So, I’m lying in a hospital bed, in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. It’s early morning, and over the course of the night one thing and another occurred, culminating in my need for assistance in… well, let’s just say there was a call for Clean-up on Aisle Twelve, shall we? There’s no reason for further detail.
I’ve been out of the coma for several days by this point, and I’m feeling, if not well, at least approaching human. Enough so that, while I cannot lie on either side without whimpering, I can cling to the bedrail and thus balance on my left side: the one without the hole all the way through my abdomen, because apparently people can live with a window, if not to the soul, then at least to the liver.
Thus, it’s 6:00ish in the morning, I’m panting and whimpering and generally abandoning all composure in the face of combined pain and indignity. I like this nurse, Karen, a lot, but I don’t care who is on the other end of those Cleansing Wipes; when it’s not me, it means a lack of aplomb, and her soothing murmurs just add to the cacophony of misery in the room. The various monitors measuring vital signs, with the backup monitors measuring the activity of the first monitors, keep a beat.
I’m wearing a hospital johnny, and frankly it doesn’t matter what color or style it was. It was already open in the back, and with Karen’s assistance it has essentially been converted into the widest necktie ever. I happen to be wearing a bra and socks, so I suppose that makes me significantly more concealed than I might otherwise have been. What a relief.
In walks Dr. Steve. He’s one of a trio of residents, who typically travel en masse; in fact, before this moment, I don’t think I’d ever seen him without his counterparts. He walks up to my general head area and starts talking about a medical procedure I’m to have later that day. He seems not to have noticed Karen’s activity or my déshabillé, and simply launches into an explanation of ultrasounds and veins and —
“No, no,” I cut in, abruptly. “Stop talking.”
As I may have been the first patient to have ever said such a thing, he does, looking at me like I’m an exhibit in a museum. What a curious thing, this vaguely personlike patient, having something to say. He waits.
“You might not have noticed,” I explain, “but I’m kind of in the middle of something here. I need you to give me a minute.”
He thinks, shakes his head ponderously, and starts talking a little louder and a little slower than usual, as people often do to the very old or the developmentally disabled. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have to see other patients, too, and then I have rounds at 6:30.”
“OK, then,” I nod. He’s a busy man, we have to respect his busyness. “Then take off your pants.”
I nod. “No, really. If you have to talk to me now, right this second, when I am in this much pain and this much overexposure, then you need to at least make it fair. Take off your pants, and I’ll listen to you. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait.”
He blinks again.
I raise my eyebrows. “Seriously. I’m already having a really bad day and it’s not quite 6:00. Work with me here.”
He shakes a little, as if trying to wake himself up while waiting for his first cup of coffee. “You know what? You’re right. I’ll go talk to the gentleman next door, and I’ll come back.”
I smile at him. “Thanks. That would be fine.”
He starts to leave, then stops, but doesn’t turn around. Over his shoulder, he says, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to invade your privacy again, so I won’t look. But can I bring you something when I come back? Juice? Something?”
I smile wider. “Sure, an orange juice would be great. Thanks.”
And my day slides, almost audibly, from inexpressibly hellacious to marginally acceptable.