Seven Hospital Vignettes -The Toast

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url-1The attending physician asked me to hop up on the exam table. There was a smattering of dried red flakes on the sheet, which he wiped away. “What’s that from?” he muttered. I lay down, and saw the origin of the red flakes: congealed globs of blood, adorning the overhead lamp.

“Ummmm…” I nervously giggled. “There’s blood on the lamp.”

The doctor apologized and I was ushered into a new room, where I came to the deeply uncomfortable realization that the blood could only have reached the lamp by spurting upward, and that hospitals are never as clean as we hope.

I was supposed to have a cyst removed. The doctor originally thought it was an adenoma, which is a more serious affair, but on the day of the surgery decided it was actually a cyst, and they shouldn’t bother cutting it out.

It was supposed to be a 15 minute outpatient procedure, and he’d prescribed Ativan for anxiety. I felt like I was floating. I was concerned about something, and the nurse looked at me kindly and told me not to worry about it. For once in my life, I believed it.

When the doctor decided against removing the cyst, I struggled to focus my brain to absorb this new piece of information. “Well, I’m already here,” I reasoned. I felt kind of embarrassed, because I’d taken off work for it and everything. “This is one scar you don’t need,” everyone said.

My aunt wrapped her hands around my shins. “Hi,” she said, trying to bring me back to reality.

I have gaps in my memory from that point, partly because I kept falling asleep, although that doesn’t explain how I got from the hospital to the car. My aunt drove me toward home. “I think you need some food,” she said. So we stopped at a diner. I observed the other customers with a degree of frankness that probably would have been considered rude.

There was a pet store across the parking lot. “Can we go see the guinea pigs?” I asked.

So we went to see the guinea pigs. I asked if I could take them out of their cages.

“Well, we don’t normally let people take them out,” said the pet store employee.

“What if I sat on the floor?” I suggested. That was apparently a satisfactory compromise, because I remember sitting in the aisle of the pet store, cuddling a guinea pig with sleek black fur.

My aunt drove me home and put me in bed. My poor, befuddled brain told me that she sank through a hole in my bedroom floor, but she probably just took the stairs.

Later, she told me I had been remarkably functional. “Was I acting really weird in the pet store?” I asked. “No,” she said. “You just looked like you reverted back to your natural self.”

There wasn’t enough room in my jaw for my wisdom teeth to come in, so they had to come out. The nurse walked me from the waiting room to the surgery. She looked at me curiously.

“Did you take the prescription we gave you?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Most people wouldn’t be able to walk right now.”

I smiled to myself.

“I’ve lost weight,” I said. This seemed like a crucial piece of information, because any amount of weight loss on my body is notable and potentially concerning. Weight loss means I’ve lost muscle. I was feeling weak.

“Yeah, how do you do that?” the doctor said. “I wish I looked like that.”

I blinked at her.

I came with my own barf bag–I’m not rude–but when I lunged for it at reception, the man behind the desk handed me a hospital-grade version, which had a hard plastic opening and looked like it was meant to go in a vacuum cleaner. I heaved into the provided bag and daintily (limply) extended my arm to be affixed with a hospital bracelet by the receptionist, who looked bored rather than disgusted.

I was put in a wheelchair and pushed into the ER proper. They installed me in a room, and I shakily climbed onto the bed. Table? They gave me a blanket.

The doctor walked in and asked what brought me into the ER today? I looked at him and started puking into my bag.

“So,” he said, turning to my boyfriend. “How long has this been going on?”

A couple of hours. It came on quite suddenly, with disturbing vehemence.

“It’s a lot of mucus,” I offered, when I could speak again.

“I noticed,” the doctor said, wryly and without condescension.

I was cold and dehydrated and shivering.

The nurse had to take my blood and start an IV. I’m very easy to stick. My skin’s so translucent I’m practically a walking diagram of the circulatory system. He inserted the needle into my right arm, and–I believe this is the technical parlance–blew my vein. That is, he pierced the vein all the way through.

“Oh,” he said. I turned to look, and saw him lifting my skin from underneath with the needle.

“Whoa,” said my boyfriend. I felt sick, but mostly indignant.

The nurse seemed flummoxed, but finally got the needle out. He proceeded to give it a try on my left arm, as the diffusing blood formed a bruise on my inner right elbow.

“Stop shivering,” the nurse said peevishly, as if I was doing it on purpose. Probably he was embarrassed.

He took several vials of my blood, which seemed unnecessary, and then started the IV so I could be rehydrated. The fluid entering my arm was cold. My boyfriend foraged in the cupboard for more blankets, and tucked me in. I still shivered.

I call to make an appointment. I go through a version of the same ritual every time.

“Last name?” asks the receptionist.

“Marcy,” I reply.

“No, your last name.”

“That is my last name. M-A-R-C-Y.”

“Oh, Mercy!”

“No, Marcy. With an A. A as in Apple.”

I sit in the waiting room.

“Mercy?” asks the receptionist.

“Mercy!” announces the nurse.

There could be someone else in the room actually named Mercy, so I look around before I get up. I see people cradling broken arms, and people trying to cough discreetly, and children waiting with their parents, and Mercy starts to sound more like a plea than a name.

Rachel Marcy likes history, sleuthing, ballet, fencing, and guinea pigs.

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