Going for a ride. The staff brings-in the Batmobile, as I’ve named it, and I cringe. It looks like a wheelchair from one of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies; metal, black, cold, frightening. It’s some sort of erector-set wheelchair they can fashion into a number of small vehicles into which to put patients who cannot move by themselves. Several PCAs lift, hoist, and slide me into it. Now that I’ve lost about 35 pounds, that’s not too difficult a task. Bump! I’m in, or more precisely, being suffocated by it. I have lost all muscle tone and am unable to move myself, and my long estrangement from the vertical world has left me absolutely helpless. I slowly sag down into the cold metal walls of the ‘mobile, miserable, hurting, and frightened. I had always enjoyed tight places; now, I hate them. Martha comes in. I am so glad to see her. She suggests we have lunch together at the small waiting room at the end of the passageway. She pushes me slowly along, making small talk. I try not to slide further down into the Batmobile.
“How are you feeling? Are you hungry?” she asks.
“OK. No, not very.”
“You have to start eating again, Honey, you know that.”
“I know.” The thought makes my withered stomach tighten with revulsion.
We arrive at the lounge. The window overlooks the helopad and for the first time in a long while, I perk up. Even though it’s raining and no copter is there, just being around aviation makes be happier.
Martha takes out a small custard and a sandwich. She holds the sandwich up to my mouth so I can eat it, my hands and arms still useless sacks of sand. I eat slowly.
We make small talk. Suddenly, being near the helopad doesn’t seem so exciting, and the rain is making me blue. I continue to slowly sink into the Batmobile, gravity tormenting me with its quiet acceleration. I think of my Shukokai karate class, in which I had with great difficulty risen to san kyu -- first degree brown belt. I remember running and kicking and rolling and sparring, grimly holding my own, a 49-year-old panting after all the 20-year-olds. Then I think of 24 broken bones and probably needing a walking-cane for the rest of my life. That life’s gone for good, I think. Tears start to well. I hate my weakness. I am at that moment not too fond of God, either. All He’s done so far is nearly kill me and leave me a useless wreck.
“How’s lunch, Honey?” Martha asks again.
On a gurney again. I’ve been lying out in the hallway for a long time, covered by just one of those crappy, useless hospital blankets that seem like a large Kleenex. The air conditioning is blowing on me and I am very cold. Waiting for a ride down to Ultrasound to check-out the stomach pains. I am really depressed. This is the day I was supposed to be moved to the Rehab Hospital, an event I was anticipating as only someone in my condition can appreciate. At Rehab I would start physical therapy and be able to work toward regaining the use of my body – except my right leg, which was so badly broken that they keep bringing medical students around to see it through widened eyes as one of the doctors tells them what a “horrible break” it is when he thinks I'm asleep. I have already decided that orthopedic surgeons are separate from other doctors. Orthpods are really frustrated engineers who want to build giant bridges across mighty rivers, but instead had to settle for building little bridges across mighty fractures. I am told that my leg will have to wait for therapy until more of the bone fragments have a hootenanny and decide to get together again. They also tell me that the bones in my right leg, left arm, and right shoulder were “rice crispies” when I was airlifted to the hospital after my crash – more information I didn’t need. What remains of my left elbow has over-calcified and is frozen at an 84 degree angle. I still can’t use my hands, so all together, my left arm and hand aren’t particularly mobile (“Be sure to ask for ‘The Club’ ™!”). My shoulder doesn’t seem too bad. I’ve long stopped taking stock of my injuries. You can review such information only so many times.
Ultrasound is filled with machines and video terminals. I am stowed in a corner and apparently forgotten for some time. I have plenty of time to again savor the feeling of being in pain, not being able to move, and being ignored. Finally, a technician wheels me into a different passageway and another starts softly probing my abdomen with a small device on a lead. This continues of some time. Then the technician leaves. A short time later a doctor appears.
“Mr. Berlander, your gall bladder is badly choked.” I have no idea just what this means.
“Can you clean it out?” I ask.
“No, I’m afraid that it will have to come out.” Seems that after weeks of not eating, blood infections, quarts of medicines, and assorted other insults, my gall bladder has chosen early retirement. Didn’t even send me a card to let me know.
I think of what I’ve heard about gall bladder surgeries. Panic, anger, and sadness again. I am so sick of feeling this way.
“We’re arranging to take you to surgery.”
And off we go. The next several hours are a blur of being moved like a piece of old furniture; bright lights; people, sharp odors, still more needles and lines being run into me; and commotion. Then I am in an operating room and someone is asking me if I feel sleepy. I start to say that no, that I am starting to feel suicidal, when everything goes dark.
Sound. Cool sheets. Low voices. A brightness before my closed eyes. Peacefulness. This is nice, I think. Maybe I’m in a luxury hotel on vacation. Then, pain. The acrid smell of disinfectants. Wetness. I guess I’m not on vacation, I decide. I open my eyes, can’t see well. No glasses, but I know I’m in a recovery room, swimming out of anesthesia. I remember my gall bladder but it doesn’t seem important. One more busted piece wrestled out of my twisted carcass. I picture a wrecked car at a junkyard; someone with grease under his fingernails leaning into the engine compartment, removing a broken fuel pump.
“Mr. Berlander, how are you?”
“OK.” I have long determined that the less information you give these people, the better.
“We’ll be taking you back to a room soon. Everything went fine.”
Swell. Will you be taking me back to my old life again soon?
And we’re off, the gurney rolling along another passageway in TortureLand (it’s the newest feature at Dante’s Infernal Amusement Park). Then, back in another room.
“We’re going to transfer you now, Mr. Berlander.” Hands grab by sheet, lift together. I feel myself being lowered onto a bed…
CRASH! The bed has collapsed, trapping me in the wreck. “This feels familiar,” I think…
“Oh, my God! Get help!” someone cries. “Sounds serious,” I think, still coming out of the anesthetic.
Feet running, clanking noises, a lot of hands tugging at me, the bed, stuff.
“Mr. Berlander! Are you all right? We’ll get you out of this in a minute…!” Strange to hear near panic from voices that have, until now, seemed unflappable. My new incision is yelling at me; my busted limbs twitch helplessly. “If I ever get out of this,” I think, “I’m going to have to write a book…” I wait for someone to wheel-in the Jaws of Life.
Eventually I am extricated from the wreck and fall asleep on a new bed, thinking, “This would make a good episode of ‘St. Elsewhere’…
I have a new roommate. Hospitals affect different people in different ways. Some take it in stride. Some become depressed. And some are such rotten assholes that they take the opportunity to try and make everyone else as miserable as possible. I have been unlucky enough to get The Roommate behind Door # 3. He is a vile, 70-ish man who makes as much trouble as he can. When he is unable to make trouble with the staff, he torments me by sucking his dentures -- a hideous, wet, slurping, glutinous noise that sounds like he has puked-up a lung and is slowly sucking it back down. It is a good thing I am immobilized, for if I weren’t, I would surely smother him with his own pillow while the staff cheered. I am awake most of the night, like a prisoner in a Soviet gulag being slowly tortured to madness.
Just when I think I will go nuts with this guy, I get the good news.
“Mr. Berlander, you’re going to Rehab tomorrow.”
Bolts of happiness and hope zap through me. I am so elated that I manage to fall-off to sleep, even with the sound-effects of monster in the next bed. He is one of a very few people I wish to come to grief.
The ride to Rehab is just as awful as all the rest, but I am too happy to much care. “Who cares about potholes,” I think.
Crash! Bump! Slam! Ungh!
And then we are. Martha is there, having driven there behind the ambulance. I am transferred to a wheelchair, a new experience. Gravity slams down on me again, but I refuse to protest. I’m in rehab, and I’m going to get better!
I am wheeled inside and up to a room. A real room! Yes, it has two beds and a lot of equipment running out of the walls, but it feels different; like a place from which to leave better than when you arrived. I almost didn’t make it. My HMO didn’t want to pay for this place, preferring instead a far less capable place. But Martha, with the help of a psychologist friend, had managed to beat-down even the grasping HMO and get me a place here. For about the 200th time I thank God for Martha.
I am transferred to the bed. I am exhausted. Today, it’s been Gravity 1, George 0. But tomorrow’s a new day. And I’ve made it this far on just guts.
I instantly fall asleep.
On to Rehab