A few weeks before
Before I start my story, let me discuss how I feel about hospitals. I’ve only had two stays in my conscious life. The first was for an appendectomy. I was in at 5 PM and out at 1 PM the next day. The second time I stayed over several nights for the birth of my daughter. I was severely sleep deprived and going through the biggest change in my life that week. Both stays reflected extremes of how a trip could go. Neither one however reflects my view of hospitalization. To tell that I need to describe what I’ve been through.
It’s been a long month. I mean December is a long month for anyone so I’m not saying anything new. But it’s been especially true for me and my family. More so than ever. I know the meme this month is what a long year but trust me, I’ve had the longest year.
Not that it began this way. It began as a hopeful moment. My wife Amanda experienced terrible stomach pains throughout the year. Eventually she was confirmed to have stones in her gall bladder and needed it out. A routine surgery if ever there was one.
So you go through the paperwork, the prep work, schedule a week off at work, take the kid down to her grandparents, and assume it’s all gonna be ok. And if it was I don’t cover this in anything more than a cover all entry. Amanda had surgery. I had to take time off. It’s over. Next.
For the first few hours, things seemed normal. I dropped Amanda off for surgery at a hospital a few blocks away then went home, cleaned, and slept. Then she called and I went to pick her up. She came home and rested. This was how it was supposed to go.
Then the stomach pains began along with the nausea, the horrifying nausea. Amanda couldn’t stop vomiting and could barely move. At 8 o’clock I called her doctor. The doctor, a rather brusque fellow, had no advice beyond either wait until tomorrow to see a doctor or go to the emergency room.
At 8:50 PM, Amanda and I once more found ourselves in the hospital. It was a painful situation. It took us nearly three hours to see a doctor as her severe pain wasn’t assessed as bad enough to merit seeing a doctor ahead of others. So we sat in uncomfortable chairs in an ice cold waiting room with Amanda getting up to vomit every few minutes. All I could do was be her spine through it.
Finally at about midnight we started to be seen. I stress started. It took at least an hour to get pain medicine in intravenously and fluids to be delivered. At least Amanda could rest. I was in full alert mode. Had to be. After four hours, we were freed to go, the problem assessed as a negative reaction to the pain meds on an empty stomach.
And then things went as I hoped. Amanda rested. She slowly recovered. There was definite pain. But she seemed to heal. That next Monday I ran down south to get Lola. The next few days Amanda recovered with us. It was nice. I even went back to work Thursday.
This is all prologue. Let me note that now. Everything I’ve just told you is necessary setup but it’s not the story. Again, it should be in a fair universe. It’s not in this one.
Early Friday morning, Amanda begins to experience pain and nausea again. My dad gets called to stay with Amanda while I go to work but that plan doesn’t last. In minutes, the plan changes to go to the ER again with my dad picking Lola up for the day. Work was out again. I thought my routine was restored. I was wrong.
I hate to admit this but my primary thought as I got Amanda to the hospital was on my job. I work at a newspaper and this week I was laying out the Sunday business section. The previous night I left my work unfinished, knowing I’d be there Friday morning to complete the section. Unfortunately I found myself on the phone with my bosses telling them I was on the way to the hospital.
I shouldn’t have felt guilty. I did though. I felt like I was letting people down. I absolutely caused chaos. But it wasn’t like there was a way around this. My wife needed me and even in my cold equation mind, she had to come first. I love her.
Once I’m parked and Lola is handed off to my dad for the night, I go with Amanda to a room. There’s no wait at 10:30 in the morning. We’re promptly installed and a nurse checks Amanda out. Tests are ordered. But mostly there’s the wait, the damnable wait. The wait for the medicine to kick in. The wait for nurses. The wait for test results.
But then the tests come back. There are stones in Amanda’s bile duct, the source of her constant pain. There’s also a fluid pocket but that seems ambiguous with us hearing different things from different doctors as to the severity. What counts is this: She needs another procedure and it can’t be done that day.
Hospitalization is floated but ultimately we decide to go home. Through the muck of a gray December day we trudge the few blocks to the house. Amanda once more takes pain medicine. I go out to grab dinner, checking in again with my job. I know I’m going to be out through the next day at least. Lola will stay with my dad until Sunday.
The next day is largely peaceful. Amanda rests. I clean. The downpour that permeated the previous day is still there. But there is calm as we wait for Monday when hopefully an outpatient procedure will help Amanda.
Then Sunday morning comes. The pain hits at its all time worst. We race to the ER but we know what’s coming. This time there’s an even stronger battery of tests but all of these are to affirm the outcome we expected. Early in the afternoon, Amanda is admitted to the fourth floor as a patient.
This is all extremely awkward for me. I don’t really know what to do in this situation. I’m on my phone far more than I should be, mostly surfing the Internet Library. I have no idea what my position should be when doctors speak. I want to be invisible honestly.
But as we settle into the room, some order does start to firm up as it must. I take to a chair bed in the room and sit while IVs are set up and nurses check on Amanda. The few supplies I brought are stashed in a corner. I relax as best as I can while she tries her best to pass out.
After a bit I make my way out of the hospital and get the car. I run back to the house to shower and grab toiletries. I grab dinner at Popeyes, less because I’m hungry and more because I know it’s dinner time. I buy a few snacks at Big Lots for a similar reason. Then back to the hospital.
At the hospital, Amanda is still awake and still hurting though the medicine is kicking in. We watch TV, probably the first Family Guy episode I’ve seen live in a decade, and rest together. That’s my role in this moment after all. I’m supposed to be there for her. And I am.
Then sleep comes. It’s better than it was when Lola was born but there’s also actual darkness and no newborn in the room to wake me. It’s cold though. Definitely uncomfortable.
The next day is a long wait. The only punctuation I get is running a couple of small errands. Mostly I’m bound to the chair, drinking a Sprite. Finally the doctors come to take Amanda to ostensibly get a scope to see the stones and perform the procedure. I relax and play on my laptop, knowing things are finally happening.
Except they don’t. Of course the doctors don’t do the procedure that day. It took too long to get to her so they didn’t even do it. This frustrating moment goes on yet longer.
It also means my therapy appointment the next day is off. I’ll miss the three year anniversary of seeing that good man. It’ll hurt. I needed him right now. But then again maybe I didn’t. Not yet. I’m in the hurricane and therapy is for when I’m out.
Once again I run out to get supplies, shower, and eat. At dinner I get a call from Amanda’s grandmother, checking on her. I vent so hard to her my frustrations with the hospital and the doctors. Her grandmother makes me feel better, affirming that yeah, this is awful.
Another night but this time without much sleep. Amanda sleeps more than she has at home though and that’s what counts. She’s getting what she needs. The crick in my neck is just a thing I’ll face for this.
The next morning, by now Tuesday, we’re finally given word she’s going into surgery. Amanda has two requests. She wants a present and she wants me to eat. So while she’s wheeled in, I do both.
The meal isn’t major, a spicy chicken biscuit and hash browns from Chick-Fil-A, but it satisfies. Sitting in the restaurant, I’m happy to eat for the first time in days. That’s a relief. The fat and carbs give me a boost.
Then it’s on to the mall to find Amanda a present. The mall I’m in has giant glass skylights which provide me which something I haven’t had in days: Natural light. You don’t realize until you’re trapped in a situation where you lack it how nice it feels to get it. It’s cleansing.
That helps put me in a good mood as I select the gifts. Inevitably, Bath and Body Works gets a stop so I can get her a bath bomb. I spend most of my time in Spencer’s Gifts. She’s weird enough items like a Chucky fleece throw is considered but I need to show I know her. Amanda values a Nightmare Before Christmas mug above most possessions. I get her two pint glasses as companions.
Then it’s back in the room. For the first time I’m truly aware what a prison it is for me and I can go as I please. I can’t imagine what it is for Amanda. For me, it’s becoming incredibly frustrating. That several hours pass as I wait doesn’t help. Even with good books, I’m just waiting, tethered to the room.
After a few hours, Amanda comes back, finally having had everything she needed done. There’s a peace to the moment. She’s in severe pain but she’s going to get better. I give her the gifts, much appreciated, and we’re just together, the two of us. It’s nice.
Amanda’s friends come and we reach a decision: I need to go home tonight. I need to get the rest I truly need. So after a bit I go home and once more shower. I take a nap. I load up a podcast on my phone. I head out on a mission.
That mission? To see Lola at dinner. I meet her and my dad at a Waffle House. Lola is happy to see me, clinging tight to me. She plays and laughs and I’m reminded that I’m only briefly in a sojourn in another world. In time I’ll be back with her and things will be normal.
It ends all too quickly but then there’s another reminder things will end. I drive over to pick up my good friend Sebastian, a one time online associate turned Little Rock resident. We hang out weekly and this week proves no exception. Our plan is to go to Target to do some Christmas shopping.
As I pull up, Amanda calls. She wants chips and cheese dip. So Sebastian and I find ourselves at the hospital with food in tow. Honestly I’m glad for it. I cherish the few extra moments I get with my wife. It’s clear us being there takes her mind off the stress. It’s just nice.
Then the rest of the night is me getting lost in the things I love. I shop. I drive. I chat with my friend. I’m just plain happy to be there. After I drop Sebastian off, I go home and drink a few hard lemonades as I blast the rest of the cast.
This would be the climax if it was a film. The next scene would be me taking Amanda home. After all the plot has ended. We can move on.
Here’s what actually happens in reality. There’s another day of observation. Amanda was definitely not having any of it. She’d been grumpy all week but it peaked Wednesday and I didn’t blame her. There was a reason we were there but it felt so useless. She was ready to go home.
The next day I got up. I went to the hospital. I bought Amanda a small bottle of her favorite perfume the hospital happened to have. We waited. And waited.
And then in an instant we got the news. Amanda was going home that day and I was going back to work. As fast as the event began, it suddenly ended. I packed the car, Amanda got dressed, and she went home.
Then I was back at work and it was as if nothing had happened. I was back in my routine. I wasn’t at all off my game. Things were just what they were.
Slowly the world around reshaped. Lola came home the next day. Amanda went back to work a week later. The Christmas holiday came and went. The order of life found its way again.
And that’s what fascinates me. Things can be completely thrown out of whack. The world as we know it can be torn completely asunder. Everything can go wrong.
Then one of two things happens. Either a new normal sets in for a permanent change or for a temporary change things get back to normal. Either way chaos isn’t eternal. Crises end. And we move on.
So it is for us. We had a period where it seemed like nothing would calm down. Then it did.
And we keep going.
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