Monday, January 12, 2009

Long Days, Lost Weekend

Last Friday after work I came home and knew things were not right. All week long I had a mysterious pain in my right lower back that radiated around to my thigh. I thought I had twisted my back and pinched a nerve. It’ll work out. Except it didn’t. On Thursday I had a strong urge to urinate often, and it burned when I did. By Friday evening, after I made it home feeling dizzy and out of sorts, I crawled into bed with uncontrollable chills.

My weekend plans were set.

The rest of the story...

Since I couldn’t get in to see a doctor on Friday as I had planned, I managed to scrounge an appointment for Saturday morning. I slumped over to her office, shivering all the way, waited ten minutes and then was invited in to the exam room, after having left a urine sample. When the nurse came in the room, we exchanged a few words about urinary tract infections, and she said coldly, “Now you know what your wife goes through.” I think she had issues.

When the doctor came in, she was much more compassionate. “You know, in men this is often caused by a kidney stone, and I don’t like that flank pain you have.” Great. Two words in the English language I never wanted to hear spoken together and addressed to me: “kidney” and “stone.” “How is your pain tolerance?” she asked. I’m probably average, for your spoiled, middle-class, Baby Boomer. I don’t have any. “You know,” she smiled, “women who have had both babies and kidney stones say that they would rather have the baby.” This day has started with such encouragement.

She sent me to the hospital for a CT scan to check for stones. Maybe that’s not it after all. After stopping at the pharmacy to get my antibiotics, I arrived at the hospital (part of the health network for which I work), went dutifully to registration and gave my information, squirming in my chair to find a comfortable position. “Did your doc call and put you on the schedule?” I didn’t know, and when I said so, she shot me a disapproving look. She called the imaging department and apparently the doctor hadn’t phoned. Disapproving look number two. “You’ll have to go to the waiting room until they can call your doctor. Please tell her next time to call; we have to follow the appropriate protocol.” From far away somewhere in a gathering storm of misery, I nodded meekly.

Now to Radiology, where for almost an hour I must have looked like a homeless man taking shelter from the cold as I sat in the waiting room, head down between hunched shoulders trying to stay warm and comfortable. From snippets I heard, the delay was because the young woman at the desk could not get my information to come up right on the computer. She tried and tried again. She sighed and whined and tried again. She called the IT help line. She called in coworkers, who came, punched a few keys, shook their heads and walked out again. Some grating “crisis of the week” movie was on the TV. I had to get up and pee at least five times.

Somehow, the technical problem got resolved. I had my two minute test...then waited...and waited for the results while their people called my people and waited for my people to call back only to have to wait again for their people to call back and talk to my people. In the end, good news—a normal scan. No kidney stones.

Still, I figure I have about a 102 degree temperature, I haven’t eaten since yesterday’s lunch, I ache all over, my back and leg hurt like crazy, and now I get to drive home. Stopping to get a sandwich and a drink, I take two bites of the sandwich and then throw it away. Tastes like dust.

From that point on, the trajectory of my weekend was flat. Lying on the couch watching football. Lying in bed sleeping. Lying in bed watching football. Lying on the couch trying to get comfortable. Etc., etc., etc. We usually make remarks about how time flies and how we can’t believe it’s already such and such a date. These were the longest days of my life.

Life went on all around me, but I honestly don’t remember much about anything. Most of Friday night through Monday morning was like being shut in a closet and subjected to some sick torture treatment with a relentless soundtrack of football talk, games, inane commercials, distant sounds of family life going on without me, phones ringing, cars needing muffler work growling by my window. It was all repeated endlessly, while I turned over and over again in the bed to find a good position, alternately burning with fever and drenched with sweat. All in all, a pretty good foretaste of Purgatory, I’m sure.

I write this not to elicit sympathy. My illness didn’t turn out to be deadly serious or anything. But for one who spends his days visiting people who lie in their beds, I wanted you to know that I gained a bit of perspective over that long weekend. I hope I will never enter one of their rooms again without a new measure of sympathy and a new sense for what might encourage them.

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