Friday, February 12, 2016


It wasn’t a code blue, I realized—though it seemed that way, because why else should there be so many doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists all hanging around? But then I realized—this was a normal hospital, with adequate staffing. And then I began to ponder: had something akin to the Stockholm Syndrome occurred? After six hours of lying on a gurney and seeing no one, I had completely forgotten what an emergency room should look like. I had come to expect to be ignored and forgotten.

Did it help that Raf’s cousin had called the ER to speak to the attending in charge? Undoubtedly—and the attending strolled by and chatted with Raf as I did the triage. Then, and curiously, she completely ignored me. Was I miffed? Yes—until I began to marvel that the care was almost choreographed: first the administrative process of admission, then the financial business of the deductible, and then the chest X-ray, the EKG, the routine blood work, and finally the interview with the admitting doctor. By this time, it was getting late, and though Raf had taken Blanca out for dinner, it was clear that everybody needed to get home.

“Is it definite that I’m going to be admitted?” I asked the doctor.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“Go home,” I told Raf and Blanca, since what sense did it make to wait for the two or three hours for a bed to become available? Besides, I had done something completely uncharacteristic: I had lied, and told them I was taking 1 mg of Klonopin three times a day.

Klonopin is related to Valium, and although my psychiatrist had prescribed half a milligram only as needed, I rarely took it. But in the week after the fall, I had taken it once or twice a day: like Valium, it also relaxes the muscles. And so, as the nurse was writing down the (extensive) list of medicine, it occurred to me: short of LSD and mescaline, there was nothing I couldn’t get.

Drug holiday!

Even better, the admitting doctor had been incredulous when I told him I was treating the pain with Tylenol and Ibuprofen.

“I think we can do better than that,” he said.

And so, three times a day, two Percocets and 1 mg of Klonopin appeared in the little white paper cup. Half an hour later, I would experience the strange effect of being pulled down into the deepest rungs of sleep—it was like a slow-motion anesthesia, and it was hugely soothing. For the first time in seemingly weeks, I slept, and slept well, and slept without pain.

The next day, I was awakened by a woman bringing me a tray of breakfast, which she put on the table in front of the window, and then said: “don’t eat this.”

Say what?

It was a classic example of hospital idiocy, I decided. The woman’s job was to deliver the tray, but it was also her job to instruct me not to eat it. And in fact, she had committed the ultimate mistake of those who deliver trays: she had left it out of reach. Not a problem if—as I was—the patient could stand and walk. But every day, thousands of trays are delivered in hospitals, and how many patients are left, hungry and unable to eat? No matter—I waited for what came next….

It turned out that I had to have a CT scan, and that the test—for some reason—was best done fasting. And so I went down to the lab, escorted by two amiable chaps who had tossed a coin: who would have to speak English to me? The answer, of course, was neither, and we chatted in Spanish.

I had been told by my internist that an MRI was just as good, and considerably less annoying, than a CT scan. In fact, even though the lab technician gave me earplugs, I was completely unprepared for the menacing, unpredictable series of roars, whirling, clicks and unnerving silences. At times, it seemed that I had been cornered by a snarling, mechanical beast, which roared in my ears just prior to devouring me, and then retreated, silently and maliciously eyeing me, as it plotted its next pounce.

I did what I had been doing for almost a month: I counted my breaths. But then, curiously, I began to be fascinated with the sounds; was there a pattern to them? And if so, could I discern it? And so for twenty minutes, I was bombarded with cacophony—I, a musician, acutely sensitive to sound, to the point that people eating popcorn with their mouths open will make me want to flee the theater.

What, I wondered, in God’s name had we been doing in those years when I worked on psychiatry wards? Because it was routine: young schizophrenics were sent down to get CT scans of their brains. And if I—neurotic, perhaps, but connected with reality—had experienced the CT scan as distinctly unnerving (to the point of Satanic), what in the world was the experience for a truly psychotic person? How could they not think that something or someone was implanting thoughts in their brains?

“Well, now I know what people abducted by aliens go through,” I told the technician. He laughed and sent me off to lie in the hall: my two companions would appear in moments to take me to X-ray….

X-ray? Why X-ray? I had had, after all, X-rays of my spine: that’s what had led to the doctor’s visit, and the MRI, and then all the way to the gurney I was currently lying on. So, why repeat the X-rays: I protested and ultimately refused. No one was particularly pleased with me, but I stood my ground.

And I returned to my room, got my breakfast, and then the angel in white appeared with the balm and blessing of Percocet and Klonopin, and I was just about to plunge down deep, deep into the ocean of unconsciousness, when it occurred to me: administratively speaking, how could I be here?

I had, after checked into one hospital, never officially checked out, and then checked into a second hospital? What would Triple-S think? How could I be in two places at once? Were they paying double? And then I thought: did it matter? I was here, safe, no longer in pain. People appeared, gave me drugs, hung IV bags, administered Heparin (I presumed, since it was into my belly, not intramuscular), and took charge. And I couldn’t have been more pleased: I relinquished control as a snake sheds its skin.

Was the ordeal over?