Processing in at St. Joe’s


I bring you greetings from St. Joseph’s Hospital where my roommate and I are watching the Syracuse University football team play Stony Brook.  I have been asked numerous times by numerous people “What brought you to the hospital?”  I always have to fight the urge to reply, “TLC ambulance.”  Nobody likes a smart ass.

Tuesday I wheeled to the Downtown Farmers Market for two reasons:  (1) to buy flowers.  What is life without flowers?  And (2) because I was lonely and bored.  If someone had knocked on my door and said, “You want to play cards?” then I never would have gone to the market.  But I was dying of aloneness so I went and paid for it the next day, and the next.

Got dizzy if I rolled over in bed.  Couldn’t breathe if I sat up unsupported.  Kept expecting to pull out of it.  Kept not.  Friday morning I woke up in a fog.  Couldn’t get on the computer.  Couldn’t think.  Reading the bible was very laborious.  Couldn’t remember the words to “How Great Thou Art,” which I’ve only sung every morning for about twenty-four of the last thirty-six months.  And I kept thinking that the agency was sending me a new aide for the weekend and I was too far out in la-la land to tell her how to make coffee.

If you’re too sick to get coffee then you darn well are sick enough to be in the hospital, so Friday afternoon Amelia and I got me ready and then called TLC ambulance (“Everything Rural Metro does, but without sucking”), which trucked me off to St. Joe’s.  How to tell if the patient’s really sick:  if she doesn’t open her eyes to watch the world go by then she’s really sick.

St. Joe’s has a new Emergency Room.  It’s big and wide open—has lots of space—and is a whole lot quieter than the old ER.  The “cubbies” no longer are narrow, dark slots wrapped in curtains.  Now they are big rooms, hyper-lit, with television and sliding glass doors that shut out a lot of the noise of monitors beeping and whining.  So Amelia and I take up occupancy and lots of nurses come in to process me.

I decline to have my blood pressure taken.  I also decline all the other interventions modern medicine has to offer, and mostly stick to repeating “palliative care” and “Dr. Tucker.”  Dr. Tucker is big shit at St. Joe’s—head of some stuff, professor of other stuff, general all-around good guy who people like to work with.

After while a nurse comes in and hands me her official cell phone—all the new ER’s nurses are now connected by cell phones—and asks me to talk to Dr. Tucker.  He very nicely points out to me that he needs numbers to work with.  He will take care of me but I’ve got to give him some numbers.

Oh, okay.  I forgot all about that part of how the system works.  I’ve forgotten a lot of things lately, like the fact that the stuff on the kitchen floor is called linoleum, not aluminum.  So I tell the nurses to bring it on and I get a major blood draw, urinalysis, chest x-ray and EKG.  We got there around 4:30 p.m.  I now am generating numbers like mad.  I’m explaining to anybody who asks that we’ve spent the last six weeks trying to get me into a skilled nursing facility.  I say that and then they look puzzled and ask what the problem is.

I look at Amelia, searching for a short, usable answer.  There is none.  How to explain that the Neighborhood Advisor says nursing homes are prima donnas that accept or deny patients at will, or that two of them have just told us “we only take patients from hospitals” not from tiny apartments in HUD-subsidized housing, which I strongly suspect is a perversion of the rules and I would like to do some research on this but anybody who’s too messed up to give coffee-making instructions is not a good bet for researching federal regulations on anything more complicated than kitty litter.

So then a physician’s assistant comes in and tells me that except for kidney function, my numbers are pretty normal.  I don’t believe her for one second.  I ask her what my glucose level was and she says she doesn’t know.  I invite her to take her sorry butt back to the nurses’ station and bring me the numbers.  She does.  My glucose level is 387 and she missed it.  You want a discharge with that diabetic coma?  She then does a little dance about how I can’t get admitted just because I have a ton of chronic shit going on—I have to be acute, she says.

And I say something designed to induce in her the awareness that her job does not include making decisions.  Her job is to gather numbers for Dr. Tucker so he can make a decision.  And I have every confidence that Dr. Tucker’s journey from medical student to Head of Stuff included a self-taught session in How to Bundle Numbers so the Patient Gets Righteous Treatment.

Amelia leaves around 8:30 p.m. and a respiratory therapist comes in to set up my auto BiPAP.  Amelia and I, individually and jointly, know how to do it as does the nurse, I am sure, but this is a hospital, which is to say an enormous gathering of human beings whose primary directive is:  Cover Your Ass.  So the respiratory therapist is called, arrives promptly, and informs me that I’m being admitted.

Next week the guy who pushes the linen cart will be giving out diagnoses.

The respiratory therapist, who is—I think—Bosnian, says I’ll be transferred to an inpatient bed in about an hour, which is nonsense.  If I’ve learned one thing from my journey through the hospital system it is that there is absolutely no correlation between an ER nurse saying, “You’re being admitted,” and a floor nurse saying, “You’ve got a bed.”  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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