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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.


Note: Comments are closed on old entries.

Comments

i don't think i've laughed that long or that satisfyingly (is that a word?) in a very long time. i love your stories, and i'm actually really happy you shat yourself.

Comment number: 017727   Posted by: sarah on January 6, 2009 12:16 PM from IP: 151.141.90.188

I hadn't thought about that before. Next time my students are pissing me off, I'll just unload a mound of crap in my boxers. You're full of wisdom!

(Glad you're feeling better.)

Comment number: 017728   Posted by: Joe on January 6, 2009 01:00 PM from IP: 162.83.220.232

Holy crap, that was funny. Thank you for allowing me to take delight in the misery of others in this way.

Comment number: 017729   Posted by: flamingbanjo on January 6, 2009 01:12 PM from IP: 168.156.81.199

I'm glad you're out of the hospital and that you're okay! I missed your stories!

Comment number: 017730   Posted by: Jenny on January 6, 2009 03:31 PM from IP: 24.83.230.242

What's hilarious is that there really IS a Dr. Downer in Seattle but he's an orthopedic surgeon. I went to high school with him. He's cute.

Comment number: 017731   Posted by: Lala on January 6, 2009 04:25 PM from IP: 69.168.143.39

What's hilarious is that there really IS a Dr. Downer in Seattle but he's an orthopedic surgeon. I went to high school with him. He's cute.

Comment number: 017732   Posted by: Lala on January 6, 2009 04:27 PM from IP: 69.168.143.39

my comments are sooo good they get posted twice, g-damned frykitty locked me out

Comment number: 017733   Posted by: Lala on January 6, 2009 04:29 PM from IP: 69.168.143.39

my comprehensive cracker strategy

It usually works for the Republicans.

Comment number: 017734   Posted by: Sixy on January 6, 2009 07:28 PM from IP: 76.241.128.36


“I think I might start showing up to work with a big IV tree. Nobody could possibly challenge me on this.”

Hey why not? It worked for Dick Cheney for long enough. Except, in his case I think the IVs were filled with virgins’ blood.

Comment number: 017742   Posted by: Lung the Younger on January 7, 2009 03:00 AM from IP: 87.219.31.44

I've always greatly enjoyed your writing technique and genuinely appreciate your sense of humor. Having said this, and please try not to take this the wrong way, I took great pleasure in reading about your pain. Not in a schadenfreude-flavored way, mind you, but in a, 'Wow, he shit himself. Nice!' kind of way.

Glad that you're feeling better. On a cliched note, that which doesn't kill blah blah blah. So, you've got that going for you.

Comment number: 017754   Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' on January 7, 2009 07:32 AM from IP: 152.11.91.43

Man, have I missed reading your stories! You crack me up! I wish these ideas would work for me, but I'm one of 4 females on my team... women and poop don't mix in office humor... that only works for men!

Comment number: 017755   Posted by: Kristie on January 7, 2009 07:04 PM from IP: 71.64.24.227

Man, have I missed reading your stories! You crack me up! I wish these ideas would work for me, but I'm one of 4 females on my team... women and poop don't mix in office humor... that only works for men!

Comment number: 017756   Posted by: Kristie on January 7, 2009 07:06 PM from IP: 71.64.24.227

You got pneumonia for Christmas? Take it slow - you don't want to land back in the hospital. Your roommate might not be nearly as funny next time.

Comment number: 017757   Posted by: Jennie on January 7, 2009 07:19 PM from IP: 74.249.226.233

You could probably make some serious bank with that Ativan. Or, if you'd taken photos of the pants-shitting incident, you could definitely make some serious bank with those.

Comment number: 017758   Posted by: Kate on January 7, 2009 08:11 PM from IP: 70.132.0.212

Okay, okay, we get it. You've been sick. BUT it's now the 28th of January and you have had 23 whole days off! Start writing! We miss you!

Comment number: 017801   Posted by: Sharon on January 28, 2009 03:24 PM from IP: 66.28.226.130

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