Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Take Me Down to the Hospital

The little procedure I had last Friday gave me a preview of my hospital stay, and it shattered a few illusions. I've never stayed in the hospital before, and up until now I was imagining it as being like a hotel room, minus a bar downstairs and porn on the television. I convinced myself that I'd be able to take the time to read a lot, do a little writing. Instead I'll probably be largely immobile, watching TV programs I don't care to see and occasionally testing the nurse alarm button.

My only other significant time in a hospital came in the summer of 1995, when I worked for a while at a hospital in Tucson. It was a temp position, eventually expanded to "indefinite until you choose to quit" -- I was able to do the job (which was pretty mindless), and a co-worker confided to me that I was the first person in a long time that hadn't quit after a week. It was graveyard shift work, hence the turnover, but I was young and energetic, and it paid exceptionally well for a temp job, so I could block out the human suffering as long as I was getting paid.

There was quite a bit of human suffering, too. The hospital was sort of on the border between "decent" and "not so decent" sections of Tucson, and there were plenty of gunshot victims and car accident casualties coming in through the night.

I went around each night, switching out charts, adding new ones, taking them away when someone had checked out or passed away. Once I strolled blithely into a room seconds after a person had died, surrounded by grieving family members. In case you ever run into a similar situation, let me assure you that there is no good way to handle it. I strolled back out without a word, considerably less blithely.

The other overnight workers were a bizarre group, and I wish I'd taken notes. The shift boss was a perpetually angry ex-nun -- I quickly learned to avoid her as much as possible, though I was largely beneath her notice. There was a twitchy, bitter little Steve Buscemi-esque fellow who did something in the lab -- one night, seeing me reading Charles Willeford's "Cockfighter," he launched into a rant, telling me he figured the book was all macho shit, about men and their cocks, and there's no good books any more, etc. Another seedy little fellow took me aside on my first night to give me advice: if I scored with any of the nurses, I should take them into the morgue (just down the hall from my computer); I'd be unlikely to be bothered there. Afterwards, I never even tried anything with any of the nurses -- perhaps it had been his passive-aggressive way of turning me off the idea. I do remember walking by the morgue one night when the drain had backed up, looking in and seeing the clich├ęd splayed bare feet.

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