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...)