[Here’s another piece from the memoir I’m preparing to publish soonish… Hope you’ll read the whole thing when it’s ready.]
Another time, during the transplant I got pretty sick and was sentenced to a week in an isolation room in the hospital. It wasn’t that I’d been bad, and had to be separated from the rest of the patient population. But with virtually no white blood cells left, like a frail preemie in an incubator, they had to keep watch on me and protect me from the big bad germy world. My essentially germless room was complete with a decontaminate room between it and the hallway. Whoever visited, hospital staff included, had to suit up like the HAZMAT team people in the movies. At least, unless they took me downstairs for tests, it wasn’t me who had to sport all of that annoying garb. There wasn’t even a window in the room for fresh air or a view of the hospital flower garden. I quickly developed a bad case of cabin fever without the comfort or hominess of a cabin. Tough week.
One of the things I tend to do to cope with pain is to laugh once in a while and try to get others to join me. I figure that it’s better than crying all the time. I don’t deny that I try too hard at times to be funny. This was one of those times.
It was about three in the morning. I couldn’t sleep for pain, and even if I could, they woke me up every hour to see how I was sleeping. The night nurse and I were new to each other (let’s call her Nikki). She was ninety-five pounds (soaking wet), as feisty as a raccoon and had eyes that say, “I’m in charge, not you!” Florence Nightingale she wasn’t, and I’m pretty sure she hadn’t seen the movie, “Patch Adams” with Robin Williams. If she had, she disapproved of it. Levity was not her strength and she took her hermetically-sealed-bubble-duty seriously, and rightly so.
The problem began with my feeble and untimely attempt at some coping-humor. “You guys have been terribly good to me,” I said to Nurse Nikki. “I say this because I really don’t want you to take it personally, but I gotta go. I’m packing up my stuff and thumbing a ride home if necessary – it’s only about 35 miles. I just can’t continue taking advantage of the great food and your hospitality any longer. Thanks for everything. See ya next time around.”
I assure you that I wouldn’t have had the strength to walk down the hall to the vending machine. Escape was out of the range of possibility, unless of course, I bribed someone to push me in a wheelchair out the front door under the guise of “Goin’ out for a smoke.” Not the best strategy in the middle of the night.
Though I wasn’t in the best frame of mind, I felt I had delivered my lines clearly and with a modicum of comedic timing. And frankly, I felt a little better for it. Yet oddly enough, Nurse No-Humor didn’t seem nearly as amused with me as I did with myself. Imitated
She impersonated my dear departed mother when she looked at me with pursed lips through narrow slits for eyes. I have to admit that in my meager state I was more than a little scared of her. She looked annoyed when she shot me up – not with the most gentle touch – with something that made me feel immediately better. My favorite – and only favorite – part of hospital incarceration is their ready supply of really great legal fast-acting drugs. As I look back on it, she might’ve doubled the prescribed dose that night, I don’t know.
In the morning the doctor popped in while doing his rounds and said to me, “I heard you had a pretty rough night.”
“Pretty much, yeah,” I said.
“Is it true that you wanted to leave us?” he asked.
“Well, in the absolute sense, absolutely,” I answered. “But I was just kidding Nurse,” I stopped just short of calling her Nurse Grumpy, or something worse than that, “if that’s what you mean. Just trying to survive. You know?” He nodded, smiled and left.
I had the same conversation with the morning nurse a few minutes later. She laughed. Finally somebody got me! I was beginning to think I wasn’t all that funny of a guy. I know that can’t be the problem – it must be my audience.
Later that night, Nurse Nikki came back on shift. She seemed pretty, shall we say, irritable. My daughter, Rebecca was visiting me at the time and she concurred that it seemed that I was probably not Nikki’s favorite patient. As soon as Rebecca left, Nikki returned with that same pissed-off mother demeanor and unloaded on me. “You don’t get to do that!” she scowled.
“I was just kidding,” I said sheepishly.
“Joking or not, you put me in a bad position…” She went on making her point in a variety of ways. I tuned her out after the second third round.
I explained that I was just trying out some of my new “sick-guy-just-trying-to-cope-shtick.” When that didn’t seem to boost her mood I turned to groveling apology to the tune of, “You’re right, I was wrong, please forgive me, it’ll never happen again.” I really could see how it had put her in a bad situation not knowing if I was kidding, and wondering if she needed to post a guard at the door to keep me from fleeing. It’s paramount to joking to a stewardess that you have a gun on the plane. (I sort of did that once way back before very many planes had been blown up, but that’s another self-deprecating story that I’d rather not tell right now.) I guess there are things you just don’t kid about, especially in certain places with certain people.
Anyway, I got it and that was the end of it – that is, until I saw that she wasn’t really ready to let go of it. Evidently she had come to work loaded for big grizzly bear after ruminating about it all day and she wasn’t about to let me off the hook until she got a pound or two of my skinny-butt flesh. Though I’m an experienced arguer, and several things came to mind as rebuttal, I really didn’t have the strength for debate. But I realized that I had been thoughtless, and I simply needed to take it on the chin for however long she needed to be able to tell me I was in the wrong. She did take her sweet time and I did take my lumps until she got it out of her craw.
Next time that I’m thinking about going AWOL from the hospital, my plan is just to get up and go without announcing it beforehand. It just seems to upset the staff.