Notes from Maine – 8

Warning – because I quote my father, there is some profanity below.

My father remains in the hospital. It’s not Covid-19 related. Just as the lockdown started, he had a couple of falls because he didn’t have any strength in one of his legs. It was a blocked nerve that they had to surgically repair. Then, they had to perform a second surgery to fix a leak in his spinal fluid from some old scar tissue. He was in pretty bad shape for a while when his spinal fluid was leaking. He was incoherent so we had to make decisions for him, and there was a lot of talk about DNR (do not resuscitate) orders and such. I’m happy to say that he has pulled through the worst of it, although he has a long road of rehab ahead.

On the phone the other day I was asking if he paid his property tax bill. He thought he had, but his response was, “If I didn’t, f**k ’em. They can throw me in jail.” That’s when I knew he was feeling okay.

A couple of years ago, he was in the hospital for a different reason. In his eighties, he tried to lift something in his driveway and suffered a hernia. It wasn’t serious enough to do surgery immediately, so they sent him home and scheduled the surgery for later.

I stopped by to see him one day.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“Terrible.”

While we talked, I picked up his discharge orders and read them over while I casually asked him a couple more questions.

“Is it painful when you press on it?”

“Yes.”

“Nausea?”

“Yes.”

“Any fever?”

“I feel hot.”

“Normal bowel movements?”

“What kind of question is that? And, no, I haven’t taken a sh*t in a week.”

“Is the location of the hernia discolored?”

“No,” he said, “What’s with all these questions?”

I showed him the sheet. “Dad, those are signs that you should return to the emergency room immediately. You just failed four out of five.”

“Oh, that thing,” he said, waiving his hand. “They give that to everybody. That doesn’t mean anything.”

I called his doctor, who said to take him in.

Like I said, this was years ago. We were rushed through the queue and he got an exam room right away. I think it was the bowel pain that disturbed them the most. Perhaps the hernia was causing an intestinal blockage, or so they thought. The doctor gave him a large container of “oral contrast” to drink before his CT scan. It was lucky that we were there right at 5 o’clock—that’s drinking time for my dad. He was allotted twenty minutes to drink the red fluid. He had it down in three.

“Taste good?” I asked.

“Not particularly, no.”

“Well you sure drank… Dad?” 

He got a strange look on his face.

“Dad? What’s wrong?”

“I got the quick steps,” he said while he was swinging his legs off of the hospital bed.

“The quick…”

I figured out what he meant as he began to shuffle in his socks towards the bathroom. A moment after he shut the door behind himself, I heard some horrible sounds and then my father exclaimed, “Oh yeah!”

The doctor appeared and I explained what had just happened.

She smiled. “I hoped that would happen. I think your father’s pain was just because he was so backed up. That happens sometimes. The oral contrast can be a pretty good laxative. We’ll do the CT scan just to see that everything is okay, but I think he can still wait for the hernia operation.”

A few minutes later, he came out looking much better and very relieved.

He relaxed back into the hospital bed to wait for his scan. 

We talked.

“When I had my hernia,” I told him, “they gave me oral contrast and then an injection right before I went into the machine.” (Turns out I was wrong, by the way. I was describing the procedure before my appendectomy, not my hernia operation, but it turned out to be very similar anyway.)

“An injection for what?” he asked.

“It’s like another kind of contrast so they can see what’s going on. Whatever it is, it’s hot inside your veins. You can feel it pump through your body with your pulse.”

“Huh,” he said.

“If you get that, they’ll tell you about it because when it pumps back towards your torso, it feels like you wet your pants.”

“Huh.”

The technicians arrived to take him away. My father can be very charming with doctors, nurses, technicians, and the like. They were immediately very friendly with him. He made some kind of joke when they started to wheel him away, and they were all laughing.

I waited in the room, reading the Reader’s Digest that he had insisted on bringing.

When they brought him back, the friendly technicians were all business and there were no more smiles. Dad looked pretty somber too. I waited for them to leave before I leaned close to my father and asked, “Did they give you an injection of contrast?”

He nodded. “Yup.”

“Did it feel like you wet your pants when it rolled through your veins?”

He shook his head. “Nope. It didn’t feel like I wet my pants, it felt more like I sh*t all over their machine.”

“Oh?”

“I think it’s because I sh*t all over their machine.”

The person who brought me his clothes in a bag didn’t make eye contact with me.

It turned out that he was fine. They did the hernia operation a couple of months later and he was back to normal. Anyway, that was one of the last times he was in that hospital. I hope it’s going better for him this time, and I hope you’re well and taking care of yourself.

Stay safe.

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