, which meant that I sat there in bed, placidly smoking away on a hellish-looking futuristic plastic pipe. The doctor continued to be really into it. "How about a deep breath and a big cough?" he said when I was apparently done. I obliged, and produced a nice mouthful of phlegm, which was a good deal, since my morning nurse had been cajoling me for a really good productive cough so they could take my lung butter into the lab for further goo-testing. I hate to disappoint, and the next time she came in, I brandished the nightmarish jar: "Merry Christmas!"

"Good job!" she exclaimed, apparently genuinely excited to be the recipient of a sample jar half-full of mucus.

Finally--finally--yet another doctor came in, another woman. "I think you saw my colleague last night, Doctor Yeoh?" I couldn't have picked anyone out of a lineup from the last twenty-four hours, except for maybe Doctor Asshole, Doctor Albuterol and Terrifying Phlebotomist Woman. I could probably do an audio lineup to identify my roommate based on his mournful, tolling farts.

"At any rate, you look pretty stable now; we're going to load you down with some antibiotics and--" here she mentioned three other drugs that I couldn't care less about, since I WAS GOING HOME. She even threw in some Ativan, noting that I was displaying withdrawal symptoms from being boozeless and smokeless for thirty-six hours. I glanced up at the previously-laden IV tree and was stunned to see that the bags were all empty; they must have dumped a couple gallons of liquids into me over the course of 18 hours or so.

I missed two solid weeks of work, between the initial "flu" self-diagnosis and the subsequent hospitalization and recuperation from same. I have a followup doctor's appointment to, I guess, make sure I'm not still dying from pneumonia. Today was my first day back at work since the 19th. I had over 450 emails waiting for me to answer. It was completely exhausting coming back.

On the other hand, I went to the bathroom unencumbered by any trailing metal IV trees, and I managed not to shit my pants. So I count today as a success.

I make no promises for tomorrow. Frankly, as an excuse to go home, what can possibly beat "I just shit my pants"?
I think I might start showing up to work with a big IV tree. Nobody could possibly challenge me on this.










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