My 2013 was pretty great until August when it sunk into fear and loathing in hospitals. As a result of the clarity that emerges from losing control of situations, I began 2014 with a renewed focus on how lucky my unlucky August actually was. Even worse than last year, it’s halfway through 2014 before I’m publishing this reflection. I am nothing if not inconsistent. Here are three things that happened right when the current school year started:
1. NOT ROUTINE SURGERY, Part One
It was mid-August. Our bedroom was draped in blankets and sheets to buffer the echo of our terrazzo floors. Aaron was talking to the producer of the Judge John Hodgman podcast prepping for us to go live. About an hour prior, I had talked to my mom about my dad going in for hip replacement surgery. They were expecting him to wake up four hours later. She would call me then. Only an hour and a half later, my phone lit up with the words “Mom.” I stepped out of the pre-taping sound check to take the call.
My dad had stopped breathing and they’d sewn him up mid-surgery and rushed him to ICU. My mom was alone at the hospital, the promise of routine surgery now broken along with Dad’s hip. I was 1000 miles away about to tape a podcast about an egg chair. Mom told me she’d call me when the doctors came back to report his progress. I could sit there and imagine the worst or continue with the taping. I walked outside and took several deep breaths and said my first honest prayer in a long time. Fifteen minutes later I was explaining to John Hodgman why I didn’t think a 70’s era pod chair belonged in our living room.
Sixteen hours later I was on a plane to visit my dad in ICU.
Twenty-four hours later I listened to the podcast with my dad in his hospital room. He thought it could use some editing.
One week later, my dad was recovering at home after a successful second surgery.
2. NOT ROUTINE SURGERY, Part Two
At the end of August, one week into my new classes, Aaron woke me up with severe abdominal pain. Within minutes, I was driving half-asleep to the nearest hospital. After an educational middle-of-the-night ER experience that our nurse friend later described as working in the back of a restaurant (completely accurate comparison), a doctor told Aaron he had appendicitis and would be sent to surgery as soon as possible.
At this point we could definitely rule out Aaron’s previous fear that this was just SEVERE GAS.
Early the next morning and a couple of narcotic doses later, Aaron was asleep and I was operating on one hour’s sleep. They moved us to a holding room prior to surgery. I notified our families of the situation and became so tired that I finally crawled into Aaron’s hospital bed with him and took a nap like two cats in a hammock.
Surgery to remove Aaron’s vestigial appendix proceeded normally and we hoped to be home by the next day.
Instead we logged close to a week in the hospital because of the internist’s poor management of Aaron’s type I diabetes post-surgery that led him into Ketoacidosis (DKA).
Without going into the details of the poor care Aaron initially received after surgery, I choose to focus on the excellent care he received when the hospital moved him to more capable nurses and doctors in the IMCU. The surgeon was amazing–in fact, it was her phone call to me in the middle of Aaron’s DKA that got action taken to move him. She had the direct and gruff manner of a surgeon, and was not popular with the nursing staff, but that’s exactly what we needed right then. Someone to take us seriously and cut through the red tape.
I finally resorted to rolling my eyes at the doctor who caused Aaron’s decline, yet continued to defend his actions and treat Aaron as some kind of anomaly. It was a strong reminder of the importance of admitting when you are wrong. That’s been difficult for me to do in the past, and this doctor was young.
Hey doc, the one thing that could have made us feel better about your wisdom being consumed by confidence (to borrow from Julius Caesar) was for you to apologize. At least for what happened to Aaron. I know you see admitting mistakes as permission for us to sue you, but honestly the more you insisted you were right, the more we wanted to punish you.
Aaron’s doctor didn’t listen to him when he expressed his concerns over how his diabetes was being treated. Aaron lives with the disease every day; he understands it better than a doctor.
In an interview with Marc Maron, comic actor and former doctor Ken Jeong (best known for The Hangover and Community) said the most important thing he learned about practicing medicine was to listen carefully to his patients. That internist hadn’t learned that yet. He was still in the “I must project that I am right at all times” phase of not knowing what he was doing.
Our surgeon was the first to tell us when she didn’t know why something was happening. She was blunt with the staff, but she never feigned knowing. She took action to find out instead. That is a trait I admire. (Mostly because younger me did not possess such a trait.)
I realize that should make me feel sympathy for the internist, but NO. *Rolls eyes just thinking about it.*
That week in the hospital feels like a distant place, a pin on the map during a long road trip. Only this pin shredded most of the paper and stabbed us first.
3. NERD CRUISE
Two weeks after Aaron was discharged from the hospital, we hopped a cruise ship at the Port of Miami and headed for the Bahamas for a long weekend. We booked this getaway long before hospital August, so at the beginning it felt like another thing to endure.
This looked exactly like the cruise we took two years ago. Same port. Same boat. Same destination. Only this time there was a significant faction of cruisers who all listen to the same podcasts. Enjoy the same music. Laugh at the same comedians. It was the Atlantic Ocean Music & Comedy Festival, and they’re doing it again in July if you’re into nautical irony.
The rest of the boat featured typical cruisers. You saw an extended family reunion, a lady wearing a mesh dress, a man forever shirtless, etc.
It was fairly easy to pick out the nerd cruisers with their graphic tees and Warby Parker glasses. Aaron and I looked more like native cruisers with our “we live in the tropics” maxi dresses and guayaberras, so I think we proved a challenge to diagnose.
On our first cruise, we only lasted one night in the main dining room. Our assigned tablemates were a pair of 21-year-olds on their honeymoon and a regular-cruising French Canadian couple in their 60’s who could only talk about motorcycles or nothing at all. Awkward was served with every course.
We fled to the Windjammer the next three nights to gorge ourselves at the buffet instead.
On the nerd cruise, table conversation flowed as freely as the cultural references. We all knew what we had in common before the bread came. And we all had the same reaction to formal night when the entire wait staff stopped service to sing and dance.
“Nobody wants this.”
Instead of choosing between the juggling comedian and salsa lessons, this time we got a private show of comedians and musicians we would pay to see separately, all on one bill. Three nights of talented and hilarious performers who happened to also be nice, generous people.
I still couldn’t deal with swimming in the Caribbean next to people I used to watch on TV. I turned around and Daily Show alum Wyatt Cenac was a few feet from my face. *Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…*
But we did meet John Hodgman the first night and because of his brief involvement in our life at the start of this triology, it was a welcome weirdness. Though he plays a snooty, eccentric billionaire on TV, in person he’s incredibly genuine, despite what this photo implies.
And this is where I leave you. John Hodgman was with me in the middle of a horrifying moment (though he doesn’t know it), and was on the other side of a second one.
All on a giant ship in the middle of the ocean.
We lived life through a porthole window last fall and it’s just the right amount sometimes. It taught me not to worry about the entire ocean and chart the course at hand.
It also taught me to use nautical cliches.
There are always side effects.