I awoke, Thursday morning, with a full bladder, which is perhaps to be expected when you’ve had a little electrical pump trickling dilute potassium chloride solution into your arm at the rate of 70 milliliters per hour overnight.
Very first order of business: do something about that. This was complicated slightly by the presence of pump and tubing. A rational man would have summoned the nurse for help; I, of course, had to figure it out for myself. “Okay, it’s plugged into the wall, but the principal power source is clearly a battery, charged as circumstances allow. Can I just unplug it? Let’s find out.”
A moment of bated breath, and… nothing. The pump neither darkened its display nor began screaming shrilly at me. First problem of the day solved. Untethered, I attended the necessities.
With the immediate issues attended to and the pump plugged securely back into its outlet, I mulled my next move.
In one of his PC Magazine columns, written in the late 1980s, Jim Seymour related the tale of an Egyptian King who rejected the adoption of the written word in his land, arguing that it would foster mental laziness amongst his people.
Or, as Barnard Hughes’s character put it more succinctly in Tron, “Won’t that be grand? Computers and the programs will start thinking and the people will stop.” (Glossing, of course, right over television and, ah, movies, but never mind that.)
Lying in my hospital bed that Thursday morning, I realized that old Thamus might have been on to something. I need to make a whole raft of phone calls, and I didn’t have anyone’s numbers. Not because my brain was going spongy, but because I’d never memorized those numbers in the first place. I’d entered them into my iPhone or Address Book once, and dialed them by tapping on names thereafter.
Now, though, both iPhone and MacBook were safely locked away somewhere. I did know my parents’ numbers, but the landline phone by the bedside required me a calling-card or credit-card number. I didn’t have the former, and I couldn’t remember the latter. Attempts to call collect incurred a brief recorded message from AT&T’s system that the the numbers I was attempting to connect with were not thus reachable. Lovely.
Having exhausted the limits of my questionable cleverness, I broke down, summoned the nurse, and requested the return of my gear from security.
Just as it arrived, and I was signing it out, the handset by the bedside rang. Somewhat surprised, I picked it up. “Hello?”
“Oh, thank God,” said a shaky voice, flooded with relief, on the other end. My mother’s voice.
“That’s, ah, good detective work”, was all I could think to say, knowing that she must have expended some time and effort tracking me down.
My father, having awoken and played back the voice-mail message I’d left him in the wee hours of the morning, had contacted my mom to find out if she knew anything about my situation. She didn’t, but she immediately set about finding out, starting by contacting two of my ex-girlfriends. One of them, Heidi, had correctly reasoned that O’Connor hospital was closest to where I lived and therefore the likeliest place for me to be staying; my mother had begun by trying to track me down there. One of the people she’d spoken to had, at one point, said something along the lines of, “Well, let me check all our records,” with an ominous intonation that suggested, to my mom at least, that the speaker might be talking about cracking open freezers and checking toe tags.
Just hearing me alive and breathing was therefore something of a relief. I brought her up to speed as best I could. She let me know that Heidi had already taken the day off and was on her way to O’Connor, which I thought was amazingly sweet. While I waited for her to show up, I set about letting other people know about my disposition: my manager, for one. Dirk, with whom I was scheduled to have lunch. Somewhere in there I spoke with my father as well.
At some point I decided that the most effective way to inform the widest number of people at once was via blog entry, so I started composing one while I awaited my turn in Diagnostic Imaging. I was served breakfast, consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon, cornflakes, and a cellophane-wrapped single-slice serving of whole wheat bread. It was all quite tasty, giving the lie to the standard slurs upon hospital food, even if do have reservations about the sanity of bread packaged by the individual slice.
After I’d eaten, I resumed writing. Some time later, there was a knock on the door, and Heidi entered, looking, I must say, better than ever. I thanked her for coming, for her typical display of resourcefulness and determination in helping my mother track me down. Then I brought her up to speed on what had happened so far, and what I anticipated happening; she shared some first-hand excerpts of her own medical history — she’s had personal encounters with CT scanning and MRI — to give me some idea of what to expect. We spent a while catching up, and then I asked her leave to keep writing, to which she graciously acceded.
At some point a nurse came by with a pitcher of “contrast agent” — read: “dye” — for the thoracic CT scan which I was to undergo in addition to the cranial MRI. It was allegedly iodine-based and clear, slightly sweet, with the faintest hint of a metallic undertone — not at all unpleasant, really. I was to drink cupfuls at regular intervals. Between that and my potassium chloride drip, I’m not sure I’ve ever been better-hydrated.
Around noon an attendant appeared to take me to CT. He was, it turned out, Spanish-Filipino, and we agreed on the truth of a shared favorite aphorism: “No hay bien que por mal no venga”, translated, that works out awfully close to Richard Bach’s “There is no problem that does not come to you with a gift in its hands.”
The CT scan was quick and uneventful. The first pass was made with just the contrast agent I’d already ingested, to outline my gastrointestinal system. The second pass followed the addition of a circulatory marker which, the technician had warned me, would make me feel slightly warm and flushed. I actually found the sensation rather pleasant, and verged on giggling as it washed over me. “It gets the little old ladies downright giddy,” he confided as I shuffled from the CT bed back to my gurney. In light of that confession, I kept my fleeting desire to giggle to myself.
As the CT technician wheeled me over to MRI, he mentioned that he’d previously worked with the MRI equipment, and that it was much more sensitive, capable of far higher resolution, than the CT gear. I asked him why, if that was the case, he’d switched specialties. He explained that it was also much slower, and that he was partial to the CT’s instant gratification.
It wasn’t until I sat parked in MRI waiting that I fully appreciated what he meant. The MRI imaging process may grind exceedingly fine, but it grinds exceedingly slow. While waiting for the patient preceding me to finish her turn, I worked my way through the day’s San Jose Mercury News, and leafed idly and indifferently through San Jose Living Magazine, before diving deep into a two-months-old People. (Yes, yes, I know. The brain damage has already begun.) Finally, though, it was my turn, and I was wheeled in. I am, thankfully, not a trace claustrophobic, which is fortunate since receiving an MRI scan involves being stuck in a shoulder-width tube with a plastic-coated cage bolted into place around your head. (You do get music, literally piped in courtesy of nonmetallic headphones reminiscent of the plastic-tubing variant once used on airliners. After initially indicating classic rock when asked my preference, I opted to stick with the classical music that was already playing.)
The MRI process itself is rather unexciting. Lie there and listen to the music, when you can hear it, while the machine makes loud noises of varying frequency around you. The whole thing takes about half an hour, punctuated only, in my case, by a pause for injection of another contrast agent — aqueous Gadolinium, this time around. The whole thing was oddly relaxing, and in fact I came awfully close to drifting off once or twice.
When all was done, I was wheeled back to my room, and the process for discharging me was set in motion. There wasn’t anything more to do, and I wasn’t in any immediate danger. Heidi was there and waiting, having gone to lunch while I was being scanned. She’d been so nice as to bring me food from California Pizza Kitchen, but I opted for the waiting hospital lunch instead. Pork chop, barley soup, broccoli, rice — and individually-wrapped bread slice again. Heidi and I hung out for a while and talked; eventually she had to leave to attend a school-related function for her daughter, Perri. I was sorry to see her go, but grateful that she’d dropped her day at a moment’s notice to come be with me.
Some time after Heidi left, a nurse came by to outline my prescriptions. Since I’d driven to the hospital, and would be driving home as well, we decided that it would be a bad idea for me to take the drugs before leaving. I was therefore given a prescription and, after a bit more paperwork, discharged.
All in all, I left with an even more positive impression of O’Connor than I’d had going in. The staff were warm, kind, and courteous, the facilities were comfortable and well-maintained, and even the food was good. At no time did I feel trapped in an endless column of faceless numbers, shuffling through the innards of the machine. I could think of much worse places, and ways, to experience what I did.