Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 10 - Family At Last!

Sunday morning, Sparky came in to visit me on his way to pick up my sister and mother from the airport. When he came in, he asked me if I noticed anything different about him. ‘Um, you shaved?” I guessed. Nope. He was no longer wearing a mask, which meant that tuberculosis was finally ruled out. So the two options were now either lung cancer or a fungal infection. We were getting closer to a diagnosis anyway, so that seemed positive even though both choices sucked. But now my sister and mom wouldn’t have to wear a mask when they visited me, and Sparky promised to bring Bee by tonight so that I could finally see her again! Of course she wouldn’t be allowed up to my room, but I could go downstairs to the waiting room and visit with her there and I wouldn’t have to wear a mask and freak her out. Sunday was shaping up to be a good thing. Except for one thing. 

A good friend of ours, our “go-to” person for all things Bee had gone bad. Somehow this episode at County-USC just didn’t register for her. In the suddenness of it all, Sparky had been calling everyone we know to find someone to watch Bee for a few hours so he could visit me in the Contagion Room. The painful part of it all was that she would have been insulted, hurt even, if we hadn’t asked for her help. And who knows what turmoil lurks in the chambers of the human heart? It was never explained, but after four days of saying “nope, too busy, can’t do it”, Sparky gave up on her, and she on us. Many have said that tragedy and emergencies bring a real focus to family and friends, but this was  the most unexpected turn possible. And despite the generally happy ending to this medical tragic-comedy, that multi-year friendship is nothing but a burnt bridge now. It was even more unexpected than the host of potentially life ending diseases that I was being probed for, and was nearly as painful. And through it all this so called “friend” never even asked how I was doing, or communicated directly with me. I was a bystander in the towers of County-USC, and it was a very lonely place to be. For all I know, she may think I’m still there. Because of this situation it has taken me forever to continue on with my hospital chronicles because I have been in full avoidance mode. But I now fully accept it, it is what it is, and was what it was, C’est la vie.

My very good friend Ali who was in France during my hospitalization was there for me despite the distance. She contacted her parents who contacted me and offered their help. And on that Sunday, despite it all, things were looking up for the Misers. I had to have a pap smear done  in order to rule out cervical cancer, but that should be no big deal. And soon my family would be in my hospital room with me. My mom and sister were going to be staying with Ali’s parents, who very graciously offered their guest room to them for a night or two. And then they would be at Ali’s spare apartment which was being cleaned. The generosity of my friends was pretty awesome, and I’m forever thankful to them for being so sweet to my family. Ali’s mom told me that it was no big deal, that it was what friends and neighbors did for one another in times of trouble. 

Sparky left to pick up my mom and Kiki, and I was taken across the hall to have my pap done. It did not go very well. The doctor who was doing it hadn’t done one in a while and was having problems. She had to call another doctor in to help her, and they finally managed to get some of my cells. I then went back to my room and waited for my visitors. 

They finally showed up and I was very happy to see them, I think we all cried a little. I don’t really remember what we talked about, but it was good to have them there. I was served my dinner and my mom made me eat every single thing on my plate because she thought I was too skinny. And then Sparky called me to let me know that he and Bee were downstairs. 

I put on some pants under my hospital gown, hid my IV line under a sweater, and the three of us headed down. Bee seemed a bit disheveled, as though her hair hadn’t been properly brushed for a week, and she had a bit of a glazed look in her eyes. She was as happy to see me as I was to see her. Her voice seemed really high to me and I could tell that she was overtired and needed both a bath and some sleep. But it was so good to finally see her again. Seven o’clock came too soon, and everyone was asked to leave and I hugged and kissed them all and went back upstairs to my little hospital room. I felt both happy and depressed. I dearly wanted out of there, back into my old life. It was hard to get use to this new life in this hospital, and I was afraid of what was going to happen next. But tomorrow I would see my family again so it was not all bad. I took my valium and read my self to sleep. 

(to be continued...)   

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kindergarten Baby Anxieties

Bee started kindergarten just this Monday. I have very mixed feelings about this as it was not an easy task picking out a school for her. Sparky and I both thought long and hard about it, but ended up choosing her charter school based on the fact that it started one week later than the others (more summer for us) and it starts at 7:50 a.m. vs. 7:45 a.m. To a little girl who loves to sleep and is not much of a morning person, five extra minutes in the morning are huge.

The other things I like about her new school is that besides having an ambitious academic program (she has homework everyday, even on the weekends) the emphasis is on dance. Which seems like the perfect thing for a little five year old. Each day, after the rigors of learning math and reading skills, the children get to exercise and move around and dance. It just seems like a good, healthy thing for them to do each day. So that is definitely a plus. Also, they are required to wear uniforms. Sparky and I like uniforms. In fact, I would wear one myself if I could. But since I’m not in a profession that requires one, it seems kind of weird. 

We plan on being very involved in her schooling, which I think is important; the parents at her new school must volunteer for at least 15 hours a year. The parents all seem enthusiastic, the teachers are nice, and the principal is very friendly and knows all the kids by name. My misgivings, though, come from a campus that is all asphalt and concrete. There’s no grass, and the few trees are trapped in planters and look sad.  In short, it’s very much of an inner city type of place, and seems particularly wrong in verdant Echo Park. The kindergarten shares this campus with another separate elementary school that has been around forever. They have tried to beautify the grounds with large pots full of plants, and maybe when these plants get bigger and fill out the place will look nicer. 

But aesthetics seem like they should be a minor thing. We wanted to send our Bee to a school in our neighborhood, and not ship her off to some fancy private school that we couldn’t afford. What we hope for is that she gets a good education, and that she’s as happy and well adjusted as can be as she begins her school journey that will last for the next seventeen to twenty years. (The twenty years would depend upon whether or not she goes to grad school. Although I don’t think you need a degree to be a fairy, and I know you don’t need one to be a rock and roll singer, so the twenty years of schooling could be a moot point.) And if it really blows there we can always enroll her somewhere else for first grade. In the grand scheme of things as Sparky says, “It’s just kindergarten.”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Squirrely McNutty

Last week was something of a bittersweet time for the Misers. Shortly after learning about Piano Man's demise, Sparky discovered a baby squirrel lying on our patio in the backyard. At first he thought that our cat Lila had caught it and that the poor thing was on its last little legs. His first thought was to put it out of its misery. Bee was screaming because she thought it was a dead rat and I didn't even want to look at it because I thought it would be broken and bloody. But when Sparky poked at it the little squirrel moved a bit and curled up into a teeny ball. I then looked at the baby and saw that it was breathing and seemingly whole. We decided that it had most likely fallen out of the tree and Sparky guessed that a Red-tailed hawk had gotten its mother which caused this little guy to fall out of its nest. We also decided that he was a boy and put him in a box lined with an old cotton t-shirt. I looked up what to do on the inter web, and after comparing baby squirrel pictures we decided that he must be about four and a half weeks old. He was tiny and very cute and we very much wanted this little guy to live. We named him Squirrely McNutty, and Bee placed a little knitted red heart in the box with him to keep him company. 

Sparky then called our local veterinarians who told us to bring him in. This vet office had recently changed ownership and were now open until 10:00 p.m. weeknights. They also happened to have a wildlife expert on hand, so it seemed like serendipity. The woman at the front desk cooed over the baby when she saw him and asked his name. She then took Squirrely McNutty to the back to be examined by the expert. She asked us what we wanted to do with him, if we wanted to take care of him ourselves or if we wanted to hand him over to them. I told her we wanted to do what was best for Squirrely McNutty. But then Sparky chimed in that he thought that we should care for him ourselves, and that it would be a good learning experience for Bee. The vet wanted to keep him for a bit to give him some nutrients and some badly needed fluids, so we were told to come back later that night to pick him up and to get instructions for feeding him.

When we got home, I received a phone call from the vet's receptionist telling me I needed to get some kitten formula for Squirrely McNutty - and she told me that he would need to eat every three to four hours for a couple of weeks or so until he was able to hold solid foods in his little paws. Wow. I realized that we were probably not be the best people for this job after all, especially since Bee starts kindergarten this week. I told her that I wanted to release Squirrely McNutty to them since I knew that they were better able to care for him. Their plan was to nurture him for a few days and them turn him over to a squirrel sanctuary where there would be other orphaned squirrels for him to play with.  She told me that he had opened his eyes and wrapped his little paw around her finger. She was completely smitten with him and I knew that Squirrely McNutty was going to a-okay. Bee cried when I told her that Squirrely McNutty wasn't going to come home with us after all. Sparky and I feel a bit sad as well but we are happy that Squirrely McNutty will live and that we saved his little furry life.

We are hoping that his eventual recovery will lead to a release ... in our wildlife sanctuary, our backyard!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Piano Man

A few weeks ago I received a text from Sparky that said: "I think they took Piano Man away tonight! Cops were there w P-woman for 3 hours. A white car came and left. No piano music tonight." Bee and I were up in Seattle visiting family when this occurred. A few days later I received this message: "Piano Man & Rat Dog are back! It looks like Rat Dog had a shampoo! Haven't actually seen P-man but there's noodling on the piano..." Sparky also reported to us that some guy has been cleaning up P-Man's house, and that he has noticed the heavy smell of Lysol and various pieces of furniture and bedding had been hauled outside to be thrown away.

Piano Man has been our next door neighbor for quite some time now. And although he seems pretty bonkers he's also fairly harmless, and we have come to enjoy his eccentric piano playing over the years. His dog, a small black scruffy creature, is really annoying because he constantly yips and yaps  and nips at my heels every time I walk down the alley. But he too seems fairly harmless.

When Bee and I returned from the PNW I noticed how quiet it was over at Piano Man's. But I didn't think it was that big of a deal because in the past the P-Man would go through long stretches without playing the piano. We just always assumed that it was because he was back on his medication which probably caused him to stop manically playing his beloved instrument. We never really knew what his medical condition was, but imagined that he was bipolar or something similar. He had told us that he was on disability but never gave us any details. So we just filled in the blanks by supposing that sometimes he went off his meds and would have crazy music playing bouts of energy and then he would go back on them and the drugs would render him silent. And sometimes in-between he would listen to CDs, mostly seventies music like Elton John and Fleetwood Mac. 

This recent silence coupled with the police sighting made Sparky and I uneasy, and we started to worry a bit about Piano Man. Maybe he was still away, we assumed. Sparky must have mistakenly heard piano noodling that day. But away where? Had he finally been committed by Piano Woman? It seemed pretty obvious that Piano Woman did not like Piano Man as we had heard her yelling at him and his dog a lot. She really really did not like his dog, and told him so quite often. "I hate that dog!" she would yell at him. Which made me feel sorry for Piano Man and sorry for  Rat Dog even though I didn't like him either as he was always barking and trying to bite my ankles. 

Then last week as I was outside hanging up laundry I heard Paul McCartney & Wings emanating from the house next door. I took this as a sign that Piano Man truly was back because that was one of his most favorite bands. I told Sparky that I was sure it was the Piano Man. But Sparky had doubts and told me that it was probably just The Guy who was still busy cleaning the house who had been listening to the radio. There hadn't been a Piano Man sighting in weeks so I started having doubts as well. A few days later, Sparky voiced the idea that Piano Man was dead and that was why he haven't seen him in so long. Sparky surmised that Piano Man had said the wrong thing to some gang bangers who then killed him, which would explain all of the police action from a few weeks back. I found that scenario to be highly unlikely, but maybe Sparky was right about Piano Man being no more. We both looked up obituaries on the inter web but found nothing about the P-man. So Sparky decided that next time The Guy was working next door he would ask him what was going on over there.

Today, Sparky saw The Guy and ran over to talk to him. Here is what The Guy said: Piano Man was dead, he apparently had drank himself to death. He was found face down in the house, his body had been there for a few days and had started to turn. Prior to this Piano Woman had asked him for a divorce and the papers had just been signed to make it official. P-Woman was currently living next door to the house with her sister, who was The Guy's wife, and he was currently cleaning up the place to make it inhabitable once again. Piano Woman had just gotten back from a trip with her sister and refused to step foot in P-Man's house ever again. OMG. The Piano Man is gone. We never knew that he had a drinking problem as he never seemed drunk but that would help to explain his erratic behavior. Plus we had often heard him retching his guts out very loudly early in the morning. We just thought he had allergies. Poor P-Man. We are saddened by your sudden death and are actually going to miss you. Rest in peace, Piano Man, and play us a song tonight.  

Well, the night was falling as the desert world
Began to settle down
In the town they're searching for you every where
But we never will be found, oh no

Band on the run
Band on the run
And the county judge who held a grudge
will search for evermore

For the band on the run
For the band on the run...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 9 - Saturday Night At The Movies

Saturday morning marked the fifth day in the hospital. Honestly, I was surprised to find myself still there. Being in a hospital makes you feel suspended from the rest of world, as though you are not a part of society any longer. My life in that isolation room had taken on an unreal and dreamlike quality and time seemed warped, moving both fast and slow at the same time. I still did not know what afflicted me but I had ample time to think about it. I stopped reading "Just Kids" right at the part where Robert Mapplethorpe gets sick because I couldn't bear to read about him dying. I figured that I would read the rest of the book after getting out and hopefully was in a better space. So instead I downloaded a bunch of books onto my iPad by female comedians like Tina Fey's "Bossypants", Mindy Kapling's "Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?" and Sara Barron's "People Are Unappealing: Even Me" as I was more in the mood for some shallow and light reading then anything that was heavy or profound. Funny books were all I could stomach there on the inside.

I was scheduled for two ultrasounds in the afternoon to check for any cancer cells that may be lurking in my body. I was again wheeled through the massive labyrinth of hospital corridors and taken down to where the sonograms where performed. Since I was to have two separate ultrasounds done, I was taken down twice and seen by two different technicians. The tests were both fairly uneventful as they didn't hurt or anything, but they did take forever to complete and were very impersonal.  The technicians barely spoke to me as I laid on the table in the small darkened room but instead worked the sonogram wand with one hand and the computer with the other. They both seemed to be concentrating very hard while they performed their tasks. It felt like they were doing a very thorough job for which I was thankful, and then finally it was over.

Two pulmonary specialist also visited me that Saturday afternoon. The first lung doctor (who was older than me) told me that because of my age he seriously doubted that it was lung cancer. He still wasn't sure what it was, but wanted me not to worry and to hope for the best. I liked him quite a bit and he promised to visit me later when they had more information. The second lung doctor (who was younger than me) told me that because of my age there was a likely chance that it could be lung cancer, and that we should proceed with caution. What the hell? The first guy made me feel like I was too young to get lung cancer and the second guy made me feel like I was suddenly the perfect age for lung cancer. And that made me feel old. And kind of depressed. I told Sparky about it when he came to visit me and he told me not to worry, that everything was going to be all right, and that he could tell that I didn't have lung cancer. He said this with great conviction and it cheered me up because I really believed him at that moment, and his intuition in these matters has been remarkably accurate over the years.

After Sparky left, I ate my bland saltless dinner and decided that I was going to spend Saturday night in the hospital watching a movie! I had my own little flatscreen TV hanging on the wall but had not watched it at all. "The Blind Side" was showing that night and my sister had recommend it to me, telling me that her oldest son really like it. She assured me that it had a happy ending which was really my only criteria. So I watched it that night and enjoyed it quite a bit. It made me cry, but in a sentimental kind of way. It's not the type of movie I would ever seek out at the movie theater or rent from Netflex, but it was perfect for what I needed that Saturday night in the hospital. It was the only thing that I watched on the TV while I was there, and I will always associate Sandra Bolluck and the movie "The Blind Side" with my stint at County/USC.

(to be continued...) 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 8 - Bronchoscopy

I woke up early Friday morning feeling anxious about the bronchoscopy. I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything, so I waited nervously for my transporter to take me to the operating room while wishing for a cup of good strong coffee that would never appear the entire time I was there. My wheels soon arrived and I had to wear a mask again to keep me from contaminating anybody with my deadly tuberculous germs. I could have walked to the O.R. just fine, but at County/USC you're always made to sit in a wheelchair as though infirm, regardless of your condition. As a side effect, this brings feelings of helplessness and a sense that you're really as sick as they think you might be. If I had been allowed to simply walk it would have done wonders for my outlook, but instead I complied with the transporter and played the role of the ailing patient. 

When we got to the operating room, I was greeted by two nurses, and was helped up onto a gurney. One of the nurses attached fluids to my IV. She asked if I had had anything "by mouth" in the past twelve hours. I hadn't, but wondered why they always say "by mouth" as though you could drink or eat using another orifice. They let me take off my mask as they were both wearing these crazy space age helmets to protect themselves from catching my virulent disease. The room did not look like much of an operating room to me, and I started having doubts about this whole bronchoscopy business. Then a doctor was standing above me, peering intently into my face. He was wearing a paper mask which somehow made me feel better. He asked me in a German accent if I had ever been really sick, if I had ever felt like something was going on in my lungs. (The fact that the doctor was German also made me feel better as the first bronchoscopy was done by a German back in the late 1800s, which I knew because I had looked it up on my iPad the night before.) 

I told him that when I had pneumonia I had felt really sick. He asked me if I had been really sick some other time, and I said no. He asked me was I sure? Surely, I must feel what was going on in my lungs? I shook my head no, and felt slightly bad that I couldn't remember because it was evident that he very much wanted me to. Then he patted me on the forehead and said not to worry, that he was going to put the camera into my lungs and find out what was going on in there. He said that if it all went well he would do a couple of brush biopsy, but if things were trickier he would have to do a needle biopsy which would take longer and was more dangerous. He said he was pretty sure that it would just be the brush biopsies which were much safer. I hoped he was right. Then he kind of patted me again, and I realized that I was feeling slightly floaty and that the medication running through my IV was starting to kick in. He turned to the nurses and asked them why they were wearing those crazy space helmets, and then scoffed at them when they replied that it was because I may have TB. "She does not have tuberculous," he said with great conviction, "and I am not going to wear one of those ridiculous helmets." And that is the last thing I remember until I woke up and found myself back in my hospital room. 

I had no idea how I got there and realized that I must have been really out of it. After the operation. you are wheeled into a recover room and remain there until the anesthesia subsides. Then a nurse looks you in the eye and talks to you to make sure all is okay before you're sent back to your room. I had no recollection of the process and I wondered it I had just dreamed it all. Before the 'oscopy I thought my throat would be sore, but it wasn't. How could that be? And I found that I was suddenly starving as it was almost noon and I had had  nothing "by mouth" since the night before. Very soon an orderly showed up with my lunch: salad, pasta, vegetables, roll, milk and juice. And no salt to speak of, so everything was really bland. God, I really hate hospital food. I found my self continually singing the Eels song "Hospital Food" to myself at each meal. If you write a song about hospital food it means that you have spent way too much time in the damned hospital, and I was quickly reaching that point as well. How much longer was I going to be here, and what the hell was wrong with me? Those seemed to be my constant thoughts.

A little later, Sparky came to visit which cheered me up. And my sister called to inform me that she, Mom and our little brother were coming out to Los Angeles to visit and to help out! Yeah! That news made me so happy that I almost cried. I really needed them right now, and thankfully they were able to be there for me. I suddenly felt very lucky for a potential cancer victim.

A little bit later, Dr. Pop came to visit me. Sparky was out getting something to eat, so it was just me and the good doctor. He informed me that the bronchoscopy had gone exceptionally well and that they were able to get three good brush biopsies, so that was good news. He seemed to be pretty happy about  the whole thing, but then again he was just an upbeat kind of guy. And then he rattled on, saying that if it was a fungal infection that they would try to treat it with antibiotics, but they might also have to remove part of my lung. What?! It was the first I'd heard about about that kind of drastic, invasive direction. My insides sank with that cold hard free fall of bad hospital news. I asked him how much of my lung would be removed, and he said a quarter, maybe half. Wow. This news was made even worse because I had been rooting for the "fungal infection" diagnosis the whole time - it beat cancer in my mind any day, but now I was filled with dread about all of the options being offered. I asked him if I could run a marathon with half my lung missing, and he seemed surprised by my question. He asked me if I was planning on running one, and I said  no but you never know, I liked having the option of running one. He told me that the pulmonary dudes would be by to see me later and I could ask them. But he said that we should just take it one day at a time and figure out what I had first. Right, one day at a time. And then he told me that they would be doing all kinds of tests to see if there were cancer cells anywhere in my body. Tomorrow they would do several sonograms, and later I would be given a pap smear as well as a mammogram. And of course they were still awaiting my tuberculous sputum test as well as my skin test, and at the end of next week they should have my lung biopsy results.

The rest of the day was uneventful, which is what you want when you are in the hospital. Sparky came back and we hung out some more. I talked to my mother who was in much better spirits as she was going to be coming out to see me. I did not tell her about what Dr. Pop said regarding a fungal infection as I didn't want to freak her our anymore than she already was. Then Sparky left to go feed Bee her dinner and I was also fed my delicious hospital dinner. After that I read some, took my tranquilizer, and tried not to think about fungal infections.

Hospital food,
Want some Hospital food,
Hospital food,
Delicious Hospital food...

(to be continued...)

Thursday, June 28, 2012


I am feeling very optimistic right now, thanks to the Supreme Court. With all of the medical troubles I've had recently not to mention my utter lack of health insurance, this ruling is of particular interest to me.  I (like CNN and Fox News, apparently) thought that the Justices would strike down The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional, but they actually upheld it! After spending eight days in County/USC I know firsthand how broken our current healthcare system is, and Obamacare is definitely a step in the right direction. Now all we have to do is reelect our President. As Bee would say, Go Obama, Go!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 7 - Isolation

When I woke up the next morning I realized that I really needed a shower. So I buzzed my nurse who donned a mask and entered into my isolation room. She covered the IV which was still attached to my arm with a plastic baggie and then taped it up for me. I was so excited to finally take a shower as I was feeling grungy and my scalp was itchy from want of a good shampooing. The shower was a bit wonky as there was no shower curtain and the nozzle was the hand held kind. I ended up getting the whole bathroom floor soaking wet, but I didn't care because at least I was finally clean. I changed into a new hospital gown and combed out my wet hair. Breakfast was waiting for me, and I ate every single bite of it as I was starving. My dinner of fruit and crackers the night before hadn't been very substantial so my rather bland breakfast of cold scrambled eggs, toast, cereal, orange juice and coffee seemed like the most delectable feast to me. I called Sparky on the phone, and he informed me that he had been trying to reach me all morning. Apparently my phone was only able to make outgoing local calls. He said that he would be by to visit me once he dropped Bee off at preschool as he was eager to see my fancy new room. (Not really, I just added that bit - Sparky, like most people, hates hospitals and was not looking forward to coming back, although he did want to see me.) 

My nurse came in and gave me the daily shot in my stomach that would thin my blood. The shot itself didn't hurt, but afterwards it stung like crazy.  I also had to swallow a bunch of pills. And then a team of  masked doctors came in to discuss my illness. They consisted of two pulmonary doctors, a hematologist and an internist. The pulmonary guys said that there was three possibilities of what was ailing me: it could be lung cancer, a fungal infection, or tuberculosis. I would have the bronchoscopy the next morning which would tell them if it was cancer or a fungal infection. And a sputum specialist would be by later that day to get three sputum samples from me, and that would determine whether or not I had TB. They asked me some questions relating to my recent bout with pneumonia, weight loss, and my general health. The pulmonary doctors then left, promising to come by tomorrow after the bronchoscopy. Which left the hematologist and the internist. The blood guy told me that he was quite concerned with my high platelet count. He said the daily injection would help insure there was no clotting, but that I shouldn't just lie around in my bed all day. He told me to eat all my meals sitting up at my little table, and to walk around as much as possible. He said that he would be by to see me later, and he too left. And then it was just me and the internist. He turned out to be an enthusiastic, upbeat type of doctor with a long unpronounceable last name who told me just to call him "Dr. Pop" as that's what all of his patients called him. Dr. Pop told me a little story about a patient of his who was terminal and in immense pain and things are not looking so good for him. But despite his horrible illness this amazing patient had such a positive outlook on life! As I listened to this good doctor gush on about this amazing patient of his I wondered what the hell it had to do with me. I guess he was trying to cheer me up about my own situation, but it did little to alleviate my great fear of not knowing what I had. I didn't really care about this amazing patient of his, and if he thought that I was going to be an amazing positive patient as well then he had another think coming. But I did like Dr. Pop despite it all, and he made me feel better just because he was so damned cheerful. 

I decided to walk around like the hematologist told me to do, and I paced around the room liked a caged animal. I was frustrated because although I finally had a phone I wasn't able to receive any incoming calls on it, nor was I able to call my family because it was long distance. I was anxious because I knew that my parents must be worried sick about me and I really needed to talk to them. So I paced around some more. Finally Sparky showed up and he was as agitated as I was. He had his own problems going on, related to mine of course, the most important being little Bee. Sparky was scrambling to find people to watch her so that he could visit me at the hospital.

My good friend Alexa was out of the country at the moment, so she was not around to watch Bee. (Alexa has a daughter who is a year younger than Bee and the two of them often have play dates. If she had been in town, she would have watched Bee at the drop of the hat.) Another friend of ours who has watched Bee in the past was not able to help out at all, so Sparky was pleading with others to come to Bee's aide. The problem is we've never had a real babysitter, and had no idea of how to suddenly obtain one. The Depression of 2008 hit shortly after Bee came into our lives, and so even if we wanted to go out, there was no money for it, let alone a sitter - that life was for the economically fortunate. And as neither one of us have family in Los Angeles, we've had to rely on the kindness of friends. When that system works it is a thing of beauty and restorative for one's faith in humanity. When it fails it is just damned ugly. For there is nothing like tragedy to shine a bright and unflinching light on the nature of your friendships, and relations with your family.

While Sparky was visiting me his phone rang - my isolation room had cell phone reception next to the window! I fished my cell phone out of my bag and plugged it into the outlet next to the window. I was able to get my messages and call my sister, which is what I did. She offered to come out to Los Angeles to help out, but I thought that I would be out of the hospital in the next day or two so didn't think we would need her. She told me that our mother was freaked out and that I should call her. And then the sputum specialist entered my room and I had to go and get down to business.

The specialist sprayed a salt water solution up my nose which made me gag and cough up a bunch of sputum. He did it to me three times and had me fill three different sample cup with this sputum. These samples would be placed in a culture to see if tuberculosis was present, which would take a few days to grow. Then they would know once and for all whether or not I had TB. After the specialist left someone else came in to take another blood sample. Then it was time for lunch, my vitals were taken again, and my nurse came in to have me pee into a cup. What a busy day I was having in isolation! It felt like a whole lot of nothing was going on because they still didn't know what was wrong with me. And then my mother called. She was relieved to finally talk to me, but she made me nervous because she sounded so flipped out. I could tell that she was scared and it scared me. I assured her that I would call tomorrow after the bronchoscopy as soon as I was able. I normally enjoy talking to my mother on the phone, but that was not our best conversation and I couldn't hang the phone up fast enough. Then Sparky had to leave to pick up Bee from preschool but he promised to come back later. I found out that I was able to use the hospital's WiFi which allowed me to get my emails off of my iPad. So at least I was able to communicate with the outside world, which is what I did. I also took a brief nap because even though I had not done much that day, I found that being in a hospital is really exhausting. 

Not much happened after that. Sparky came back to hang out with me for a couple of hours. Various people called. I ate another bland and saltless meal. My vital signs were taken again. Then visiting hours were over and once more I was by myself. I suddenly felt the weight of the day closing in on me and I felt both lonely and sorry for myself. A Joy Division's song started playing in my head: In fear every day, every evening, He calls her aloud from above...  Sometimes I can be so dramatical. 

(to be continued...)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 6 - Movin' On Up

As I was wheeled to my new room upstairs I was reminded again how vast County/USC Medical truly is. It's a huge monstrosity that doesn't seem to go on forever, it does. I asked the attendant if she ever got lost and she told me that newly hired staff have to take a test on every location in the building. They have two chances to take it, and hardly anyone passes the first time around. Finally, after many twists and turns we arrived at my new room - and I was amazed at how much better it was than my old room. This one was larger and had a window, a television and a phone. Plus there was a big bathroom with a shower. After being in that awful little hole downstairs I suddenly felt like the Jeffersons with a deluxe apartment in the sky!

A new nurse came into the room and told me what was going to happen to me. Tomorrow I would meet with my Pulmonary Team, a hematologist, and the general doctor who was assigned to me. They would be able to give me more information about what was going on as well as filling me in on the course of action they wanted to take. I probably wouldn't have the bronchoscopy until Friday which meant I had a whole other day to fret about it. At this point I just wanted to get everything over with as soon as possible. I noticed that there was a white board hanging on the wall that listed the names of my nurse, attendant, doctors and their stated goal which was to keep their patient (that would be me) pain free, make sure the patient didn't have any falls, or any problems breathing. What the hell kind of stupid goals were those? I pointed out to her that I wasn't in any pain, I wasn't in any danger of falling, and that I was breathing just fine. Thankfully she erased them. Then I noticed that it said that my estimated release date was Monday. It was Wednesday night. That meant I was going to be in there for another five days! I freaked out and became a cranky bitch. She calmed me down by saying it was just an estimate, that she was sure I was going to be out sooner like maybe Saturday. She asked if there was anything else she could do for me? Since I was in cranky bitch mode I told her that I was a vegetarian, and that the meals I had in there so far were neither vegetarian nor very good. She promised me that they would provide me with vegetarian meals and that they would be better. I also asked for something to help me sleep since I was both exhausted and full of anxiety. I knew that there would be no way in hell that I would be able to sleep on my own. She said she would order me a tranquilizer and would bring it to me as soon as it arrived. Yeah!

I was no longer hooked up to any noisy machines. Instead, an attendant came in every four hours to take my vital signs. My new room was greatly improved, and after taking my tranquilizer I climbed into bed with the book that Sparky had brought me from home, Patti Smith's "Just Kids", which I had been meaning to read forever. That's the one thing about being in the hospital (or prison): you have plenty of time to read. So I opened my book and read until the tranquilizer kicked in. I was feeling way less anxious and was looking forward to taking a shower in the morning. My outlook had improved and I thought that maybe I would get out of there in just a few days, maybe I didn't have cancer, and maybe it was all going to be fine even though we didn't have health insurance, and maybe I finally got a piece of the pie.

(to be continued...)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 5 - More Of The Same

I slept fitfully in my tiny cramped room, waking up every two hours or so when the blood pressure cuff squeezed my arm to take a reading. My new nurse came in around eleven a.m. to check my IV and unhooked me from everything so that I could go to the bathroom. An hour later she brought me a lunch  of mystery meat on top of a bed of rice, flaccid broccoli and a wilted salad. I told her I was vegetarian, and she told me to just eat around the meat. Which I did but I wasn't really very hungry. I hated being in that room, and I could tell that the nurse hated coming into it because she had to put on a mask which messed up her hair. She told me that I would be moved upstairs as soon as a bed became available. By then I was on to them; I knew that it would be hours and hours before a bed was ready for me. My cell phone did not work in that room but the nurses let me use their phone to call Sparky. I had to wear a mask every time I left my room so that I wouldn't infect anybody with whatever it was that I had. I told Sparky that somebody needed to tell my parents what the hell was going on, and he said he would call my sister. He promised to visit once he found somebody to watch Bee.

I went back to my airless room which I though of as my prison cell, and fell back to sleep. This time I was able to sleep for a solid three hours because the nurse forgot to hook me back up to all the machines. And then I was woken up by a familiar voice yelling at everybody to fuck the hell off. It was my friend the homeless guy from the waiting room! He had finally been given a bed but wasn't very happy about it. I heard some scuffling outside in the hallway and some more swearing, and then chaos ensued. It took about twenty minutes for the poor guy to be contained. My nurse came in and she was really mad. She told me that she had been there for over twenty years, and she could not believe some of the patients that they admitted. If it were up to her, that homeless guy would have never been let in. She clearly had seen too much over the years and was now solidly cynical. But she was nice enough to me, and I liked her despite her telling me to just eat around the meat. She told me that she hoped that I had TB because it was very treatable, and far better than having cancer or some fungal infection.

Then Sparky was there and I was immensely happy to see him. He told me that my sister had told my mother, and I was relieved that my parents finally knew what was going on with me. He stayed with me until visiting hours were over, and when he left I gave him back Green Lambie because Bee was really missing it. In exchange, he gave me one of Bee's stuffed animals that she had picked out for me. It was one of her favorites - a little white and gold unicorn which made me smile.

By then it after seven p.m. and the nurses were changing shifts. My new nurse came into greet me and told me that they finally had a bed for me upstairs! He said that they would move me in about twenty minutes and he offered me some dinner. I told him I was a vegetarian and he said he would try to find something from the cafeteria. Five minutes later he had a collection of fruit, juice, milk, and crackers. It was not the most substantial of meals but I quickly ate it as I was starving at this point. I noticed that my new nurse wasn't wearing a mask and he told me it was because he didn't think I had TB. Great. The other nurse had hoped it was TB for my sake, and he was telling me that it wasn't. He then started an abstract conversation about death and dying, how it was something we all had to face, and blah blah blah. What the hell was he talking about? The whole thing seemed nonsensical, gibberish, and I did not want to get into a discussion about this topic. It was freaking me out. I believe he thought he was in a Ingmar Bergman film. Luckily for me another nurse showed up just then to take me to my new room, and I happily said "so long" to the philosophical male nurse and the hospital horrors of solitary confinement.

(to be continued...)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 4 - Hospital Bed

A hospital bed! I could not believe that after almost 10 hours of waiting I was finally taken upstairs and given a hospital bed of my very own. A kindly nurse gave me two hospital gowns to put on - one that tied in back, and one to wear like a robe that tied in front. The gowns are just as bad as you think they are; wear just one and your backside is left totally exposed.

The kind nurse inserted an IV line into my vein and expertly taped it for me. I then meet the first of the many doctors I would be seeing over the course of my stay. She was one of my favorites. She was nice, young and pretty and had a caring and gentle bedside manner. If Bee had been there she would have called her a Fairy Princess Doctor, or F.P. Doctor for short. My F.P. Doctor told me that it was her opinion that I didn't have lung cancer, but rather tuberculosis or maybe a bacterial or fungal infection instead. Something was going on in my lungs and my platelets were still extremely high, but she really did not think it was cancer. This immediately cheered me up. She told me that they would do multiple tests on me in order to find out what was going on. She left me, but for the first time on that extremely long day I felt hope. Then three lung specialists came in and immediately burst my bubble. These officious pulmonary doctors told me that they were very concerned with the lesion on my lung and that there was a possibility that it could be cancer, TB, or a fungal infection. My stomach did a funny flip when I heard lung cancer being mentioned again. I wanted my F.P. Doctor back. They asked me if I had a family history of lung cancer. My grandfather had lung cancer, but he was a heavy smoker and a fireman who had been in a lot of burning buildings full of smoke and asbestos. He had passed out from smoke inhalation multiple times and had to be pulled out of the flames by his firemen brethren, which can't be good for your lungs. Sparky's dad had also died from lung cancer. He too was a heavy smoker as well as a soldier in World War II who spent his tour of duty to his country on an asbestos lined submarine. Sparky and I had both watched our loved ones die from this deadly disease, and we knew firsthand how devastating it was.

The doctors said they were going to take more x-rays, which immediately concerned me. I had already had two chest x-rays done that day, plus one from a week ago. Weren't all of these x-rays dangerous? One of the doctors told me that flying in an airplane exposed you to more radiation than the x-rays did, which made me feel better. They wanted to do multiple x-rays from different angles in order to get a more complete picture of my lungs. Then they would do a CAT Scan. And they would also do a TB skin test as well as three TB sputum tests, which consists of spitting up mucus from your lungs into a cup. How lovely. And sometime in the next day or two a surgeon would perform a bronchoscopy on me. This is done by inserting a flexible tube with a camera down your throat and into your airways in order to take pictures of your lungs. It would be performed under general anesthesia. I did not like the sound of this. And then the doctors told me that my high platelets were a concern because they caused the blood to be too thick which meant that blood clots could occur. This condition is known as thrombocytosis. In order to thin my blood I would be given a daily injection of medication into my stomach. I was told that I was also very anemic and would have to take supplemental iron pills. And a hematologist would meet with me later in the week to further discuss the problem. But the first thing on my agenda was to get those chest x-rays.

It was now about four in the morning. I suddenly remembered that I had Green Lambie with me, so I took it out of my bag and held on to it. It somehow made me feel more secure, and I understood why Bee loved it so much. My nice nurse came and wheeled me down to radiology. The radiologist had me pose standing up, laying down on each side, and then flat on my back. It was uncomfortable and seemed to take forever. I was then wheeled back up to my room were I waited some more. I was too anxious to sleep so I just numbly sat on the bed waiting for the next procedure. At 5:30 I was wheeled down to get the CAT Scan. I was placed onto the table of the machine and a liquid was injected into my IV. Suddenly I had a metallic taste in my mouth, I felt a warm flush across my chest, and I had the sensation that I had peed my pants. A computer voice told me what to do: "Hold you breath for three seconds. Now breathe." Scans were taken of my lungs as the table moved me inside of the machine  And then it was over. Luckily I hadn't really peed my pants. As I was wheeled back up to my room I felt a bit like a helpless kid tightly clutching my daughter's Green Lambie. Back in the room one of the doctors gave me the TB skin test and I was told that I was going to be moved into a contagion room. Just in case I had TB they wanted to keep me away from others so that I wouldn't infect them. This room was self contained and everybody who entered it would have to wear a mask and gloves. 

My nice nurse came into the contagion room with me and hooked me up to various machines: electrodes were place on my chest and attached to a heart rate machine; my IV was hooked up to bags of antibiotics; a blood pressure cuff was strapped around my arm and its machine measured my blood pressure every two hours. My nice nurse was getting off her shift so she said goodbye to me and wished me luck. By this time it was seven in the morning. Then my F.P. Doctor came in and told me that I would be moved upstairs to a permanent bed sometime tomorrow, and then they would perform the bronchoscopy. She turned the lights off and told me to get some rest. I was suddenly alone in this tiny, dark, cramped windowless room. The machines beeped and hummed. I held Green Lambie and the emotions of the day whirled around in my mind. Why did some doctors say I might have cancer while others said I probably didn't? Was it just a matter of semantics? What was wrong with me? How long was I going to be in here? How were Sparky and Bee doing? How could I ever sleep in this goddamned noisy room? Why were my platelets so high? Why had I lost so much weight? Was my F.P. Doctor right? Or was I going to die? That thought scared me the most, but I know that death is inevitable and there is not a damn thing you can do about it. But somehow I fell into a dreamless sleep, and thankfully didn't have to think about any of it for awhile.

(to be continued...)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 3 - The Wait

When we got to County-USC we had to go through a metal detector. I was the first in line at the front desk but the nurse in charge was on her break. By the time she returned ten minutes later, a rather large line stretched out behind me. Fortunately, because I had all of my records and my chest x-ray CDs, she was able to check me in right away and I didn't have to wait in that enormous, cavernous room full of the whipped and resigned. I got to hop to the front of the line! They were soon checking my vitals: blood pressure, temperature, heart rate. (I would soon find out that these would be checked ever two to four hours during my entire stay.) Then I was called in to talk to a nurse practitioner. I handed her my records and CDs and explained to her what I had been through already. She scoffed at the idea of lung cancer, but then saw my palette count and actually said, "Holy shit!" She said there was no way that they could be that high and maybe the machine at Sunset Medical was somehow not working properly. She ordered another blood test for me (my third of the day), and told me that they would get a bed for me upstairs as soon as one was available. I was then told that I would have to wait in a "patient only" waiting room, and that I should send my husband and daughter home as they weren't allowed to be with me. I tearfully said goodbye to Sparky and Bee, and went off to get my blood drawn again. And then I was ushered into the room where I would spend the next nine and a half hours of my life waiting.

I chose a seat against the wall that didn't have anybody next to it on either side. I was very naive at this point, thinking that I would be there for an hour or so tops. I looked around me and observed the other patients. Some of them looked sicker than others, and one poor old man in a wheelchair looked positively out of it. There was a desk staffed with three or four nurses as well as two tables against the opposite wall from me. In between there were about fifty seats and a dozen lounge chairs for those who had IVs in their arms. They were the lucky ones as they got to actually lay down and possible sleep, which was probably hard for them due to the awful overhead florescent lighting. About twenty minutes after sitting down, my name was called by a nurse at one of the side tables. She checked my vitals and asked me what my pain level was on a scale of one to ten. Then she showed a chart with the number one and a drawing of a happy face which led up to the number ten with a crying, very sad face. I was in no pain, so I told her I was the happy face, which made her happy. She told me that I had made her day. I suppose a lot of people in there were in a lot of pain but I actually was feeling pretty good. I did not physically feel like I needed to be in a hospital. But my blood pressure and heart rate were too high which was not good. (And of course those bloody red platelets were too numerous, and there was something still on my lung.) I went back to my seat and waited some more. A little bit later my name was called again, and as I started to get up I was told to sit back down, she just wanted to make sure that I was still there. I guess some patients just take off from time to time. It was kind of like roll call in school.

My cell phone didn't work in this room, but there was a phone that we were allowed to use for local calls only, so I called Sparky and told him that I was still waiting for my room. I had been waiting for over two hours by this time, and finally realized that I might be there for awhile. I started talking to a nice Korean woman sitting a couple of seats away from me who told me that she and her uncle had been there since 9:00 that morning! Her uncle had pancreatic cancer and was having stomach issues, and he didn't speak English, so she was there as his interperter. She told me that they never had to wait like this in Korea because they had good healthcare there for all of their citizens. We both lamented the terrible state of healthcare in America. I then went up to the front desk to find out how long of a wait I was in for. They told me about ten hours from the time I checked in, which was about 5:00 p.m. Jesus. Then we got into a discussion about healthcare in America and they told me some horror stories. It is the law in this country that no hospital can turn away a patient based on their inability to pay. But rich hospitals do it all the time. Like Cedars Sinai for instance, who routinely dump their poor patients off on County-USC, who sees every single patient who comes through their doors. Hence my ten hour wait. I liked the nurses quite a bit and spent some time chatting with them because A: it made the time go by faster and B: it made me forget about the reason why I was there in the first place. I somehow felt safe in that room, and suddenly didn't really mind the ten hour wait because I could put off dealing with what actually brought me there.

So, I quickly fell into a routine. Every two hours I was called to check my vitals. And then a little bit later my name was called to make sure I was still there. And then I would call Sparky to let him know that I was still waiting. By this time the room had filled up and there were no empty seats at all. I sat next to the Korean woman who was very nice to me and saved my seat every time I got up to do something. Every once in a while she would get up to complain to the nurses about her uncle's long wait, but there was nothing they could do. She was told that patients were not seen in the order in which they arrived, but rather the order of urgency. I found out from the nurse who took my vitals that there were three tiers of patients. The number 3's were the ones who were the worse off so they were seen the soonest. Then there were the 2's, who were second worse off, and finally the number 1's who weren't quite as bad. My analogy for it (which the nurse agreed with) was that the 3's might die today, the 2's probably wouldn't die until tomorrow, while the 1's weren't going to die until next week. She told me I was a 2, which meant that I had priority over all the 1's, but not the 3's.

I had packed a small bag when we had stopped at the house, and I was kind of surprised by what was in it. My iPad. Bee's green blanket that was decorated with elephants that she has had since she was a baby. She called it her Green Lambie, and slept with it every night. I knew that she would be upset without it, but somehow was glad that I had it because it comforted me. My sister had given it to her, so I felt like both my sister and my daughter were with me. And there was a pair of clean underwear and socks. Why had I packed that strange mix of things? I called Sparky to tell him that I had Green Lambie, and that I was still waiting. Poor Sparky was at home worried to death about me, and I felt a strong need to reassure him and let him know that I was okay. But every time I thought about the reason why I was there I felt that funny feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach and I pushed it away by simply not thinking about it. As long as I stayed in that room I was safe because I could put off the inevitable.

I did not feel like reading on my iPad as I didn't have the concentration for it. Instead I observed the other patients around me. There was one woman whom I had noticed right away who was dressed conservitaly in navy blue pants, a navy sweater and navy shoes, with a white blouse underneath. She had short hair and looked like some sort of office worker. I couldn't figure her out. She was the only other white woman there besides myself, and seemed like she didn't really belong there. If she had an office job, then why didn't she have health insurance? And then her friend came in to take her to get something to eat. (We were allowed to leave that room as long as we checked in and out with the nurses.) Her friend was dressed identically to her, and that's when I realized that they were Scientologists. Which surprised me. Didn't the Scientologists have their own hospital or something where they used e-meters and stuff as treatment? Weren't they anti-medication? I didn't get it. All that stuff flies out the window when your life is on the line I guess.

Then there was the young prisoner patient who was wearing an orange jumpsuit and had shackles on his feet as well as handcuffs. He was surrounded by two guards who talked and joked around with him. They seemed to be having fun together, and I wondered what this kid had done. He didn't look dangerous or anything, and he must have been a number 3 because he didn't have as long as a wait as the rest of us. I noticed that he wasn't the only one who had people with him. Some of the other patients were sitting with their loved ones, and I particularly noticed a very pregnant woman who was trying to sleep leaning against her partner. Every chair in that room was taken, but some were more comfortable than others. For instance, the chairs not against the wall wouldn't allow the occupants to lean back and rest their heads. I felt kind of sorry for them. And then a patient got up and complained to the nurses that there were non-patients taking up valuable real estate, so a nurse went around and kicked all of them out of the room. The Korean woman got to stay because she was the interpreter, but the poor pregnant lady's husband had to leave. I couldn't believe that that patient had tattled, but there always seems to be a rules stickler in every group of people. And this happens every day of the year, every year...

The most excitement we had that night was caused by a thirty-something homeless guy who came in swearing his head off. Apparently, he had lost his fucking baseball hat in the other goddamned waiting room and he wanted his motherfucking hat back. This he said at the top of his lungs. The nurse took him out to find his fucking hat, but it was long gone. They finally convinced him to sit in one of those lounge chairs and stuck in IV in his arm where he continued to loudly swear until he finally fell asleep. About an hour or two later he suddenly awoke, shouting that he had to fucking pee. So the nurse unhooked him from the IV and instead of going to the bathroom he went out the exit door. They ran after him and found him peeing in the second floor stairwell. They dragged him back to the waiting room, called a janitor to clean up his mess, and tried to get him to sit back down in his chair. But his was really fucking mad this time and he started yelling and calling them names. The security guard called backup as she wasn't able to subdue him and six cops with guns came bursting through the doors. He started screaming at them, the cops told him to calm down, and somehow he did. He sat back down, they put the IV back in his arm, the cops left, and everybody in the room sighed a collective sigh of relief. I got up to get my vitals checked again and on the way back the nurses told me that I was next. I called Sparky to tell him the good news. It was almost 2:00 in the morning and I was exhausted and I was finally going to be next! And then at 2:20 a.m. they called my name. I got up, and felt guilty because they had called me before the Korean woman's uncle who had been waiting way longer then me, for over 17 hours. But I was a 2 and he must have been a 1. I didn't really want to leave that awful, hideous room with the horrible lighting because I was too afraid to find out if I really did have lung cancer. I wanted to stay in blissful ignorance. I nervously walked with the nurse to the elevator and went up the four floors to my room to finally meet my fate.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lucky Tiles

I had to take a break from writing the Hospital Chronicles because Friday's entry made my stomach hurt and I had to keep getting up from the computer in order to pace around and shake it off. So today I'm just posting my new batch of Lucky Tiles. I think my favorite is the Tree Of Life in the center.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 2 - Big C

On a cloudy Tuesday, a couple days after being back home in Los Angeles, it was time for me to go to a doctor for my post-pneumonia checkup. I was feeling better at this point and imagined that the checkup would be no big deal. Sparky and I decided to go to Silverlake Medical where we could pay out of pocket. After dropping Bee at preschool we headed over there. With my paperwork and the CD of my lung x-rays from the emergency room doctor clutched tightly in my hand, I was pretty confident that I would be in and out of there in no time. I was just looking for confirmation that I had licked the pneumonia and could continue with normal life. 

The first thing the nurses did was take my blood pressure and heart rate and declare them both too high. Duh. I always get nervous in these situations. I was then given a bed in a large room that contained other beds. I didn't have to put on the dreaded hospital gown, but rather laid on top of the sheets while they closed the curtains around me. There were other people in the room and none of them seemed to be in very great shape. One lady was wearing an hospital gown and slippers, and was pacing up and down the floor and around her bed, moaning and groaning about how much pain she was in. I'll call her "Junky". Nobody paid any attention to Junky as she complained for over an hour. She finally took off her gown and replaced it with her street clothes and disappeared out the exit door. She was still wearing her slippers. I guess Junky figured the nurses were on to her and decided to hit the streets and score on her own. The guy next to me I thought of as both "Hungry" and then "Poopie". He kept repeating over and over again: "Nurse, I'm hungry." He must have said it at least a hundred times. Finally a nurse told him that he couldn't eat anything because of his ailment - stomach problems. Poor guy. And then he started repeating this over and over again: "Nurse, I shit my pants." Poor, poor guy, I really did feel badly for him. A nurse finally came over and helped him to the bathroom where I assumed they cleaned him up and outfitted him with adult diapers. The other two people in the room were unconscious so I've no idea what was wrong with them. (This whole situation did not freak me out as much as I thought it would. I just chalked it up to healthcare in America, the anti-socialist country where only the lucky workers with job benefits have decent insurance.)

While all of this was going on around me, I was being attended to by Dr. Nelson, who looked at my records and decided to give me another chest x-ray and draw some blood. She also thought that I was too skinny and asked me if I had lost a bunch of weight lately. Of course I had because I had been so nauseous while I was sick, and prior to that I had been on a Vegan diet for the purpose of trying to lose some weight. (My mother, by the way, blamed my bout with pneumonia on my Vegan diet, and made me promise that I would go back to being just a Vegetarian.) Alarm bells started going off in the good doctor's head, and when she looked at the new x-ray she decided that she did not like the "spot" on my lung. So another chest x-ray was done to see if they could get a better shot of it. Dr. Nelson then told me that my red blood platelets were way too high. They are supposed to number in the thousands and mine measured in the millions. She thought that maybe there was a mistake so she ordered another blood test drawn. She also asked me if I ever smoked, and when I said yes but I had long since quit, she made me give her details: for how long, how much, when, etc. I was starting to get nervous at this point and called Sparky to come back. He had left to pickup Bee from preschool and had told me to call him when I was ready to come home. 

Dr. Nelson brought me a Vegetarian lunch which she procured herself from the employee cafeteria. I forced myself to eat most of it even though I was too nervous to be hungry just to prove to her that yes, I did have an appetite again. This made her very happy, and she rewarded me by letting me sit out in the waiting room with Sparky and Bee once they arrived back at the clinic. Sparky and I sat side by side with a wall mounted TV blaring CNN nonsense, as poor Bee watched a cartoon on the iPad. We didn't talk much, but quietly held hands while time slowed. Everyone who's been in this situation knows the fact of "hospital trouble" warping time. Nothing can make it move correctly, and each passing moment feels more anxious than the next. Something was definitely wrong, really wrong, and waiting for Dr. Nelson's diagnosis was our only option. 

We were finally called back inside where I sat on my little bed with Sparky next to me. One of the nurses kept an eye on Bee while the doctor spoke to us. Dr. Nelson said that her colleagues had all seen the x-rays and agreed that they looked very suspicious. The second blood test came back with the same high platelet number, millions instead of thousands. And I had had a rapid weight lost. She told me that it looked like I may have lung cancer. Lung cancer? WTF? Did she really just say lung cancer? Fear welled up in the pit of my stomach and washed over me; I felt both cold and hot at the same time. I had to remind myself to breathe. But it could be something else, right? What about the pneumonia? She told us that she wasn't there at the emergency room so she did not know if I'd even actually had pneumonia. This did nothing to quell the grip my fear had on me. I was holding Sparky's hand so tightly, as though I needed it to bind myself to the earth. Sparky asked her some questions but I suddenly couldn't hear what they were saying.

She then looked at me intently and told me that I had to go to either USC or UCLA immediately. There was fear on her face - a very troubling thing to see in your physician. Go right now, today, which one? I asked where she'd gone to school and she replied "UCLA - USC is our rival!" This made us laugh nervously - nothing is funny at this point. Dr. Nelson then said that they were both good teaching hospitals and either one of them would take great care of me. Our laughter actually helped and I immediately decided on USC because it was far closer to our home in Echo Park. She made us promise again that we would go as soon as possible. We agreed. She gave me all of my records and the CDs of my x-rays so that I would be checked in right away. (Dr. Nelson, knowing we were without insurance, whispered to us that we wouldn't be charged for the extra round of tests, just the basics. She could see that we were headed down a dark expensive road illuminated by nightmares and personally wanted to make it as bearable as possible.)

After a brief stop at home, Sparky, Bee and I piled into the car for the trip to County-USC. I felt oddly calm and decided to call my sister Kiki (who is my most favorite person in the world) because I had to tell someone. I could not tell my mother, who had called me multiple times already to see how the appointment was going. I answered my mother's first call before anything was determined and promised to call her later with news, but I never did. How could I? What parent wants to hear that their child may be gravely ill? So she left messages for me which I had to ignore. My sister answered her cell and I told her what the doctor had told me. I matter-of-factly talked about the suspicious x-rays and my abnormal platelet count, my weight loss, etc. She freaked out a little bit, but I stayed calm and told her not to tell mom yet. I wanted to wait and see what happened. She agreed, cried a little bit and told me she loved me.

And then we were there, in the parking lot of that monstrously huge facility of modern medicine that is County-USC. We'd seen it from the freeway for years and years, always hoping against hope that we would never draw a turn there as it was a place where the uninsured went to die. But there it was, and it was our turn, and there was nothing else we could do about it.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hospital Chronicles, Part 1 - Elvis Costello and Pnemonia

My story really starts on April 12th, when my little sister Kiki and I went to see Elvis Costello at the Paramount in Seattle. Kiki bought my ticket as a birthday present for me, and Bee and I flew up to the PNW for a week to visit my family and so that I could see this show. My sister and I had seen Elvis Costello some 30 years ago at the Paramount, so we were quite excited to be going again. On the day of the show we took a bus to downtown Seattle with plans on meeting up with some old friends for pre show drinks and appetizers. The problem was I wasn't feeling very good. Bee, Sparky and I had all  been under the weather with colds and coughs and were tired and a little bit grouchy. I wasn't very hungry, I was actually feeling a bit nauseous, but I rallied myself because it was Elvis Costello! and I had been soooo looking forward to this concert. So I picked myself up and managed to nibble some appetizers and half heartedly sipped my drink, thinking that I would most certainly feel better by the time the show started. Once at the concert I found myself having a great time, even though I couldn't stop coughing. Elvis Costello had a giant wheel-of-fortune-type-wheel-contraption that listed his top songs, and he invited guests from the audience to join him on stage to spin the wheel which would determine what song he would do next. It was pretty awesome. Elvis has a huge repertoire of songs - he is exceedingly prolific and it was great hearing him do such a wide variety of numbers. 

But then about half way through the show I started burning up. It felt like my face was on fire. I went to the bathroom to wash my face off with cold water, and then decided that I felt like absolute shit and there was no way that I could go back inside and sit in my seat and be in such close proximity to others. My back ached and I felt like I was going to throw up. So I sat inside the lobby of the theater where I could still hear the show. I sat there for an eternity and felt bad. I could not believe how long the concert went on, it seemed to last forever. All I wanted to do was lie down in bed. Finally it was time for the encore, which lasted for I swear to god at least forty minutes. I truly wish that I had been inside the theater next to my sister and old friend Teena, enjoying the show instead of out in the lobby feeling like death. It was so unlike me because I hardly ever get sick. And then finally - finally the doors of the theater opened, people spilled out into the lobby, and the concert was over. Oh, happy days! I looked for my sister and spotted her in the crowd, and she was shocked that I was feeling so crappy. She wondered what had happened to me, and she helped me to the parking structure where Teen had parked her car. I threw up in the bathroom, and Kiki told me that some women were looking suspiciously at my stall, probably thinking that I had had too much to drink. I wish! We drove home without further incident, but I proceeded to vomit some more once we landed. I told Kiki that I was sorry, that I never should have gone to the show, and she should have brought our little brother instead because he would have enjoyed it way more than I did. At this point I still just thought I had the flu, but it turned out to be more than that.

The next day just got worse, and I still couldn't hold anything down. I was afraid I was getting dehydrated, and everyone wanted me to go to the hospital. But I still just thought it was the flu, and that I would be fine in a day or two. Then my back started aching and every time I coughed my chest hurt, and I started having difficulty breathing. I also had a high temperature. My mother insisted I go to the emergency room, and I finally agreed. So on Friday the 13th, my mother, sister and brother drove me to the hospital where I was promptly seen and told that I most likely had pneumonia. The doctor did a chest x-ray, and told me yes indeed, I had pneumonia. I was also dehydrated enough to warrant an IV of fluids, and given an array of prescriptions to take home with me. The doctor told me that I had a sort of bubble full of fluid in my right lung that most likely was due to my pneumonia. This kind of freaked me out but he didn't seem too concerned, so I assumed he knew what he was talking about. He also thought that it might be tuberculosis so I was given a TB skin test. Luckily I didn't have to stay overnight in the hospital, but I was told that I was too sick to fly in a few days and that I would have to change my flight.

I spent the next week recuperating on my parents living room sofa, propped up on pillows which enabled me to breath better. I was so congested that I could hear a sort of crackling in my lungs whenever I laid down flat on my back. Poor Bee had to do without me (and her daddy), but my parents managed to keep her entertained while I recovered from my bout of pneumonia. I was still nauseous and had to take anti-nausea pills to keep what little I managed to eat inside of me. I did drink a ton of fluids but I had no appetite and no energy, and felt utterly run down and out of it. I slept a lot. Slowly I started to feel a bit better and Bee and I flew back home to Los Angeles on a sunny Saturday. My parents were happy that I was on the mend, and damned happy that I was no longer camped out on their couch.

Since Sparky and I don't have insurance, we knew that we would have to pay for the emergency room out of pocket. I also had to pay more money to change the airline tickets even though I had a note from the doctor (airlines really have no mercy for travelers with emergencies - none.) My trip to Seattle ended up being a very expensive trip. But at least I was on the way to being healthy again. I was told by the emergency room doctor that I would have to see a doctor as soon as I got back to Los Angeles, just to make sure that the pneumonia was gone. No problem, I thought, it will be a breeze to go to a clinic and be given a clean bill of health. I was anxious to get back to my life, and assumed that everything was fine. But I was wrong, so very, very wrong.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Community Service

What is the difference between Lindsay Lohan and me? She is young, rich and famous and I am old, miserly and unknown. Another difference between us is that she stole an expensive necklace and got arrested for it, and I did not. But I did make a righthand turn at a red light, and was captured on video tape doing so. I don't know if Ms. Lohan has ever done this, but most of Los Angeles has, or else we'd all be sitting at a dead standstill.

So what is the same about Lindsay Lohan and me? We've both been sentenced to Community Service. Another difference: She is fulfilling her Community Service by working as a janitor at a morgue, while I am carrying out my Community Service by volunteering at a youth center in Echo Park. I'd rather do my Community Service over hers, so I totally trump her there.

Almost two years ago, way back in March of 2010, I made a rolling righthand turn at an intersection where the light had turned red 1/10th of a second too late. In other words, I did not come to an absolute, complete stop at the red light before preceding to the right. I know for a fact that I looked both ways before I did this because I always make sure I carefully look both ways before turning right ever since that time I hit a pregnant woman, but that is another story... The unfortunate part of this whole thing is that I was photographed while not coming to a complete stop, and a few weeks later I received a red light camera ticket for $446! Which seemed to both Sparky and I to be an inexcusably exorbitant amount of money. So I called the number and protested, and they gave me an extension plus a court date - a victorious 15 months later. They told me about the appointment - and I really did write it down, but I somehow lost it, and then forgot all about it. So when I didn't pay the fine or show up in person to contest it, I was sent a rather nasty bill from collections. When I called to explain how I lost the original date (they really should give you a reminder notice or phone call for fuck sake) they gave me another extension, which was eight months in the future. This time I vowed to not forget.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times printed a couple of interesting news story, first "L.A. Traffic Cameras May Get the Red Light", and then a month later "L.A. City Council Shuts Down Red-light Cameras". Which gave me hope of not having to pay the ginormous fine. But then I started doing research on-line, and found a rumor that stated that the city was going after all unpaid fines in order to recoup their losses. So that meant I would have to go to court and talk to The Judge. I firmly believed that I would be able to get out of it ... because how could they get money out of a Miser like me?

All of which led to standing in a very long line on my appointed court date to finally see The Judge. I then had to sit through a lot of other either guilty and/or not guilty people who had all committed/not committed various traffic violations. After a very long wait it was my turn, and I decided to plead No Contest just to get the goddamn thing over with. The Judge was very nice, I explained my situation to her, protesting the fact that the red light program was no longer in effect. She was very sympathetic and told me that I could do Community Service instead of paying that ridiculous fine. Hurrah! How bad could that be? I figured I would work a day or so doing something like clerical work and be done with it. But that wasn't the case. Instead, I had to stand in another very long line with all of the other poor saps who were also sentenced to Community Service. And when it was finally my turn, I found out that I would be forced to fulfill fifty four hours of Community Service. Which is the equivalent of being paid $8.26 an hour for over a week's worth of labor. Which is 26 cents above the minimum wage in the great state of California. (Now who could live off of such a miserly wage? Not this Miser.)

I've since had to go back and stand in more lines in order to obtain my assignment, which is at the Echo Park Youth Center. I haven't started yet but I don't think it will be very hard completing my Community Service hours there. In fact, I'm actually looking forward to it! I'm going into this whole thing with a positive attitude for once, and I'm thinking that if I like it I may just volunteer there on a regular basis (and not just because I'm being punished for making a rolling righthand turn against a red light). At least I don't have to go to traffic school. Or pick up trash on the side of the freeway wearing an orange jump suit. Plus I got out of paying $446 bucks. So I'm thinking that this may just be a win-win situation after all because it beats working as a janitor at the county morgue like Lindsay Lohan.