Adventures in Healthcare

Spent most of Wednesday in the hallway of Community Memorial Hospital.  No, they didn’t forget me on a gurney.  Sweetie was there for an angiogram.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure,  an angiogram is an x-ray that uses a special dye and camera to take pictures of the blood flow in the arteries near and dear to your heart.  A little puncture near your groin.  A teensy tube inserted in a blood vessel.  Noxious dye coursing through your body.  Medical exploration of your most private parts.  People who have really poopy x-rays sometimes have their chests split open for what is jocularly called triple or quadruple bypass.

Our arrival at the hospital was the end of a long journey that began one evening several months ago as we sat on the couch watching TV.  Sweetie suddenly straightened up, stiffened and complained about chest pains.  “They’ll go away, like every other discomfort”…we thought.  After ten minutes of feeling my blood pressure rise beyond the limits of my sphygmomanometer, I said “Put your shoes on, we’re going to the ER.”

Most people headed to an ER hop in the car and in less than five minutes arrive at that place of refuge.  But not if you live in the Upper Ojai.  You wind down Sulphur Mountain Road avoiding boulders that have fallen during the night,  get onto Highway 150 behind a hay truck driven by a myopic senior, crawl down the Dennison Grade, drive through Ojai’s stoplights…red of course, and eighteen minutes later arrive at Ojai Community Hospital.  It’s the longest eighteen minutes of your life.

After three hours of pokes, jabs, tubes, electronic invasion and fixation on the monitor attached to Sweetie, her condition was determined to be a muscle spasm.  Whew.  But alas, the EKG was inconclusive.   Doctor ER, in telephonic consultation with Doctor Cardio, determined that it would be prudent for Sweetie to pay a call on the heart guy.

A few days later, we visited Doctor Cardio.  ” Hmmm, he said.  Need more information.  How about a nuclear stress test?”  Again, for the uninitiated, a nuclear stress test involves injecting a nuclear isotope in your arm that makes you glow in the dark.  It helps the scanner to more clearly see what’s going on inside your cute little body.  So, being obedient patients, Sweetie glowed.

“Hmmm”, Dr. Cardio said after the atoms had done their work.  Looks like we need more information.   “Up for an angiogram?”  I was beginning to tire of “hmmms.”  The alternative was an impressive sounding 64 bit cat scan.  A recent development performed by a doctor who spent two months in Germany learning how to generate new revenue.  But the results might still be inconclusive.  “Hmmm” we said.  Off to angiogram heaven.

Bright-eyed at 4:30am, we rose and shone.  Had to be at the hospital in Ventura at 7 for a procedure that was to start at 9.  Musn’t be late or we’ll miss our spot in the angio line-up.  In the car before sun-up.  Merrily on our way.  Arriving before 7 we checked in with admitting.  Fortunately they knew us.  “Sit, please…it will only be a moment before one of our people leads you to the promised land.”

Wham!  Lights out.  Transformer blows.  Power gone.  Emergency lights on.  Surely they aren’t serious.  After all this and Edison conspires to cheat us of our long awaited appointment with the cath lab.  Thirty minutes in near darkness.  They’re going to send us home, I thought.  Bastards.  Do it all over again they’d say.  Not on your life I’d say.  We’re going to stay here even if it means sleeping on the floor.  I’m not going through this again, I selfishly thought.  We’re going to poke that hole in Sweetie even if I have to do it myself…in the dark.

Forty minutes since lights out.  But wait.  Coming towards us is an angel of mercy.  She must be an angel, I thought.  She appears to be at least 80 with a cute pink outfit.  “Come with me”, she intoned.  We went.   “Sit here.  I want to take your temperature.”  Good thing it wasn’t my blood pressure.  After trying twice to take Sweetie’s temperature, she muttered “hmmm” and left us alone…in the dark.  Not a good sign.

Finally, off to the prep area.  Blessedly the lights sprang to life.  A succession of lovely angels of mercy paraded through the room.  Major accomplishment was the delivery of a styrofoam cup of coffee…for me.  It wouldn’t have mattered if it was last week’s cold coffee.  I consumed it.

Two more hours in prep seemed designed to raise our expectations, our appreciation of the complexities of hospital procedures, and our stress levels.   But, relief was in store.  When our original ancient pink lady announced that our Dr. Cardio was also her mother’s cardio, Ila turned to me and said “her mother’s still living?”  I wet my pants.

The IV nurse showed.  “I am an excellent IV nurse.  It’s what I live for.  I don’t rummage around in your arm like those other neanderthals looking for the holy grail.  I look closely, explore with my eyes and then I stick you.  You won’t feel a thing.”  Know what?  She was right.  It pays to advertise.

Two hospital orderlies with biceps the size of both my thighs arrived.  All aboard the gurney, Sweetie.  You’re off for your long awaited tryst with Doctor Cardio and his merry band of explorers.  Kiss, kiss.  See you soon.  Have fun.  It will all be OK.  I promise.

A woman who looked strangely like Nurse Ratched said it would be an hour before Doctor Cardio would arrive with any news.  “Sit in the x-ray waiting room…you know, the one with the hard chairs, no reading material and a few hundred others who look like they’d rather be somewhere else.”

An hour.  Hmmm.  Must be a way to get a real cup of coffee in this institution full of revenue generating medical marvels.  The promise of sustenance lay in the basement.  A full cafeteria.  Home away from home.  But not at 10:45 in the morning.  It’s between meals.  No food.  But, wait.  There’s a coffee machine…undergoing an angiogram of its own.  Busted.  Won’t be up again for an hour.  Suffer, buster.  Might as well wait in x-ray’s Devil’s Island.  Sat there for fifteen minutes doing nothing.  The clock never moved.

The door where only angels are allowed to tread opened.  Dr. Cardio appeared.  “Rothenberg…are you here…stand and deliver.”  I got up, stared at him, waiting.  “Everything’s fine.  She has pristine arteries.  She’ll be in recovery for about three hours.”   Thank you, Doctor.  You are truly a god.  He left.  I stood there.

There is only one place in the hospital more uncomfortable than x-ray’s Devil’s Island.  It’s the little row of plastic chairs right outside the cath recovery room.  At the opposite end of the hall there’s an automatic door that seemingly opens and closes without any apparent human intervention.  And stays open long enough for a blast of icy air to chill you to the bone.  I figured that it must be how they keep us awake and upright.

Two and one-half hours repositioning my ass on that plastic chair allowed two things to happen.  First, it made me promise to never complain about the seats anywhere else.  Second, it let me observe the comings and goings of the endless throng of hospital visitors.  Short, tall, old, young.  And, above all, generally obese.  Tomorrow’s candidates for the cath lab and Doctor Cardio.

Hmmm, I’m sure my pink angel of mercy will still be there…taking their temperature.


8 Responses to “Adventures in Healthcare”

  1. 1 Sheila and Sid February 27, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    So glad Ila is ok. If you ever have to go back there (g-d forbid)
    try Danny’s Deli on Telegraph. It’s very close by.


  2. 2 Jon February 27, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Wonderful to read, scary to think about, joyful your ‘sweetie’s ok.


  3. 3 Barbara February 27, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    ditto what Sid and Sheila said. Glad for the pristine diagnosis. Love, J & B


  4. 4 bbojai February 27, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Such an interesting tale. Bob recently had a pacemaker installed at Community. It was a pretty O.K. experience except for him. He mostly complained about the size of the bed he had to sleep in overnight.

    Thank goodness he has recouperated beautifully and thank goodness Ila is A. O. K.!

    Bobbie B.


  5. 5 judie February 27, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    I’m not so sure I like this kind of tale, but as long as it has a good outcome, I guess it’s okay.
    I’m not sure I like being old, but I’m glad we are all still getting older. Does that make sense?
    I love you both, Judie


  6. 6 Anne Shrage February 27, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    So happy to read the end of your story and find Ila is OK. So beautifully related, I felt as though I was there. anne


  7. 7 Dick and Toni March 1, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Fred and Ila:
    We are very glad that Ila is OK. The fact that she was not ill before the experience and didn’t become ill as a result of it, is both wonderful and remarkable, in that order. Hope all remains well with you both.
    Toni and Dick


  8. 8 Leo March 1, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Scary story, good news, so well told.


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