Hey folks, It’s your old buddy, BigCheese. Now I know that you’re used to enjoying m Fabulous Las Vegas Trip Reports, where I roam the streets and casinos of Las Vegas, searching for fun and mischief along the way. Well, this report is a little different. It’s the tale of a recent week-long odyssey that had instead had me on a journey through our nation’s health care system in an attempt to save my sorry bones from the grim reaper. So without further delay, I present to you:
BigCheese Not-So-Fabulous, Definitely-Not-In-Vegas, Hospital Trip Report
I always thought that I’d die at the hands of the little bastards at school that I teach AP Calculus and Pre-Calculus to. I figured a stroke, heart attack, or brain annuerism would put me six feet under. But I guess a tumor could also fall into that group of possibilities. Yes, a tumor. A mass that had grown on the pituitary gland at the base of my brain for who knows how long was raising hell and about to turn my life upside down, and destroy my record of having used two sick days since 1993. But enough back-story.
My saga began on an early morning in Gaylord. I should have been feeling good. The Detroit Lions had a rare win the previous day, and I was looking forward to a busy week at school, where I claim to hate 98% of my students, but in reality only hate about 17%. Don’t tell them that. But I wasn’t feeling well. In fact, I felt like crap. Headaches, chills, and the always wonderful bouts of puking. I was officially sick, forcing me to make the difficult decision to use a rare sick day. Though not happy with my decision, it proved to be a wise one. Laying out on the couch Monday allowed my symptoms to worsen, prompting me to call my buddy Doug to take me on a field trip to Otsego Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. My first such visit ever, the brain-crushing headaches and 14 hour barf session being the deciding factors. I still wasn’t positive that I should be going into the emergency room for what I thought was a severe case of the flu. I was fortunate to have Doug and his wife Renee help me for the next week and a half by taking care of all my school duties, as well as running me around and doing whatever I needed. Thank you!
In the ER, I was relegated to a battery of tests to see what was going on. Despite a thorough check of my brain, they found nothing. But I noticed the while the noisy, beeping machines did not pay you money like the slots in Las Vegas, some of the louder ones did get you some good drugs. And unlike Vegas, a shot of the good stuff was not some top-shelf whiskey, but an injection of morphine onto your IV. Fair trades. So I was loaded up with some medications and released at 2:30 am, with Doug again chauffeuring me home, and guaranteeing that he would be a grumpy camper at school on Tuesday.
I needed not worry about being a grumpy camper at school on Tuesday, as I would be out for my second straight day. Missing a second straight day of school began to freak out my AP Calculus students, who saw their AP test scores plummeting by the day, despite the fact that they don’t even take the test until May. Despite the drugs I was given, I showed no improvement and slept for 15 minute sessions Tuesday night. My Wednesday morning, I had run out of drugs and had added double vision to my list of symptoms. So it was another 5am call to my personal EMT Doug to take me back to the ER. This time my visit to the spa, also known as the MRI machine, consisted of a 40 minute session of laying still, more drugs, and some enjoyable ‘70’s music played during the testing. Upon completion of the testing, I received the alarming news that a mass had been found on my pituitary gland, causing my headaches, nausea, double vision, and now a droopy right eye. Immediate surgery was required. Very sad. Neil Young may have been singing Hey, hey, my, my, rock and roll will never die during the MRI, but I wasn’t too sure about my own chances at this point. Immediate fear, panic, and depression beset me. Was this the Big Casino? I couldn’t go down like this. The doctor said that they would like to send me down to U-M Hospital, since they do this surgery all the time. I asked who was driving, and within 30 minutes I was in an ambulance and on a road trip to Ann Arbor for a little surgery and maybe a Wolverine football game if I was lucky. Let’s go!
After notifying Gaylord High School that I was taking the rest of week off, even though I had not yet been in at all that week, I settled in for what I thought would be a fairly quick 4 hour ambulance ride. Unfortunately, a traffic jam due to an accident near Fenton made it a 5 hour ride. It also began a series of stops and starts throughout my entire trip. A 5pm arrival put me in ER Room #1, and visits by about 80 different doctors, nurses, and technicians, all eager to help me. All I could think of was that this was going to be expensive. Some tests and a short nap followed, brought on by weakness that usually occurs when you only have eaten one pudding cup over the last three days. Eventually I was moved into ER Room #2 at 2:30 am. It gave me a chance to lie in my misery in a quiet and dark place. At least, that’s what I thought. No sooner had I closed my eyes, I was rousted out of my sleep by a mean doctor from the Ophthalmology department, who was there to take me down to the lab for some eye tests. I was made to make a “short walk” down to the lab, which seemed like 2 miles and 3 fainting spells in my dizzy, blurry, and nauseous state. By the time we reached the lab, I regretted not keeling over in the peace of my room. Now at the lab, I was forced into a series of pre-op tests, as the vision problems were becoming more of a concern. Though she tried, the devil doctor could not crush my soul. After giving me nine “one last test”, she finally conceded defeat and allowed me to crawl back to my room, with me wishing that she would melt in the sunlight if she left during the day. Since I never saw her again, it is quite possible that my wish came true.
After getting a couple hours of sleep, I was moved to Emergency Room #3 to be prepped for surgery. Another host of nurses, anesthesiologists, and doctors paraded through my room, explaining what was going to happen. Much like Arlo Guthrie, I was inspected, injected, detected, neglected, infected, and selected over every part of my body. Dr. Sullivan was my final visitor, the main man of the assembled group that I referred to as The A Team. He explained the entire procedure to me, and sent my spirits soaring when he told me not to worry, he does this procedure all the time, and that he’s really good at it.
By 9am, it was show time. All preparations had been completed. I was even given a cap, even though they probably didn’t need to worry about too much hair flying around. The last thing I remembered was receiving anesthesia and beginning the countdown. I was asked a final question that I don’t remember, but I do recall answering “Vegas, baby!” as I passed out to the laughs of several attendees. I suppose there could be worse final words to leave this world with should I not make it. But it seemed like only a short ten seconds later that I was waking up to a whirlwind of activity, not unlike the floor of a casino on a Friday night. But this was no casino. This was the recovery room, where patients were hauled out of the operating room to sufficiently recover before being moved into their own hospital room. As the nurses worked on reviving me, I remember starting to wake up to a white screen in front of me. The screen had a bunch of Calculus problems on it, scrolling across as I read them. Believing that solving the problems would help in my recovery, I furiously began yelling out the answers. I was kicking butt too, but the staff watching me were more than amused when I announced that I was going to use the questions in my Calculus class as an example of some real-world applications. I myself didn’t see the humor until I started coming out of it, the white screen faded, and the problems disappeared. Sadly, I was unable to recall any of the problems to give to my Calculus classes, now lost to history.
It wasn’t long before my entourage showed up. My mom and sisters Diane and Bonnie (The Hens) took advantage of my situation to form a Las Vegas reunion meeting. The meeting was put on hold due to a mean nurse who would only let one person at a time visit me in the recovery room. But it was still nice to see them, especially since all of my symptoms had gone away, except for the double vision, which made it look like I had a room full of visitors anyway. In an effort to avoid seeing two of everything, I closed one eye when talking to someone. This gave the nurses the impression that I was winking at them. I would have sang Sinatra too if it would have helped, but I was in too sad of a condition to croon. Even at my finest, I wouldn’t have a chance. In my weakened and pathetic state, which included a five day growth of white beard stubble, I looked like one of the homeless deadbeats on Fremont Street. Mom also got a kick out of it when nurse Laura asked her how long we’d been married, figuring she looked ten years younger and I looked ten years older than we really are.
Instead of the sympathy that one would expect following major surgery, I received a string of tongue-lashings for being stupid, stubborn, and pig-headed for not informing my family of my situation until I was being transported down to Ann Arbor in an ambulance. Not expecting any sympathy, I sat and took my punishment, the drugs in my system softening the blows. Bringing me a sandwich, Hershey bar, Diet Coke and trail mix to go with the grape juices and chocolate pudding cups delivered by a couple of cute nurses, I was glad to finally eat for the first time in four days. After visiting with my family, they regrouped for a quick bite. While gone, I was able to observe the bustling recovery room, giving me almost as much entertainment as a night at the craps tables.
With rush hour traffic finally subsiding, the girls decided to head back to Diane’s house in Trenton. My own room assignment would take nine hours as a result of some complications involving the poor slob who was currently in my room not leaving when he was supposed to. But I didn’t even mind too much, as I enjoyed the carnival atmosphere surrounding me. Actually, my biggest concern was not that I might keel over before I was even given a room, but when I would be getting that damn catheter out. The nurses, who referred to me as “that poor guy without a room”, kept me knee-deep in chocolate pudding and grape juice while I eaves-dropped on the idiot next to me giving the nurses a hard time. First, Robert refused to answer any of their questions and sat silently as they tried to gather information from him. Then, he suddenly began yelling at them to give him some drugs for his pain, which was a 52 on a scale of one to ten. Robert began to settle down a little when his mother came in to visit, but exploded again when he found out that his ex-wife would be staying with him during his recovery. The nurses even had a code word to use if he got out of control, but never did use it. I suggested a code word for him: asshole! Robert finally settled down when his cousin, who bore a striking resemblance to Huggy Bear from the old Starsky & Hutch shows, kept him entertained while his drugs finally kicked in.
Due to my extended stay in the recovery room, I was able to overhear some of the conversations that went on between the staff. Stories of hair-dying, dog-breeding, one nurse’s Norse heritage, boobies, and nurse Michael’s winning of the blood pressure lotto (142/68) were highlights.
By 9pm, I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get a room. But then, a Christmas miracle happened, which was pretty good considering it was October. My room was finally available, and I was hauled over there to the cheers of the nurses in the recovery room. Finally settling into my own room, I was greeted by nurse Lori, a cute spitfire who didn’t take any crap and would keep me in line, and nurse Barbara, a hottie form Queens who I immediately smitten with. I quickly fell in love with one of the neurosurgeons on my team too, who checked on me but whose name I was unable to procure due to double vision and excessive drooling. One thing I did find disappointing. Dreams of a hot nurse sneaking into your room in the middle of the night is probably one of every man’s fantasy.. What isn’t part of the fantasy is when they check your urinary output, and leave with your hard work, only to flush it down the toilet.
My room actually reminded me of my many trips to one of the biggest dives in Las Vegas, The Western. I always enjoyed going to the now-closed Western as it always made me feel better knowing that no matter how bad things were for you, someone always had it worse. Take my roommate Justin. Justin had so many things listed on his patient board that I felt embarrassed that I only had my name, doctor, and two cute nurses on mine. Justin had major problems but great spirits, declaring himself the king of U-M Hospital. Justin had been in the hospital for a month, with heart, lung, stomach, and brain problems, not to mention Lupus.
Despite not serving me any booze, my stay in the hospital was not unlike my many Vegas trips. Room service, babes waiting on me hand and foot, noisy machines, and a little gambling (not with money, but with my life), were all similarities I’ve noticed. Having survived my first night, I began my Friday morning with an omelet breakfast, followed by an MRI chaser. Having lost ten pounds up to that point was an added bonus. As was the incision that was made in my gut to take out a hunk of fat that they used to plug up the hole that they made when doing the surgery. The incision did leave me with a cool scar that I can spin into a story about how I got stuck by a meth-head outside the Gold Spike in a dispute over a coked-out hooker. The nurses told me that they sometimes take the fat from your butt, but then you would be called smart-ass. I told them that I’ve been called worse.
Because of high sodium levels in my system following surgery, I had to constantly drink water to help flush my system. This resulted in having to pee every 15 minutes. This was bad enough, but having the nurses constantly coming in to measure my output was particularly annoying. Which brings me to my special report on:
Catheters: Satan’s Garden Hose
Ladies and gentlemen, I have recently added a bane into my life so horrific that it has joined the evil Las Vegas Circus Circus clown, hippies, and the color pink on my list of my most hated things in the world. Catheters! For those unaware, a catheter is a long medical device used for emptying your bladder as well as sucking out your will to live. I have recently been introduced to this torture device since my bladder, despite having gallons of liquids flowing through me daily, refused to completely empty itself, hanging onto about 300cc or so every time I went. I kept telling my bladder that I’ll send plenty more shortly, but it didn’t believe me and hung on to some. This apparently upset the guys that monitor my medical data, who dispatched my nurse with said catheter to alleviate the problem. The insertion process leaves my little guy down there shriveled up like a scared little turtle. The only thing worse than the discomfort is the humiliation of the process. You would think that a cute nurse handling your junk would be an enjoyable experience, but it’s not. I was first given one during surgery, and it remained in me for the first day of recovery. I didn’t mind that one too much, since I wasn’t awake when it was inserted in me. It also took away the need to pee every 15 minutes. But coming out was another matter. Thinking I was home free after the first catheter was taken out, I was saddened to have to go through the procedure two more times, as my stupid bladder would not empty itself completely. The nurses would check me with an instrument similar to an ultrasound machine, and clean me out if my bladder didn’t drop below a certain level. A couple of nurses took pity on me and gave me extra credit for trying really hard. Talk about angels of mercy. But mean nurse Kayla that I had on Friday night took great pleasure in inserting the catheter, waking me up at 3am from a sound sleep to run me down to empty. We are currently not on speaking terms. It was a great day for me when I was finally able to go enough without that evil tool. Anyway, avoid catheters. They suck both literally and figuratively.
They say good news travels fast, and Friday brought with it a string of calls, emails, and visits by a host of friends and well-wishers. I even received a visit from two former students who are currently students at the University of Michigan. I thought Josh and Tristan found out that I was in the neighborhood and came looking for cookies. But it was actually them who brought me Insomnia cookies, which I added to an order that I received earlier in the day. Since I wasn’t supposed to be eating too many cookies anyway, I invited some of the nurses to a cookie party that we had during their break. Even Justin joined us. Besides the catheter intrusion in the middle of the night, I actually got some pretty good rest. I do remember having a dream. A squirrel was living in my nose and raising all sorts of hell. But I got him out and then everything was fine. PSA for the day: Stay away from the drugs, kids.
By Saturday morning, I was no longer hooked up to any machines and was able to do several things. A shower and a shave had me feeling like a new man. However, just like the old man, the new man was stuck in a hospital recovering from brain surgery. I was able to go for a walk around the building, my double vision finally subsiding. And it was Saturday, which means football! Since I would have probably have spent the day on my couch at home watching games anyway, I figured it was a fair trade considering the circumstances. While they wouldn’t let me order any chicken wings, I was able to procure a decent steak sandwich and a couple of Diet Cokes to see me through. Justin’s stoner friend showed up with some contraband food that he smuggled in from some Mexican restaurant, and we spent the afternoon watching games, snacking, and throwing our hospital socks at the tv when we got mad at Michigan State.
The football games made the day go by quickly, and I actually enjoyed a restful night, with only the occasional nurse coming by to do something to me. Happily, no catheters were used. By Sunday morning, my hopes were up as I prepared to possibly go home, some high sodium numbers being the only thing between me and freedom. Those hopes were quickly squashed by a 9am visit from one of the neurosurgeons, who deemed my numbers too high to let me leave. Resigned to spending Sunday watching the Lions from a hospital bed, I prepared myself for a day of misery. But a noon visit from the head nurse resulted in a change of plans. My last test showed that my sodium levels had lowered enough to send me packing. I was going home! Mom and Bonnie soon showed up and hauled me back home, unable to bring my favorite nurse Jasmine back with me. I spent the next week recovering at home, and was able to return to teaching a mere eleven days after my surgery. My recovery is going well. It will just take a little time to get things back to normal. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So I’m looking at a return to Las Vegas for my Spring Break, where I will take copious notes comparing a Sin City vacation to my Ann Arbor one. I just hope my Vegas visit does not include a catheter.