Tag Archives: Hospital

“I Am Dead”

Arleen’s finger was aimed straight out.

She held it somewhere around her cheek to emphasize her point.

“You know if you don’t do this, she will come back and haunt you every day of your life.”

We were in a waiting room at Horton Hospital in Middletown, N.Y., and my fiancée Carla had fallen into what doctors were telling us was an irreversible coma related to complications from Hepatitis C.

Arleen was talking to me and Carla’s son, Garth.

Arleen was Carla’s best friend.

And she was speaking the truth.

And Garth and I both knew it.

She was warning us to make the right choice about a decision that no one should have to confront: Should we sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, directing doctors NOT to take any extraordinary measures to keep Carla alive?

The decision legally fell to Garth as Carla’s next of kin, but we had teamed up and convinced ourselves that Carla would pull through and therefore we would not sign the DNR. We felt there was still hope.

Done with our little caucus, Garth and I returned to the waiting room and told Arleen of our decision.

And that’s when she warned us about keeping in mind Carla’s wishes. We knew in our bones that Carla would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially.

But here was the problem: Carla never filed any medical directives with explicit instructions about what to do in a circumstance like this.

Had such a document existed, it would have relieved Garth and me of the enormous burden of making that decision.

We ultimately told the doctors not to take any extraordinary measures, and Carla died a few days later.

As if grieving her loss was not overwhelming enough, I then discovered that Carla had no will! In the aftermath of her death, I tried the best I could to tie up the loose ends of her estate.

It was a heavy, heavy lift.

The experience left an indelible impression on me, and I set about right away to get my own medical directive organized as well as a will.

When I got married in 2010, my wife Meg and I talked often of the need to get our will done. We finally did and it was a HUGE relief.

I’ve gone even further and organized detailed information about all of my finances, my wishes for my funeral and a prewritten obituary and collected it all in a huge file labeled “I Am Dead.”

Meg and I recently reviewed it in detail, right down to the music I want to have played at my funeral. (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” cover by the late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole.)

We sat on the couch going over the file, playing that song and crying. The experience “drove a truck through the heart of my soul,” Meg said.

Yes it did, but I would not want my loved ones to go through what I did.

No one gets out of here alive. If you haven’t organized your will and/or your medical directives, do it now.

Do it for yourself.

Do it for your family.

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I Crack Myself Up

I remember the date well because I still have the hospital discharge paperwork.

My first wife and I were living in Saranac Lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. She was a teacher and we became good friends with her school principal and his girlfriend (later to be wife).

Christine was an artist who lived in a small upstairs apartment on the village’s Main Street. She had a pair of saw horses and resting atop them was a large rectangular piece of glass that had come from a New York City bus shelter.

(How she came into possession of New York City Transit Authority property, I am still not sure.)

The glass on the saw horses served as a flat space for Christine, who would paint and draw. She was moving in with Dan and he asked if I could help carry the glass to a van.

Sure, I said. What could possibly go wrong?

It was summer, and even though we were in the mountains, it was sweltering hot. I sized up the glass and swallowed hard but was confident we could do the job.

Leading to Christine’s walk-up was a very narrow, serpentine staircase.

Dan and I grunted and carefully maneuvered the big pane (that should more appropriately read “big pain”) down the stairs, sweating bullets the whole time.

We got out the downstairs doorway — home free! — and made our way to the van. Dan was closer to the van’s rear doors.

Nearly done!

First I heard the noise. It sounded something less than a gunshot but more than a firecracker.

And then my eyes fixed on what caused it: thousands of bits of glass, like flecks of Styrofoam, blanketed the van, the street and the sidewalk.

Somehow we must’ve just tapped the edge of the glass against the van with the right amount of harmonic convergence to cause it to explode.

The noise and the mess were so great that people literally stopped in their tracks.

My forearms were pockmarked with blood as tiny glass meteorites shot into my flesh. But Christine’s arm was a full rivulet of blood as the glass had cut her more deeply.

Dan, who incredibly escaped largely unscathed, took one look at us and whisked us to his car and headed pedal-to-the-metal to the hospital ER.

My problem was not that I was bleeding out but was almost PASSING out from the sight of my own blood.

My face looked like it had been bleached.

Yes, truly.

In the end, the doctor elevated my feet, got me some Band-Aids for my boo-boos and gauzed up Christine like the second coming of the Mummy.

This all came to mind recently when my wife and I had to take a large broken mirror to our garbage center and the attendant there saw what I was doing and said to me: “Don’t cut yourself.”

Don’t worry, pal.

Been there, done that and have the mental scars to prove it!

cracked mirror

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We Are All Our Brothers’ (And Sisters’) Keepers

Inasmuch as Facebook can drive me crazy with its ever-changing features and Swiss cheese-like privacy policies, it has been an amazing platform for reconnecting with former classmates and co-workers.

When I posted a link to a story recently, a former colleague weighed in with a comment about a humorous experience we shared that serves as a reminder that we are all our brothers’ (or sisters’) keepers in this life.

This is what happened:

In the late 1990s, I worked at The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y.

I was there about six years when a new reporter, a blonde, ebullient pixie from Ohio, joined the newsroom. April Hunt occupied the cubicle across from me and we commiserated often about our lives.

Though only co-workers, we ended up sharing a special bond after a night in 1999.

I was home having dinner with my family when the phone rang.

It was a manager from Wal-Mart.

April had passed out in the bathroom and, since she was fairly new to New York, she asked the manager to call me because I was the only one she could think of who might respond.

I am ashamed to say this but can admit it now. My first thought was not: “Oh my God! I hope April is OK!”

No, my first thought was: “Christ! The indignity of it all! Passing out in a bathroom at Wal-Mart!? How gross! Better to pass out in a bathroom at CBGB.”

I headed to Wal-Mart but by the time I got there, an ambulance had already taken her to the hospital.

I sought her out in the ER.

A hospital person led me to a curtained-off examining area where April was sitting upright in bed. We chatted and I tried to keep her mind off things while we waited for a doctor.

I want to be faithful to the details of what happened, so the following passage, which includes frank language about the female anatomy, is intended for mature readers only:

There were “things” “going on” with April’s “lady parts” that caused her to pass out.

OK, you can open your eyes now…

A doctor came in and, as I recall, he was prepared right there to do an examination of “things down under” — and I ain’t talking about Australia either.

At this point in the story, it’s relevant to point out that April is a lesbian. So we both enjoyed a hearty laugh when the doctor turned to me and said: “Mr. Hunt?”

That helped break the tension!

I made it clear that no, I was not Mr. Hunt, and before he moved ahead in the examination, that I best be going!

April recalls it this way:

“You, friend, were the one person who believed me when I said I was really hurting. That’s what I remember most. That, and the fact the ER doc called you Mr. Hunt because you insisted you be able to come in and see me.”

It turned out that April needed emergency surgery the next day and needed six units of blood…!

Thankfully, she made a full recovery, part of which included me taking her to a follow-up visit to her ob-gyn because she could not drive. (Picture me sitting in a waiting room full of expectant mothers with a woman who was not my wife. Awk-ward!)

The “Mr. Hunt” comment is a fun inside joke for us but it also reinforces how small gestures in this world can mean a lot.

But I’m still not using the bathroom at Wal-Mart.

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The Night I Nearly Died

Us men, we are invincible, right?

Maybe it’s “machismo” or just stupidity.

I don’t have time for my own well-being, right?

Some years ago, I discovered the answer to that question and in the process, faced my mortality.

It’s ironic that the night this started, I was attending the funeral of a family man who had died before his time.

It began with a bad stomachache that I attributed to lunch but when I got home it just got worse.

I was up all night puking. I was on the bathroom floor, delirious from pain but never did I once say to my wife that maybe – just maybe – I should go to the ER.

Finally I was able to sleep and when I woke up, I felt a little better. I saw my wife off to work and got the kids off to school.

Meanwhile, the pain had settled into my lower abdomen, on the right side.

Damnit! This was probably appendicitis. I called in sick to work and called my wife and told her that I would drive myself to the hospital.

No problem. I got this.

Why should I bother anyone and inconvenience them? I was feeling better and the hospital was only a few minutes away.

The doctor checked and he agreed with my diagnosis and sent me for a CT scan for confirmation.

I eventually got wheeled into the OR and when I woke up in recovery, the nurse told me that my appendix had actually burst.

With much difficulty, I made my way into the bathroom. I leaned on the sink and looked in the mirror and saw someone I hardly recognized.

Who the hell was this guy with the pale face, sunken eyes and look of death?

This was me and this was serious.

With a burst appendix, I could’ve died. It probably burst right on the floor of the bathroom that night, which is why I felt better.

But all that time that I wasted refusing to admit I needed help, those toxins were leaking into my gut and setting me up for an internal infection that could have done me in no matter what the doctor did.

I spent the next two-plus weeks in the hospital, always with a fever and constant IV antibiotics.

I don’t think I ever realized how grave my situation was.

To this day I have downplayed the whole thing.

Maybe I’m still lying to myself because it scares the shit outta me that I flirted with death.

I missed my kids performing in the school talent show and I missed some of my son’s baseball games. In truth, though, I came close to not seeing them grow up at all.

At the hospital, I convinced the doctor that I could go home and take my own temp every day, take my meds and come back if I was not feeling well.

I just wanted to go home.

I should have stayed in the hospital.

Better yet, they should’ve just shot me.

Two weeks later, I felt a weight in my lower abdomen, so I went back for another CT scan.

The doctor said he would need to drain the abscesses from the infection caused by the burst appendix. He explained he was going to go in through my anus — using both hands and a syringe — to drain the fluid.

Nice. I should have at least gotten dinner and a movie first.

Still, the procedure was successful.

After all of this, I was not the same person. It took most of a year to really get back to normal.

I still don’t think I realized how close a brush with death this was.

Thank goodness for antibiotics and for my doctor for violating me with that syringe.

I’m glad I’m still here to talk about it.

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