Bright Lights, Big Sicky
So I’m taking a break.
Already, I know what you’re thinking.
Taking a break? That negro hasn’t written anything for like 3 months, and he’s talking about taking a break?!
I’m taking a break from my normal mode of writing.
The Official Explanation
See, the main reason why I don’t write in this blog every week, or even every month, is that I vowed to only write something when I have something to say.
Again I can hear the heckling.
When has this cat ever NOT had anything to say? Dude writes a dissertation on something random, like, every other month.
No, no… you don’t get it. See, it’s not enough to simply have an opinion. Nor is it enough to simply rehash the notable events of the day/week/month/year. Any news aggregator worth its salt can do that in milliseconds. What I try to do is use the stories that I see in the news and the commonalities therein to illuminate the larger skeins of truth that aren’t being reported or discussed in traditional media outlets.
If that seems like a mouthful, it is. And considering I’m not getting paid to do it, I’m frankly amazed that I’ve been able to do it as often as I have. It’s hard work. More enjoyable than slaving away in an office, of course, but still work nonetheless. Which is part of the reason why I’m taking a break from this format.
Because sometimes a blog is just a blog, and so many crazy things have been going on in my personal life that I feel compelled to write about them, not only so that others can be informed and cease wondering, but for my own sense-making process. Quite often, my only recourse in dealing with difficult situations is writing about them. It’s either that, or throwing vast amounts of money at problems in an effort to make them go away. Seeing as how I’m neither wealthy nor a state congressman, I go for the former.
So abandon any hope of any worldview-changing mega-insights with this one. I’m just strictly trying to answer the question I’ve been getting over and over for the last few weeks: How have you been?
* * *
In Sickness, and in Bed
Well, in the words of the great negro spiritual, ah been ‘buked, and ah been scorned.
But mostly, I been sick.
Believe me, this is news. Because as I have said many times, I don’t get sick. At least not like most people get sick. I have a very robust immune system. I know this because in the first six months of our marriage, my wife Holly was getting sick left and right, and I exhibited nary a symptom. It was kinda weird, actually.
Every time she started to feel bad, it was my job to give the first layer of diagnosis so that we could determine if there was really something wrong or if she just needed to take something and lie down. After a while, trying to figure out what she was coming down with became a twisted combination of 20 questions, charades, and poker.
“I don’t feel good.”
“Don’t feel good in your head, chest, or stomach?”
“Stomach… sort of. Is abdomen the same as stomach? It’s sort of in that abdomen region.”
“I don’t think so, but I’m not quite sure.”
“Well does this hurt?”
“Oww! Yes, it does hurt! Would it hurt you if I took your finger and jammed it—”
“Okay okay, I was just asking…”
“Yes, and can you see how it’s possible to do that without gouging out my midsection?”
“I know, I just… okay. I’m sorry. How about … two ibuprofen and a pillow for your back?”
“Only a man would suggest a pillow for my back when my stomach hurts. Two ibuprofen and a cup of tea. Decaf.”
“Alright,” I say, sensing closure. “Two ibuprofen, a cup of tea, and a full-length body pillow so you can put it wherever you need it without having to wake me up.”
“As if anything would wake YOU up.”
At this point, I usually spring into action, hoping to alleviate my wife’s symptoms and get to sleep as quickly as possible. Of course, after I come back with whatever I’ve promised to retrieve, I’m usually greeted with the following romantic lullabye:
“Since you’re still up, do you think I could have another favor?”
So of course, I nod yes, and then it’s lather, rinse, and repeat.
And this is the price I pay for being an ambassador, of sorts, for illnesses. I would come from the Land of Work to my Home bearing gifts from my fellow WorkLandians for my wife. They would get sick, I would carry it home, and my wife would get sick. So she beseeched me to give up my emissarian ways and rid myself of such gifts, by engaging in annoying little practices like washing my hands and covering my mouth when I sneeze. Because of my small improvements in such habits, and because her immune system has adapted to my barrage of germs, the above scenario doesn’t occur as often as it once did.
So now you can see how, generally speaking, I don’t get sick. I mean, seriously. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been really sick in the last fifteen years. I’ve had the sniffles, I’ve had hay fever symptoms, I’ve even had a few nasty coughs… but that’s usually as bad as it gets.
Until a few weeks ago, that is.
Somewhere between working in my office, having choir rehearsal, and rockin’ mics for Spirit Week down at Western Mennonite, I picked up some sort of flu bug. Wasn’t sure what it was, but I noticed a bit of a cough as I went to bed on Friday night. Eight hours of cold sweats later, I felt like I was run over by a truck. So I did what my wife told me to do, namely, keep getting rest and drinking fluids (though I wasn’t as good at the fluids part). So that’s pretty much all I did Saturday, was take naps, watch a little TV, and arrange for someone to cover for me during Sunday service. Saturday turned into Sunday, and I still felt like garbage.
The final straw broke early Sunday evening after my wife had returned from the store, and we had the following exchange:
“Hey, how are you feeling?”
(I pause for a second before answering.)
“Okay, well … do you want something to eat?”
Easy enough question, right? Yet, no words were coming out.
“I think, uh…”
I tried again.
“I mean… I, uhhrmmghh… I want a… ah, I want. ………..Okay.”
“Umm, nevermind. You just sit right here while I make a quick phone call..”
What I didn’t know at the time was that whatever sinus infection I had on Friday had been slowly dripping its way down my throat and into my lungs. My incomprehensible garble, combined with a 105-degree fever, was more than enough cause to call an ambulance. It wasn’t until later that evening, in the emergency room, that I would learn the official diagnosis: pneumonia.
Ridin’ the Red & White Limo
Now here’s the thing about being sick enough to have an ambulance called on your behalf. On one level, it’s scary as hell. Now in my case, I wasn’t exhibiting a lot of really scary symptoms – no vomiting blood or limbs protruding from places they shouldn’t. To tell you the truth, I was nowhere near aware of how truly sick I was at that point. But still, I can tell you the exact moment it hit me. It was when I heard the sirens, saw the lights, and realized that they weren’t heading somewhere else, but they were in fact, there for me. Seeing that, and interacting with the medical professionals who were concerned enough about my health to put me on a gurney, load me into an ambulance and take me to the hospital… that was scary.
Scary in that I became That Guy.
You know what I’m talking about. That Guy In the Ambulance. As in, you’re driving down the highway, traffic piles up, you get to the front of the line and see the accident everyone is rubbernecking, and you think to yourself, ewwww… sucks to be That Guy.
Now, That Guy is me. So yeah, I’m starting to get a little concerned.
But on another level, it’s also kinda cool.
Because, you know, before this I had never been on the inside of an ambulance. On a strictly curious level, I’d always wanted to know what it would feel like to be on the inside, with all the flashing lights and the sirens and the other folks bowing to our noble, immediate traffic agenda.
Not only that, but I also noticed that when you arrive at the hospital from an ambulance, it’s totally different than when you come on your own.
Because first off, the ambulance people know what they’re doing. Not that they’re omniscient, altruistic beings… I’m sure these guys can be ignorant jerks just like the rest of us. But even the ignorant jerks, when they walk around with the special uniforms with the patches on their sleeves, people have to pay attention to what they say. They just march in, sick person in tow, and start barking out orders. And you know what? People respond. Hospital medical personnel start materializing right in front of your eyes, ready to attend to your immediate needs.
It’s really quite amazing when you think about it, because if we tried this on our own, we’d be laughed right out the joint. Can you imagine this? I’d like to see someone try to walk in with a wounded sibling walking beside them, yelling out:
“Yeah, I’ve got a 23-year-old female with bilaterial hemothorax, possible deep vein thrombosis… we’re gonna need a CXR and a blood swab, STAT… Hey you, can you gimme a hand here?!”
Of course, the actual response would be, “Sure, just wait in this line here, fill out all thirty-nine of these forms and someone will be with you shortly.” Shortly, as I have learned, means eventually in hospital-speak.
Anyway, the main lesson here is, if you can, ride with an EMT.
An alternative approach
Come to think of it, maybe you don’t need to come with an ambulance to get good service. Maybe all you need is a trusty EMT on speed-dial. That way, you could just call your order in ahead of time, and then have them meet you outside, like you’re picking up takeout:
“Hey, Nate, thanks for taking my call on such short notice.”
“No problem, Mr. Greenidge, what’ll it be this time?”
“Well, it looks like I might have either acute bronchitis or a touch of pneumonia, I’m not sure.”
“Okey-doke, I’ll just take it from here.”
If Nate’s got the stretcher ready at the curb, he could just help me on, wheel me away, and start barking out orders. No one would be the wiser.
Plus, even if I had to tip him extravagantly, it’d still probably be cheaper than the ambulance ride.
But maybe there’s still room for improvement. Maybe, if you really want the full-service EMT attention, but being the progressive type, you want your fossil fuels to serve more than just one purpose, you could set a carpool network with EMTs who normally ride the bus. I can see it now. You call up an 800 number that leads you to a dispatcher, who tells you the exact bus stop of the closest EMT who’s about to come in for work. The dispatcher alerts the medic, you rendezvous at their location, the EMT gives you one of those magnetic portable sirens like you see on police cars in the movies, and you’re off.
Talk about a win/win scenario. The EMT doesn’t have to ride the bus, so his or her commute would be faster. You get the medical attention you need without having to ride in an ambulance, and whoever is driving you gets to speed like there’s no tomorrow. I’m telling you, everybody wins.
Of course, your average person isn’t a professional driver who knows how to navigate crowded streets at breakneck speeds. And your average medic may not be all that geeked about having to start working before they even get to work, not to mention the fact that without all the ambulance technology, any pre-hospital care they give you would amount to taking a pulse and scanning for bullet holes.
But aside from that, it’s perfect!
As a matter of fact, it may be too good. On second thought, let’s just keep this one between us. Otherwise some hospital administrator will hear about it, and within two years HMOs will start doing this to save money and keep charging us full price.
Life on the Inside
So life in the hospital wasn’t too bad, at least not initially. Thankfully, my incoherent state prevented me from fully realizing what was going on. Holly had to tell me later that IVs were being inserted into my veins, blood was spurting everywhere, and the medical staff were being less than discreet about cleaning it up. In order to help distract me from what she knew would be a traumatic sight for me, Holly said cheerfully,
“They gave you a bracelet with your name on it.”
To which I replied,
“Did they spell my name right?”
Yeah, It’s a good thing I had my priorities in order. Major blood vessels spilling open like the Exxon Valdez? No problem… just don’t put an E at the end of Jelani.
* * *
At one point, I remember getting a good laugh out of my wife and my Dad, who were with me in the ER. It was funny in part because in my brain it was a serious question, one that I had no idea could be funny until it came out my mouth and they both started laughing. I was lying down on a table, IV bags in both arms, and the general mental fogginess that had stymied my earlier attempts at coherent thought gave me a brief reprieve. As it began to occur to me what was happening to me, I asked, to no one in particular,
“What time is it?”
The room was quiet for a second, and then Dad and Holly both started crackin’ up.
“What, do you have an appointment?”
“Are you missing 60 Minutes?”
At this, I noticed sheer lunacy of the question. What the hell does it matter what time it is? You’re in the hospital, remember? Then I remembered… I had been trying to ask Holly that when she first came back from the store, because I wanted to figure out how long I had been sleeping before she returned. It tells you how out-of-it I really was that I never realized that I could have just looked over at the clock in our bedroom
and done the math.
Either way, I think my brain, at that moment, realized that it never received an answer to that question, so it asked. It was only in retrospect that I could see how ridiculous it was. Sorta like when you plug in a laptop whose battery has died, boot it up, and then it gives you the low battery warning.
* * *
Also, there is something to be said for the combination of emotions you get from seeing a plethora of people fussing over you. At first you feel really important, like what it might feel like to have five or six salesmen measuring you for a suit in a ritzy department store. And then it’s a little confusing, because you know, you might have a big frenzy of activity at first, with a lot of people poking and prodding and turning you over and helping you take off your pants … but then they might leave and you might be on your own for an hour or so.
Gradually, though, it morphs itself into an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It seems so amazing that there are all these people whose job it is to, essentially, care for you. To care about you. And when you’re in such a vulnerable state, you don’t care that they get paid for caring for you, any more than a repentant parishioner cares that the pastor gets paid to pray for them at the altar. What matters is that they’re there and they care.
As a matter of fact, over my four-day stay in the hospital, I was consistently impressed with the general sense of concern that I got from all the people who attended to me in some shape, form or fashion. I mean, these people really wanted to see me get better. And not just so that I could free up another bed in a room. It was like they knew what it was like to be in the hospital and wanted to make sure that, given the circumstances, my life was as manageable as possible.
There was one lady, though, who didn’t quite fit the profile. I’m not sure if it was just her different personality, or the fact that maybe over the years she had obtained some semblance of seniority, but… this lady was serious. As one of many respiratory therapists that had seen me, it was her job to get me to breathe into this plastic tube that would measure how much air I was getting into my lungs. Naturally, it was also her job to help me get my breathing back to normal, which meant increasing that airflow meter reading.
But whereas most of the medical personnel would gently encourage me to keep going and keep making good progress in getting back to normal, this lady went personal trainer on me.
“Where was the last reading?”
“A little over a thousand milliliters.”
“Okay, I’ll be back in four hours with another breathing treatment. I expect you to be at 1500.”
With that, she walked out the door.
Okay nice to see you, too… ??
As intimidated as I was by her curtness, however, I must admit it was effective. When she came back, I’d made it to 1500. I guess I was just thankful she didn’t say “or else” on her way out.
Now that I’m out of the hospital and (for the most part) back to normal, I can look back on this experience and laugh a little. But I’d be foolish if I didn’t make a few important realizations along the way.
Like for example, if you’re in the ICU, and your first nurse has given you all your meds, and asks, “Is there anything else you need,” make sure you find out how to work the television. If you’re like me, it might be awhile before you get to watch cable TV again, so you better make the most of it.
Also, If you’re in the hospital, and you ever think to yourself, hey, the food here isn’t that bad, chances are it is, in fact,
that bad. But being unable to get real food into your system for so long, your body has been fooled into thinking that you’re eating bona fide gourmet. Conversely, if you find yourself getting sick of eating the hospital food, take heart – it means you’re getting better.
Finally, if it’s possible, make sure you can get a handle on what put you in the hospital in the first place. In my case, it was a consistent lack of enough sleep, not enough vitamins, and a horrendous amount of personal stress. Oh, and driving like one of the Andrettis probably didn’t help, either.
So from here on out, I’m vowing to stop hurrying so much. My life has enough external stressors without me unnecessarily rushing around trying to accomplish Big Important Things. John Ortberg said in The Life You’ve Always Wanted that love and hurrying are mutually incompatible, and if I want to be spiritually healthy I must work to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life. Sounds like a tall order to me, but I guess all the most important tasks in life are God-sized.
Having said that, the next time I fall ill, and Holly has to go to the store to pick up a few things for me, I’m arguing to come with. I’ve always been good at sleeping in the car, and plus, if my brain cells get too wacky to function right then I’m already in the car and we can just go straight to the hospital.
I’ll just have to make sure that in addition to the chicken soup, vitamin supplements, and orange juice, we pick up an EMT along the way.
I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.
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