Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nurse Ratched and the Karmic Oxygen

"Always laugh when you can.
It's cheap medicine."

~~Lord Byron~~

Last week, my husband figured things around the Vernon household just weren’t quite exciting enough, and so decided on the spur-of-the-moment (and without my consent), to have a pulmonary embolism. The preliminary event took place sometime Tuesday, when he suffered shortness of breath, but decided it would be best if he kept that to himself.

After breakfast on Wednesday, though, he went downstairs to his hobby room, came right back up, white as the cream cheese on his bagel, popped an aspirin and said, “Take me to the hospital.” Never one to miss the opportunity to see him under the doctor’s thumb, I ran down the hall, got dressed in record time and drove him into town to the VA.

Let me tell you, mentioning shortness of breath at the ER desk is galvanizing. In a matter of minutes the staff had Bill in his own little cubicle. One of them helped him out of his shirt while another brought in the EKG cart. I suggested they stick the test leads directly on top of Bill’s chest hair, but all the nurses were male, and found that to be a cringe-worthy suggestion. One of them whipped out an electric razor and shaved little bald places on Bill’s torso, giving me the stink-eye the whole time. The EKG showed Bill's walnut-sized heart was chugging right along, so they sent him down to radiology for a chest x-ray. Those results came back and were apparently top secret but required a third test, a CT scan.

Finally an MD came in and told us that Bill had suffered a ‘shower’ of blood clots in his lungs, probably from a deep vein thrombosis in his legs. He went on to explain that the clots were very tiny and likely did not cause any lasting damage, but that Bill would have to be on anti-coagulation therapy for some time, so those and any other clots would have the opportunity to dissolve. He went on to say that Bill would have to be admitted too, so his condition could be more closely monitored, and so they could do more tests.

One of the nurses administered two injections into Bill’s abdomen, explaining he was shooting him up with a blood thinner that worked very fast. Then they bundled him into a wheelchair and escorted us up to the third floor. An orderly came into Bill’s room, bringing a set of hospital pajamas marked ‘XL’.  I helped Bill get out of his own clothes, folding them away in the wardrobe. When I turned, he already had the pajama pants on and was struggling into the jacket. Remember The Incredible Hulk, that cheesy old sci-fi program on TV starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as his green alter ego, The Hulk? Well, my hulk of a husband was sporting Bill Bixby’s jammies, his legs and arms rudely naked from the elbows and knees down, the jacket unsnappable, so his shaved chest spots--skin that hasn't seen daylight in three decades--glowed in the light from the fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling. He just stood there, looking vastly bemused, trying, I’m sure, to figure out how he was going to get into bed without popping every snap and ripping every seam. Between snorting, whooping spurts of laughter, I convinced him to take off the baby jammies and trade them in for bigger ones. He was unamused.

Finally he was in bed. Another nurse came in and set up monitoring equipment and flushed his IV. Then she poked another hole in him and drew ten vials of blood. After that, she put him on oxygen. After watching her suck out most of his blood, I thought we should all have some, but I was afraid to ask for fear they’d want my blood, too.
Our daughter and her fiancĂ© were preparing to leave on a trip when all this happened~~going off to Atlanta, Georgia for a very intimate marriage ceremony, her best friends there to stand up for them. I asked Bill if I should call her. “Absolutely not.”

“But this kind of thing is dangerous. What if…?”

“If I die, you can just apologize to her for the rest of your life.”

The following morning I arrived at the hospital to find Bill’s room full of people, Bill, as usual, holding court between blood draws and medications, laughter leaking out of the room into the hall. An escort arrived to drive him to another facility for a Doppler study on his legs, to see if that could discover the parent blood clot. Off he went in his wheelchair, his escort an instant friend. I snuggled down with my Kindle to wait.

He came back an hour or so later, he and his escort now bosom buddies. They shook hands and the escort told me Bill was the most fun patient he’d ever met. “He makes good coffee, too,” I said.

His pulmonologist showed up. She told us they’d located the ‘parent’ clot, and that it's a whopper. Located in his left leg, it’s about two-feet long. The good thing: that’s the only one he’s got. She also told him he was going home the next day, on oxygen, and would be on oxygen for the time being, not only because his CO2 rates were down, but because oxygen helps the lungs heal and would help with the dissolution of the tiny clots therein.

She also told me that I would have the unforgettable pleasure of administering Bill’s shots at home for the next week, twice a day, each injection in the abdomen. The nurse came in and demonstrated how to do it. According to Bill, who has suffered at my hands all week, I’d make a heck of a Nurse Ratched. I apparently suck at shots.

The next morning we came home. Home Oxygen came by and left a whole flotilla of oxygen bottles and an oxygen concentrator that puts off so much heat  we don’t have to heat the dining room right now.

It’s Karma, really. As long as I’ve known Bill, every time he sees someone on oxygen he says, “S.O.B. probably smoked all his life.” Well, Bill’s never smoked. Not a single cigarette. Not so much as a drag. He’s also convinced that his oxygen bottles and cart are out to get him. He goes outside and the cart falls over, or the hose to the concentrator gets caught on door edges, especially when he's halfway down the stairs. Two mornings ago before dawn, I awoke to hear him stumbling around in the bedroom, swearing under his breath. He finally went out, closing the door behind him. Later, when I got up, I asked him what had happened.

“Oh hell. I was trying to put on my sweat pants in the dark and somehow the hose to my oxygen ended up inside one pant leg. It ran up the crack of my butt and halfway down the other leg and I couldn’t get it out. I had to go out to the living room and strip.”

So, that afternoon I stopped by Home Oxygen to see if there were any alternatives to the setup we have. They gave me a shoulder bag and several smaller bottles, so at least Bill wouldn’t have to contend with the cart anymore. He was ecstatic, but yesterday morning I noticed he has a scratch and a big bruise in the middle of his forehead. “What happened to your head?”

“Oh, I went outside to feed the birds this morning before daylight and bent over to pour their feed out. My oxygen bag slipped and the cylinder came around and clocked me in the face.”

It’s Karma, I tell you. Karma.

Author's note: The Cheyenne VA Medical Center ROCKS! The staff is caring, knowledgeable, and loves our veterans. Bill and I are so thankful for their outstanding treatment.~~LG