When you crash your bike and injure yourself you pretty much give up control of your life. From the moment you hit the ground and hear that crunching sound in your shoulder when you try to get up, you know you’re screwed.
First there’s a trip in an ambulance. Stupid conversation with EMTs. The Emergency room in a podunk hospital. They check you out with a sling and a prayer.
Back at the hospital near home you see the x-rays. A good doctor tells you, “This is not good. Let’s put this on you to hold you into place until they can operate.” Figure 8 brace. Torture device.
From that moment on, you’re dependent on others. You’ve gone from zooming down the hill at 40 mph to hobbling across the room at 2.3 miles an hour because your right leg still has a thick purple bruise on the inside, plus your back really hurts.
Then you get surgery a week later and the amazing knife-wielder does his work and you’ve got a zipper on your shoulder and another sling to wear along with instructions not to move too much. Which isn’t hard to do at first, because everything is numb and sort of hurts.
The overnight stay at the hospital, your first since 1961 when your tonsils were removed, turns out to be a slow dissolution of personal control as well. Although that’s not a bad thing. The hospital is chartered to take care of you. Watch your vital signs. Dispense fluids into your veins and painkillers into your system. Make sure you don’t die or get an infection. Seriously.
As the night wears on, who cares if the hospital gown hangs off your shoulder like a worn-out dress on a backroom slut? You’re in the hospital. It doesn’t matter what you look like.
The nurse’s job is keeping you comfortable and clean.
But when it comes time to work through the after-effects of anesthesia, it’s a little tough to piss into that angled plastic jug, especially with an IV hanging in one arm and a sling on the other. But you hold your unit with both hands and aim the best you can. Nothing comes out at first. It’s like the piss is a stubborn train sitting at the edge of the railroad yard and can’t find the right track. So you secretly stand up and joggle your body a little bit and something hurts near your shoulder but you just don’t care because it would feel so much better just to let go with a good, solid whiz. Drip. Drip.
Then the nurse comes in and finds you sitting up on the edge of the bed. Odd, she’s thinking. He’s not supposed to be up yet. Which leads to conversation about reaching the bathroom and a Catch-22. You can’t GO TO the bathroom until you go to the bathroom. That kind of terminology can drive you nuts.
And leaves you sort of pissed.
But she leaves and through intense concentration a dribble and a flow finally comes out, like a stream flowing out from a foggy wood. Man, that feels good. It’s the simple things in life that count.
Then the dam opens and all that IV hydration starts pouring through your kidneys at a high rate of speed. Plus you’re drinking water cause it feels like you should and damned if you aren’t pissing like you’re out to set a record. Jar after jar.
Then the inevitable happens. Backwash. You go, “Oh gross.” No one likes to smell like piss in this world. So you grab a bottle of something that says ANTISEPTIC on it and give your junk a little washdown to feel fresh again. Mistake. There’s 83% alcohol in that bottle and a burning sensation starts down low and stays down low. Panic. Is it worth a punch of the nurse button? That would be embarrassing. You wait it out with a grimace. Damn that stings. But you feel honest somehow. Pain has a way of doing that. At least I’m clean.
When she comes by later you explain the humorous surge of pain you brought upon yourself. Even she has to laugh, and delivers some much needed wipes (designed for the job) that suffice much better. Probably she’s relieved you’re not asking for a sponge bath or some crazy creepy thing like that. Oh, what nurses must surely put up with. I’m not shy figure it’s my business to manage things down there unless I’m completely disabled. And I’m not. I just need help getting out of bed, that’s all.
Things improve. Breakfast comes. You make some phone calls out. The surgeon comes by and says things look good. “You can check out any time,” he says. But this is a hospital. Time out of mind. The doc came at 8:30 but you wind up leaving at 1:30. Emerge into a bright fall day clutching written instructions not to move the arm too much
Earlier you had lessons in body maintenance from a tanned-looking physical therapist that looks like she has not a care in the world. We walked around the corridor together to get rid of my “sea legs.” She says, “Oh, yeah. You’re good to go. You athletes are easy to work with.”
My legs. They felt like rubber. It was all I could do to stay upright. But you don’t say that when you want to leave the hospital.
It wasn’t bad, that first night in a hospital since 1961. One must be grateful for clean, private rooms and all the millions of dollars that go into health care these days. All I could think about sitting in that hospital is how much planning, preparation, science and technology go into running that place. Every hospital is a miracle to me. And it all happens through dozens and dozens of smart people working together so that when someone like me screws up and crashes into a ditch at 40mph, the hospital and surgeon and nurses are prepared to look after you.
Don’t get me wrong. Health care is not perfect. You can read the signs of disorganization if you look closely. You punch the button and no one shows up to empty your pee jar. Or two people show up, both surprised to see each other. But you must be forgiving of these small mistakes.
Because you really do have to give up control in many respects. Give yourself over to the process of what medicine determines is right for you. Ask questions, for sure. Get information about your treatment and options, absolutely. But you must also trust the doctors, nurses and others who take care of you.
By the time you get home the drugs take over. Vicodin is truth serum in my body. My wife and daughter think it quite funny how I prattle on while taking painkillers. Can’t tell I’m doing it. Writing about it makes me want to lie down. Let the pain go away.
But I’ve weaned off them now. Today’s the 10-day checkup, which comes down to this: How well have I been holding the arm still. Not very. I hope my body has more discipline than the brain that runs it.