Most people, I've observed, hate hospitals. I wasn't one of them. I imagine that's because most of my hospital experiences were positive. Plus I knew when I couldn't breath going to the ER would give me my breath back.
There was one visit to the hospital when I was eleven -- four years before I was shipped to the asthma hospital -- that was not a pleasant experience at all. I had been up the night before overwhelmed by a feeling of tightness, wheezing, and continued worsening of my breathing. And in the morning the malaise hit.
Mom and I entered through the automatic emergency room doors, and the smell of hospital hit me. I inhaled -- half a breath painful breath -- and coughed, and coughed, and coughed. A feeling of sickness overwhelmed me, and I sat in the first chair I could find while mom approached the admitting desk. I could hear the voices of mom and some man talking, although I couldn't make out what they were saying. A chill overwhelmed me, and I crouched in the chair and rubbed my stomach to try to quell the nausea.
"Ohhhhhhhh!" squelched from me, followed by a tap on my back, "Rick!" It was mom. "Time to go." I'm sure the emergency room doctor will be able to fix both my problems! I jumped to my feet and slid my feet alongside mom, although my my now aching head faced the white tiled floor, and my hands cradled my stomach. And, as usual, my shoulders were sky high.
Mom opened a door, and I followed her into the ER waiting room. I sat in a chair to the left of the door and leaned up against the left arm; shoulders high; stomach cradled. I closed my eyes. I could hear mom talking, and then she sat to the left of me. My chest ached; my stomach ached.
"Can we go to the ER room now," I choked out.
"No," mom said. "The lady wants us to wait here. But it won't be long."
"I can't wait!"
"I know. They've never made us wait before." She leaned over me, rubbed my back, and said, "We'll wait a few minutes and have her go get a nurse."
"Oh, come on!" I wanted to say, but held it in. How in the world could I not look bad? Here I felt I was going to die, and that stupid lady won't let me see a doctor. Oh, come on!
I tried to braeth in. The air wouldn't go. I exhaled hard, and tried to force in a breath. It felt like I was inhaling pea soup. I sucked in...and in... and in.. the air came... slowly... about half way. I blew it out, and inhaled again... the pea soup. I shot up unintentionally bumping mom in the face. I sat up high, leaning on the arms of the chair to make more space in my lungs. The air felt thinner now, yet the nausea came back. "Ohhhhh!"
"You okay, honey." Mom's soothing voice.
"No!" A tear rushed down my cheek. I took in a breath... exhaled slowly and purposefully.
Mom hopped out of her chair and approached the window. She said something. The old lady behind the window said something. Mom sat back down. I tried to focus on the other people in the room. There were three in here. Why are they all furry? All furry men. All blurry.
The old lady behind the window -- she was blurry to me -- stood up. I'm coming! I'm coming! I thought. "Sue Smith," the lady called. "Oh, come on," I wailed. I didn't care that she heard me. Not to be rude, but it was my name she was supposed to call. I was the one dying here. That lady, that Sue Smith, she's fine. And she was. She hopped out of her chair, walked through the door oposit me, and then I could hear her laughing and joking behind the counter with one of the ladies back there.
"This is ridiculous!" I heard mom say.
I slouched, rubbed my stomach. The nausea eased. The air got thck as pea soup. Is this what claustrophobia feels like? Air came in slow again, but since my stomach felt better I tolerated it. I could hear the TV. I could hear soft voices in the room. I could feel mom's soft touch on my back.
"Please back off, mom!" I certainly didn't want to slam her in the face again. I sat up. I held my shoulders high using the arms of the chair. I stood. Air came spashing into my lungs like water when you dive into a huge wave in lake Michigan. A cool tingling sensation rushed through my body as it did so. I concentrated. Sucked. Sucked. It was almost all the way in. My lungs were almost full. My shoulders jerked visiously. Finally! Air. All the way in my lungs. Ahhhh!
I exhaled. Inhaled. It was pea soup again. Once the air was half way in, it felt as though there was a wall in my lungs preventing them from expanding further. I sucked in. It came, although very sluggishly... very slowly... slowly. Then it hit a wall again. Exhaled. Inhaled....
A new idea occured to me. The air was not pea soup, but a thick milk shake from McDonalds. Sucking in air was like sucking in the freshly made, thick milkshake through a thin straw. You could suck it up the straw a little bit, but then it would get stuck. That's what it felt like to breath in when a bad asthma attack struck. Like it was doing now. The air was a milkshake, and my air passages were the straw.
"Do you want me to read you a book," mom said. I knew she wanted to do more, yet she was... helpless. I was helpless unless I got into an ER room they wouldn't let me get into, and mom was helpless to do anything about it because of that mean lady behind the window
I nausea seemed to have eased for the moment, so I stayed seated high. I took this opportunity to scope the room. It was a normal waiting room with chairs all the way around except for to my right and behind me where there was the door we came in through, and straight across the room another door that lead to the core of the hospital. Besides me and mom, all the people in the room were three old people that continuously rotated in and out.
There was a TV on the wall across from me, and it was set to CBS and the "Price is Right"
was on, with the familiar voice of Bob Barker a welcome sound. Filling most of the wall between the doors window and a counter where a couple elderly ladies were click-clacking away on their typewriters.
, and occasionally they would call a name of one of the people in waiting room and that person would disappear through the door across from me, have a seat across from one of the old ladies behind the window. The soft ru
"Jane Johnson," the old, rickety female voice from behind the window shouted.
My stomach churned. "Oh come on!" I groaned to mom, not caring if anyone else in the room heard me. "I don't feel good."
"I know," mom said, her voice soothing as usual. "They've never made you wait like this before. This is ridiculous!"
"I have to throw up," I whispered to mom.
Mom got up and rushed to the window. The gray haired lady who kept calling names -- although not mine -- poked her head up. Mom asked for the closest bathroom. The lady said, "He's going to have to wait."
"He can't wait," mom insisted. My stomach churned, my chest ached. I was now wheezing audibly, and I made no effort to stop it. The more I could make myself wheeze, perhaps...
Finally mom left the counter and sat back down next to me.
"Mom! I need to go right now!"
Mom walked back to the counter. I heard a voice, but the lightheartedness had the best of me and I could not make out anything. Your taking forever, I thought to yell, although the voice in the niche mom created in my head was telling me to be nice.
Finally mom grabbed me by the arm and rushed me through the door the nurse kept poking her head through, and I completed that miserable job, followed by five minutes dry heaving.
Back in the waiting room mom pleaded with the clerk to get a nurse, "He needs to get in."
All my life it seemed mom always got what she wanted (at least from dad anyway). And when the lady said, "I'll go talk to the nurse," I felt a modicum of joy.
My stomach continued to toss and turn as I stood, waiting for the nurse to come. She finally came through the door in her familiar white nurses cap and gown: "Joe Schmidt!" she chimed.
Do they not even care about me! "Mom!"
A short, pudgy man with a long gray beard who was seated at the far end of the room stood, and waddled to the nurse in the doorway, who directed the man through the door, which slammed behind her.
Mom was not happy by this event. She once again approached the counter and a discussion ensued. Mom waited as the lady disappeared. I stood because I just knew that finally I would be seen. I listened as the crowd cheered on TV as one of the contestants on the Price is Right checked out her new car, and the program ended. Have I been here that long?
I closed my eyes. The music from "As the World Turns" filled the room, followed by Mr. Whipple's voice as he tried to convince another lady, "Don't squeeze the Charmine!" I hoped I would just pass out, and I just might have if I could get in half a breath.
I heard the aura of soap opera voices fill the room, the click of a door handle, then, "Mr. Thomas Overly!" It was the nurse in the window. An ancient, balding man who sat next to me slumbered out of his chair and approached the window. He answered a few questions and sat back down. I didn't want to sit by him anymore, so I got up and sat on the other side of the room. This turned out to be a bad decision as an elderly lady tumbled through the door next to where I was sitting before and sat in the chair I vacated. And, worse of all, I realized I couldn't see the TV from where I was. NOT that there was anything useful on, but it WAS at least a modicum of entertainment.
The raspy voice from the window chimed in again, "Mr. Green."
Oh, come on! "I can't sit here anymore, mom," I whined.
Another old guy got up, as he slowly... slowly... slowly made his way by me I got a whiff of the musty home he lived in, and my lungs closed up. I tried to inhale... GASP!"
Used to this, I concentrated on my breathing all the more, and withing a few minutes I was back to being able to take half a noisy breath again. The nurses obviously didn't care. I was feeling worse that I ever had before -- both nauseous and not breathing -- and they were making me wait. What awful people.
Mom got up to talk with the lady in the window again, and about 20 minutes later -- or so it seemed, and several trips to the bathroom, the nurse came in and yelled: "Rick Frea!"
Moments later I was sitting on an ER cot. I remember staring at the clock, frogged up on the bed, as I was given a breathing treatment, followed by a shot in the arm, followed by the euphoria of being able to take in a deep breath for the first time in hours, followed by....
"I have to throw up again!" I groaned, and as I sat there dry heaving an emmissis basin was set on my lap. I closed my eyes. Someone said, "Lie down." I did. I closed my eyes. The next thing I remember was staring at the ceiling as I was being wheeled down the hall. The ceiling was blurry. The next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital bed, and I zonked out again.
I remember waking up 3 or 4 times the rest of that day because THEY had to move me to a new room. Each time I remember thinking, "I'm comfortable, just let me be." I would close my eyes hoping it was just talk, but soon I was staring at the blurry ceiling on the way to a new room. Then I'd get to my new bed, crumple up into a ball and fall back to sleep.
The next day I was feeling better and watching the TV dad paid for. Back then you had to pay to watch TV in the hospital. I remember being in the hospital the year before and watching as another kid had a TV wheeled next to his bed while I had to lie there and stare at the ceiling. This time dad didn't hesitate to flip the bill. If I remember right, it was $5 a day, "a lot of money," dad said back then. I appreciated it very much.
I was watching an old western when I heard a thump. I turned and saw a couple nurses trying to stuff a bed through the door. Someone pulled the curtain that blocked my view of the door, and the other bed. I heard several more thumps, and then the curtain was pulled back. In the bed next to me was an old man who stared at the ceiling.
After eating breakfast (I learned if you salt the toast it actually tastes half way decent), I found an old, black and white TV show called "Leave it to Beaver." Then I smelled something that was not awful hospital food. "What in the world is that?"
"Hey, Rick! How's it going. Feeling better today?" It was mom. She was carrying a bag.
"Yeah," I said. "I feel better, but my arm is burning. I told the nurse to take it out, but she refused."
"If she took it out you'd have to get another one." Mom emptied her bag on my bedside stand. "Here's a crossword and a comic book for you." If she could smell that smell she gave no indication.
"I don't care. I'd rather get poked again than have to deal with the pain."
I pushed my call button. A voice quickly sounded over my bed, "Do you need something?"
"Yes," I said, "I need you to come look at my IV. It hurts."
"I already looked at it. It's fine."
"Please, it still hurts. Can you look at it again."
"Be right there." A mechanical ting indicated she was done talking.
A short lady with dark hair and slanted eyes came in, looked at my IV, and said, "It's fine." She left, and mom sat down in a chair next to my bed.
"You can turn on your soap operas if you want," I said. I handed her the nurses call button, which had a TV channel turner on it. Mom flipped through the channels.
The oriental nurse came back in with a wet washcloth. "Here," she said, placing the cold cloth over the site, "perhaps this will help." She left.
Hours past. A respiratory therapist came in to give me a breathing treatment, and mom said she had to get home to pick up my brothers from school and pick up little Tony who she left at grandma's house. "I'll come back tonight. I think I'll bring Tony to see you."
Tony was my little brother. A few years ago I had to quit playing baseball because of my asthma (a story for another day) and instead of playing with the other kids my age I spend most of my time teaching Tony to play ball. Since I couldn't ever play for the Tigers, maybe Tony could.
"I'd like that," I said.
After the treatment I was alone... alone except for that smell... alone except for the burning in my arm...
I pushed the call button several times that day. I flipped through the channels, hoping to find something entertaining, but there was nothing on. I played with the crossword book, but that didn't entertain me for long either. The comic wasn't really a comic at all, but a "Mad" magazine. There was a funny article about "Arnold" on "Different Strokes I read, but then I cast the magazine aside.
The back of my bed was high, and I made the head go down, back up, down, back up, down, back up. Finally the sheets became so taut they crumpled up behind my back.
That stench was overwhelming now. And so was the pain. I cringed on the side of the bed. I pushed my call button. That same oriental nurse came in again, tapped the side (which made the burning worse) and said it was okay. She left without as much as a word.
I looked at my wound. White hospital tape secured the needle in my skin, and the skin around it was red, swollen, and sore to the touch. The clear plastic line of fluid lead up to the IV machine, and it was making a soft mechanical CLIP... CLIP... CLIP... CLIP... CLIP... as the fluid drip, drip, dripped into my veins.
I loosened some of the tape. It was quite the job as it seemed to be melted to my body, but the release of the tension of the tape seemed to feel good. I peeled a little more. The wet, gooey, sticky paste there seemed to be one with my skin. I peeled a little more. Now I could see where the needle pierced my skin. I pulled on it a little. Then a thought occurred to me, "Why don't I pull it out."
I looked at the door. What are the odds that cranky oriental nurse will come back here. What's her name anyway. I don't think she even introduced herself. I cranked my head backward and nearly upside down and looked up at the chalk board above my bed where the nurses write there names. What kind of name is that? "Do..u...nguuuuu.???" I can't even read her name it's so... odd.
What's going to happen if I do it? What's the worse that could happen, she'd have to put in a new one. That's what would happen. She will have to be inconvenienced. She will be irritated. She will be MAD. She will be...?? What? Mad as I am now. Mad because she left this IV thing in all day. Mad because my arm is numb and tingly and sore and...
It was out. I tapped the tip of the needle with my finger tip. It was really a needle in there. Ah, but it felt so good. Now all I had to do was get the tape off. Actually, peeling the tape off hurt more than taking the needle out. The needle going out felt good. The tape tugged on my arm hairs, and that... HURT. "OUCH!" I cried as I did it in one pull.
Now what! Now I had to get rid of the evidence. But why? It's not like she's not going to come in and check my arm? I set the evidence on the bedside stand. The IV started beeping. I pushed the call button and eagerly waited to see the vexation on that miserable nurses face.
"What is this!" she said. "How did this come out?"
"I took it out." Please don't scold me! "I took it out because it burned so bad."
"It was fine. Now I have to put a new one in." I knew it. She's mad because she has to be inconvenienced. She didn't care about me at all.
She grumbled and completed the job. Getting poked again was no big deal: I had been poked a million times already in my short life. I didn't care at all.
Dinner came. It was a stake, and I took a couple bites and cast it aside. Then mom came into the room. "Boy am I happy to see you," I said.
Dad came in. He walked by my bed, looked at the ancient room mate of mine, back at me, and whispered, "Boy, you smell like crap."
"Dad, it's not me. It's him." I pointed.
"I know," dad said, smiling. He left the room.
Mom set down beside my bed in the same chair she sat in earlier.
"Where's Tony?" I said.
"Your grandma volunteered to watch your brothers," she said.
"I thought Tony was coming with you?"
"He wanted to stay at grandmas. How about if I read you a story."
"I like that idea." Mom opened her purse and took out a Reader's Digest. She flipped through the pages until she found something. She started reading. Her words were soothing. I loved hearing mom read. It reminded me of the many doctor's office visits, where she read to me this story about a little dog over and over again each visit to Dr. Gunderson's office in the waiting room. I paid attention to the stories back then, but now I had other things on my mind. Or, to state it another way, my mind was mush.
Dad came back in. He had a smile on. "Guess what, Rick?" he chimed. "You are going to be going to a new room. I told the nurses that they had three choices: either you went to a new room, or that guy went."
"Um, you said three choices."
"Well, the other choice is you get to enjoy that smell for another few days. YUMMY!"