Thursday, September 16, 2010


Day 1, Scene 1

"What's wrong?" asked the Lovely Bride.

"Nothing," I said.

"You've been tossing and turning for hours. What's wrong?"

"I'm a little congested," I admitted. "It's been hard to get comfortable."

"How long have you been having trouble breathing?" she asked.

"I'm just congested."

"How long?"

"A few days."

"How much sleep have you had?"

"I don't know. Ten or eleven hours."

"Last night?"

"No, over the past few days."

"Oh, God." She found her stethoscope and pressed it to my back.

"Get dressed," she ordered.

"I'm fine."

"Get dressed."

Day 1, Scene 2

"Name?" asked the admitting clerk at the emergency room.

"Snag," I gasped.

The clerk looked up and put down her pen.

"Are you short of breath?" she asked.

"Yeah, kind of," I wheezed.

The clerk stood up and steered me to a wheelchair. "This way," she said.

Day 1, Scene 3

"Your pulse is 180," the ER doctor said. "And the beat's irregular. You'll need to see a cardiologist. I'll give you some medication that should help until then. If you start feeling worse again, you need to come back right away."

Day 2, Scene 1

"How is he?" the Lovely Bride asked our family practitioner. "Our cardiologist appointment isn't for a few days."

"He's okay, all things considered," said the doctor. "You need to watch him, though."

Day 3, Scene 1

"Hello everyone," I said. It was the first night of the class I teach. The Lovely Bride wasn't happy about letting me go, but I reminded her almost all the students were EMTs and the classroom was across the street from a hospital.

I lectured and led discussions for three hours, punctuating my conversation with shallow coughs. "Don't worry, it's not contagious," I told the class. They laughed uncomfortably.

Day 4, Scene 1

"We're driving you home," said my assistant, H.

"I'm fine," I said.

My boss stuck his head in the door.

"Why are you looking at me like I'm an idiot?" I asked him.

"Because you're acting like one," he said. "You sound terrible and look worse. Give her your keys. She and W. will get you and your car home."

"I can drive myself," I said.

"Alright," said H. "I'll walk to the parking lot with you and see how you're feeling."

"Fine," I said. I stood, picked up my briefcase and took a few steps before leaning against a wall, too tired to continue.

She grabbed the keys from my hand and steered me to the parking lot. W. loaded me in her car and H. followed us in mine. On the way I asked W. how I looked.

"You look great," she said, clutching her cell phone in case she needed to call 911.

When we got to my house, the Lovely Bride was waiting. "Come on in," I invited W. and H. "Can I get you anything to drink?"

"Probably not a good day for that," said W.

"Some other time," said H.

"Thanks," the Lovely Bride told them. She turned to me. "Let's go."

"Where?" I asked.

"The hospital."

Day 5, Scene 1

"Your heart beat's still irregular, but the rate's better," the doctor told me. I was in the ICU of the small, suburban hospital not far from my home and he was the hospitalist assigned that day. "We have some preliminary results back from your tests. I'll let the cardiologist explain them, but this type of condition can often be controlled with medication."

"What if that doesn't work?" I asked.

Caught off guard, he fumbled for an answer. "Hmm," he finally said, "I suppose they look at options like a transplant."

Day 5, Scene 2

"He said what?"the ICU nurse asked.

"That I might need a transplant," I replied.

"Look, he's a good doctor," she said. "He's not a cardiologist, though, and you're not anywhere close to having to worry about that yet."

"Okay," I mumbled.

"Can I talk with you ?" the Lovely Bride asked the nurse. They stepped out into the hall.

A short time later the nurse stuck her head back in the room. "Alright," she said, "tomorrow's the weekend and we can't do much more for you here. We're going to send you down to the University hospitals."

"Thank you," said the Lovely Bride.

Day 5, Scene 3

"Can we run the siren?" I asked the ambulance attendant.

"No, it's not an emergency," she said.

"Can I make siren noises?" I asked.

"If you want to," she said.

"Wee-ooh, wee-ooh," I said.

Day 6, Scene 1

"How are you feeling?" asked my friend E. He and my friend P. had come to visit. My mother was perched in a corner, ready to swat them if they got out of hand.

"Tired," I said.

"We figured out how to fix you," said P.

"He means your heart, not fixed like a dog," E. added helpfully. "Although we could probably do that too."

"We'll sew a pig onto your chest and run your arteries through it," said P. "It'll serve as a filter."

"Plus you'll have bacon whenever you want it," said E.

Just then a nurse came in the room.

"If you're going to shock him, can I hold the paddles?" asked E.

"What's wrong with your friends?" the nurse asked me.

"That's a complicated question," said the Lovely Bride.

Day 7, Scene 1

"Would you like to go outside for a little while?" the cardiac rehab specialist asked.

"In this? I replied, pointing to my hospital gown.

"You won't be the only one," she said.

"I can take him," said the Lovely Bride. We rode the elevator down to the courtyard and sat for a while, holding hands in the sun.

Day 8, Scene 1

"I'm afraid we couldn't do the cardioconversion today," the doctor told me. "We found a clot."

"What does that mean?" I asked. It had all been explained before, but the fentanyl was still wearing off and there was a lot I wasn't clear about.

"We'll keep you on Coumadin for another five weeks to thin your blood and then see where we are."

"Feeding rat poison to a lawyer?" I asked. "That's subtle."

Day 9, Scene 1

"I'm sick of this place," I told the nurse.

"Thanks," he said.

"Nothing personal," I said. "You guys are great. I mean I'm tired of being in the hospital."

"That's alright. It gives us a chance to do a miniature sleep study tonight, see if you're having trouble getting oxygen when you're sleeping."

"My wife put you up to this, didn't she?" I asked.

"You'd be a lot better off if you just listened to her," he said.

"So I've been told," I said. "How does the sleep study work?"

"We jam a straw with a balloon on the end into your trachea and then see how big the balloon gets."

"You could get fired for terrorizing your patients," I pointed out.

"Probably," he said.

"Can I keep the balloon as a souvenir?" I asked.

"Sure," he said.

Day 10, Scene 1

"My left arm's numb," I told the Lovely Bride when she arrived in the morning.

"Did you tell the nurse?" she asked.

"Sort of," I said.

"I'll tell her," she said.

"No, then they won't let me go home today."

"You're a heart patient and your left arm is numb. I think that's important for the doctor to know." As she spoke, the cardiologist, Dr. M., arrived with his fellow and intern in tow.

"How are you today, Mr. Snag?" Dr. M. asked in his vaguely European accent. He'd been on rotation the week I'd been here and had been treating me, although I'd be seeing a different cardiologist after I was discharged. I didn't much like him and I suspect the feeling was mutual.

"I'm alright," I said.

"His left arm is numb," said the Lovely Bride.

Dr. M. asked a few questions, had me grasp his hand, and shrugged.

"What do you think it could be?" asked the Lovely Bride.

"It could be a lot of things," he said.

"Such as?" she asked through clenched teeth.

"Perhaps he slept on it. Perhaps an affect from drawing blood. Perhaps a stroke."

"Shouldn't we try to find out?" she asked.

"It won't change our treatment," he said.

"It would still be nice to know why my husband's arm is numb before I bring him home from the hospital."

"Ma'am," he said, with more than a hint of patronization, "what exactly would you like me to do?"

Uh oh, I thought, this won't end well.

"I would like you to tell me whether my husband has had a stroke if that's not too much to ask," she snapped.

The cardiology fellow intervened. "Doctor M.," he said, "I'm sure we can get neurology to sneak him in for a quick test this morning."

Dr. M. glared at him for a moment and reached a decision. "Very well. But then I cannot promise you that neurology will allow you to be discharged today."

"We'll take that chance," said the Lovely Bride.

Day 10, Scene 2

"You're still here?" asked the nurse. It was almost 6:00 p.m.

"We're waiting for the doctor to sign him out," said the Lovely Bride.

"Oh, Lord," said the nurse. "Dr. M. left an hour ago."

"I'll kill him," muttered the Lovely Bride.

"Are we stuck here another night?" I asked.

"This is ridiculous," said the nurse. "Wait here." She marched out of the room and corralled a resident.

"Where do you think you're going?" she asked him.

"Home," he said.

"Put your lab coat back on," she said. "You're not going home until he does." She pointed at me.

"Neurology hasn't released him," he replied.

"Come with me. We'll find a neurologist."

"I don't think. . . " he was saying as she dragged him away.

Five minutes later, they were back.

"Mr. Snag, I'm happy to say you're free to leave," said the resident.

"Thank you, doctor," I said.

"Thank you, nurse," said the Lovely Bride.

"Can I go now?" the doctor asked the nurse.

"As soon as you sign here," the nurse told him, handing him the discharge form. He signed quickly and left, before she could change her mind.

Day 10, Scene 3

"Hey boys, your dad's home," the Lovely Bride said as we came into the house.

"You look awful," said the oldest.

"Mom said you're not supposed to have stress. Does that mean I automatically win our arguments?" asked the middle one.

"That's kind of weird," said the youngest when I hugged him.

The dog jumped on me.

"I missed you all," I said.

I did.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010