Monday, November 3, 2014

Bad Medicine

Tomorrow I go in for another (and hopefully final) procedure in the quest to figure out what’s going on with my stomach (you can read about the start of all that here and here).

And I’m pretty nervous about it. Not because I think something will go wrong but because I know that every time I have a medical procedure something goes wrong.
Take, for example, the first procedure in the stomach quest: my endoscopy. It was an unmitigated disaster.

And since I'm, apparently, turning into the kind of person who broadcasts her medical issues, I'll just give the full rundown of what happened:
The endoscopy was scheduled for 12:30 but we were supposed to arrive at 12:00 for check in, prep work etc. Left to my own devices, I would have flown into the building at top speed at 11:59 and used my last minute to cling to the reception desk in exhaustion and catch my breath—proud that I still made it on time.

Opie, on the other hand, has the insane belief that it’s less stressful to arrive early for things and my argument that no one is ever around to appreciate punctuality did nothing to sway him from his intended course.
Since he was driving, we got to the office at 11:40.

We filled out the paperwork, got all checked in and started to wait. And wait. And wait. And then, just to be different, we waited some more
I should probably mention here that in order to prepare for this test, I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight. But since we don’t usually have dinner at midnight, I actually hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since 8:00 the night before. And 16 hours with no food has a slightly discordant affect on my usually sunny nature.

At 12:15 I leaned over and snapped, “This is EXACTLY why I don’t like to get anywhere early…this is all your fault.”
“Of course it is,” Opie agreed, patting my hand. “But it will be ok.”

Unfortunately,  that’s when they started calling for people who had arrived well after we had….and I started to lose my grip on what was left of my temper. At 12:45 I leaned over to Opie again and hissed, “If I don’t get called next, I’m going to go over there and KILL the receptionist.”
Which means that, when the receptionist called another woman’s name, Opie jumped from his chair like he’d been shot from a gun and was at the desk before I could even move.

“You’re scheduled for 1:30.” She said, then blanched when Opie showed her the sheet with 12:30 emblazoned across the top. “I’m so sorry.” She called over to me. “I must have written it down wrong.”
“That’s ok,” I lied. “Mistakes happen. Could have happened to anyone.” But then I got a scrap of paper out of my purse and began surreptitiously drawing a stick figure labeled “receptionist” and stabbing its eyes out.

When they finally did call me back, things degenerated even more.
“Is your right or left arm usually better for an IV?” The nurse asked.

“Neither,” I told her. “No one can ever get it in my arm. You’ll probably have to put it in my hand.”

Most nurses appreciate this information, take a quick look at my arms and immediately switch to my hand. This nurse was in the 1% who take this comment as a professional insult—like I’m saying YOU won’t be able to do it because YOU look like the worst vein-puncturing, IV-placing excuse for a nurse I’ve ever seen.

I honestly don’t understand this reaction. How is that a personal affront? When people tell me they’ve never liked Shakespeare, I'm not insulted. And I certainly don’t fling them into a chair and start screaming Macbeth quotes at them.
In any case, after a cursory check, she said “Let’s try the left.”

“It won’t work,” I assured her.
And maybe she was the worst vein-puncturing, IV-placing excuse for a nurse I’ve ever seen because FIVE TRIES LATER she said, “I guess we’ll have to use your hand.”

I didn’t answer because in times of turmoil I like to close my eyes and visualize myself in a peaceful place, slowly throttling the person who has upset me.
Then the real trouble began. She started reading through her preliminary list of questions “Have you eaten anything today? Are you allergic to any medicine? Are you pregnant?”

And that’s when I made my fatal error.

I was honest. "No, I'm pretty sure I'm not pregnant."

“Pretty sure?” She asked “You’re not positive?”

“Well, I didn’t take a pregnancy test today or anything.” I said.

And she stared at me like I was Hester Prynne. “Have you had unprotected sex?” She asked in a horrified whisper.

“I’m married,” I told her. “So, yah, probably like a thousand times and I’ve never gotten pregnant.”

“We have to be sure,” she said. “We’ll need to do a test. We'll need a urine sample."

“I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for EIGHTEEN HOURS,” I said.

“Let’s give it a shot,” she said. “We only need a few drops.”

For the sake of decency, I won’t even attempt to describe the gymnastic efforts that providing this sample involved but I will mention that I was in the smallest bathroom in the free world, wearing a hospital gown that was at least two sizes to big with an IV in my right hand and an IV roller stand doing its best to knock me down.
“Good news!” The nurse announced twenty minutes later. “You’re not pregnant!”

“I was pretty sure I wasn’t,” I agreed. “Not unless you happened to look out the window and saw a really bright star and 3 wise men lurking in the parking lot.”
Which, in light of our previous conversation, was actually a terrible analogy. But keep in mind I was delirious from hunger. Plus, it always irritates me when people assume Opie and I are happy not to have children.

At this point the nurse patted my hand and said “Thanks for being such a good sport” with absolutely NO sarcasm (which means I’m either eligible for an Academy Award or she was completely clueless or most of her patients actually snap and physically assault her) and wheeled me into the exam room.
This should have been enough drama for one little endoscopy.

But it wasn’t.
Because the first thing the nurse in the exam room asked me was “Ok, you’re here for (insert some long medical procedure name I’d never heard of and certainly can’t spell).?”

“No,” I said. “I’m here for an endoscopy because the doctor thinks I have ulcers.”
“Really?” She asked skeptically.

Unfortunately for her, I had used up all my nice on the receptionist and first nurse. “What possible motivation would I have to make that up?” I demanded.  “So I can get a test I don’t need? Because I enjoy being in the hospital? Because I have Munchausen’s syndrome or some other mental illness? I’M HERE FOR AN ENDOSCOPY.”
The doctor came in, they consulted, pulled out a different chart and he said, “An endoscopy it is!"

And the nurse laughed. “Sorry about that," she said. “You know how Fridays go!”

“That might be the least comforting thing anyone has ever said to me before a medical procedure,” I told her with what she could have taken as a smile or (probably more accurately) a feral, teeth-baring grimace.

Though, to be fair, my statement wasn’t completely true. The least comforting thing anyone has ever said to me before a medical procedure was about 10 years ago. I had skin cancer and this woman I worked with who had had the same surgery came to my classroom-ostensibly to make me feel better—and launched into this long, horrifying monologue about how she woke up during the procedure, it was the most painful thing she’s ever experienced, and she still can’t believe how deep her scars are.

“Why are you telling me this?” I demanded. “Are you actually trying to make me cry?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “It’s just that, you know, it probably won’t happen to you.”


So, while the nurse’s insinuation that mistakes are to be expected on Friday afternoons wasn’t as bad as that, it was a close second.

“I think we’ll just go ahead and give you the anesthesia,” the nurse said.

From there, things went pretty smoothly.

Largely because I was unconscious and really don’t remember anything else from the rest of the day—although Opie says I was a constant joy to be around, randomly screaming nonsensical things at him.

I should probably tell myself that things couldn't get any worse but experience has taught me things can always get worse. 

So, say a prayer that everything goes well tomorrow and that I finally find out what's wrong.
And maybe a little prayer that Opie has the strength to go through it all again.


  1. On behalf of all nurses everywhere I have to say that not all of us are like the ones you have encountered. Good thoughts and prayers for your medical procedure tomorrow!

  2. Thanks Paula--and please know that I think the majority of nurses are awesome! My sister-in-law is a nurse and I say prayers of thanksgiving every night for the nurse who saved my niece's life when she was choking in a restaurant.

  3. I love your art in story telling! This was funny - and terrible, too - and I relate. I can't believe you survived that long without eating or drinking. I don't do well after a few hours! I probably would have stocked up on food and drinks in my belly at about 11:45 lol