August 31, 2014
I’m sitting in a chair in room 211, at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Alton. I woke up at Genehouse yesterday with severe pain in my left chest. I ignored the pain for two hours then called two nurse friends in Chicago. They concurred: Get your ass to the hospital.
So I’m here. But the route was not straight. The first time I came, at noon, Farmer Orville drove me. We waited for three hours before a doctor came in to Emergency Room Four and casually said, you have heart enzymes in your blood.
Another hour went by then a high school kid volunteer said, I’m taking you to your room. I disagreed; I wanted to see the doctor. The middle step had been omitted, talking to the doctor. What might be going on?
Heart attack, the doctor finally said. Possible heart attack. We need to observe you.
Heart attack–possible heart attack.
And, if you know me and my stubbornness, you won’t be surprised that I declined the offer. I asked for the blood ports and wiring be removed. My arms looked like I was a heroin addict. For once, Orville was tongue tied.
We left after I signed a note which read, in effect, I agreed that I was risking death by walking. And off we drove, back to Genehouse.
Halfway home, Orville said, “You know, Gene, I got a wife for these kind of things. She would tell me stay at the hospital and I would stay if I knew what was good for me. You don’t have that kind of alarm system. Maybe you need one in this instance.”
I told my friend to speak his mind. He refused—he is that kind of man—but then he said, “I will keep the truck warm for the return.”
When I walked in my door, my phone was ringing. It was Kevin, my personal doctor. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, you arrogant prick! You’re ready to die?” He told me, get back to the hospital, lose him as a doctor—choose.
And so my neighbor Irene was taking care of Scout the Cat, the emergency room was waiting for my return, good old Room Four still had my butt print on its mattress and Nurse Mona—Dr. Kevin had told them I’d come back—and I was tubed, lubed, sleepless in Alton, a crazy guy in the next room yelled all night long and I wanted my mommy.
Actually, I thought I was dead yesterday. Actually, I played the Tom Sawyer game in my head. Remember, Tom and Huck are missing, presumed dead, and they hide at the back of the church and watch their own funerals? What would each of you said, about me?
I lay in the darkened hospital room and listened to the sounds all night long. St. Anthony’s has a chapel with a live camera feed. I “watched” this feed on my room TV, dim at best—the lights were turned off except for a spooky scarlet altar light. At three a.m. a nun, just a shadow, really, walked into the chapel, her back to the camera, and she knelt and prayed. And she cried.
Just now my excellent cardiologist, Robert Lutan, sat with me. I hadn’t had a heart attack. Three more rounds of blood work confirmed it; the first test in the ER was a “statistical anomaly.” I do have pleurisy. It hurts like hell. I’ve been coughing for weeks, allergy season, don’t you know. Take an Aleve until the cough goes away—ho hum.
So I got a preview of The Final Exit, beyond Sartre’s “No Exit,” in the ballpark of “Steambath,” the wonderful play in which men in a steambath walk out the door and don’t return from their purgatory.
This morning, I got out of my hospital bed and brushed my teeth in the bathroom, an enormous battery pack with wires dangling from my chest connected to Intensive Care. I brushed vigorously, and before I could say, “Jack Sprat” (“Jack Sprat?”) three nurses came running into the room shouting, “Code Blue! Code Blue! Code Blue!”
The battery had disconnected from the wires and my monitor in the IE told them I was dying. So tooth brushing is rehearsal for death–who knew.
Code Blue: my nickname is Blue. My blood is red. My toes are white.
As Annie Hall would say, “La-di-dah, la-di-dah.”