Let’s Go To The Hospital! (Wayback Machine)

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(Originally published in April of 2013.)

I got sick on Easter. It was a day of shaking hands, eating potluck food and hanging around with people (and immune systems) that I normally wouldn’t fraternize with. By the time I was driving home that evening, I felt that little tickle in the back of my throat; the warning sign that whispers, “You’re about to feel like wet garbage for the next three weeks, and there’s not a gall garwshdarn thing you can do about it.

My inner voice sometimes sounds like a grizzled prospector.

Right on cue, I woke up the next day with my (severely) sore throat swollen almost completely shut, and my nostrils following suit. I had practically sweat right through the mattress of my bed (moreso than usual), and the Missus said she got about two hours of sleep due to the horrible noises I was making.

Sorry about that,” I tried to say with as much conviction as possible, but 10 straight hours of coughing had turned my voicebox to static. I sounded like Harvey Fierstein.

I called in sick. Not because I couldn’t drag myself into work and just sit there motionless for the day, but because I knew that once they heard me, I would be chastised and thrown out of the office for being a compassionless turd who didn’t think of the health and well-being of others. If you develop a cough in a white collar environment, you might as well have your rotten limbs and digits falling off in clumps, because you’re the Office Leper until further notice. It’s pointless to go to work when you’re clearly infectious. 

I tried to take care of myself with a combo of NyQuil and Aleve ‘Cold and Sinus,’ a drug that you can no longer get over-the-counter due to meth addicts, I guess. You now have to ask for it by name at the pharmacy, show your Driver’s License and literally sign a contract that says you won’t use the medication to produce meth.

I’ve had to go through this process a few times now, and it always gives me an anxiety attack. I only need this stuff when I’m scraggly and sick out of my mind, so I can only imagine what I look like when I’m asking for the medication while frantically tapping my debit card on the counter. I’m certain they have never once believed I was going to use Aleve ‘Cold and Sinus’ for its intended purpose. Their problem, but it’s still an annoying Catch-22.

For the entire week after Easter, I alternated between going to work and taking sporadic afternoons off. I wasn’t getting better, my voice was thoroughly trashed (phone calls and speaking at meetings was an impossibility) and I was falling asleep at 7:30 each night to no avail. I didn’t want to go to the doctor, but I feared pneumonia or bronchitis, so early the following week, I finally caved.

I’ve only had pneumonia once, and from what I heard from my mother, it nearly killed me shortly after I was born. Health-wise, I think it’s the closest I’ve ever been to actually dying due to illness. Bronchitis was something I’ve had once or twice, and each time I let it run its course with limited medication (which is stupid). It was time to get proactive, albeit nine days after the fact.

I drove myself to Urgent Care at 10am on a Tuesday, which is something I’ve done exactly one other time in my life. My wife, on the other hand, is an Urgent Care VIP. If hospitals had a Preferred Customer Club, she’d have accumulated enough frequent flier miles to take us straight into the Sun. I’m quite stubborn when it comes to breaking down and seeing a doctor for something, but when green shit is propelling itself from my lungs, I’m not dumb enough to sit around and be passive.

When I checked in at the hospital, they asked me what my problem was. I told them I had a bad cold, a bad cough and wanted some antibiotics. The word ‘cough’ triggered immediate action from the clerks, who handed me a surgical mask to put on, as to not potentially infect anyone else in the waiting room.

Me, being sort of a narcissist (even at the hospital), didn’t listen. I sort of said “uh-huh” and walked away stuffing the mask into my pocket. I was fine, and furthermore, I was a grown man. I could go 10 minutes in a waiting room without having to cough. I wasn’t going to bother anyone; it was no big deal.

At the next hurdle of the check-in process, I was handed a clipboard with some questions on it. One of them was: “Were you given a surgical mask to wear?” Now, I didn’t want to get someone fired by lying, so I checked “Yes” and handed the clipboard back to the receptionist when she was distracted by a phone call, hoping that by the time she put two-and-two together, I would already be back in my car and halfway to the pharmacy.

I quietly sat in the corner of the waiting room and felt fortunate that there were only two other people in there. On the multitude of occasions where I’ve had to bring my wife in, the place is usually stacked to the rafters with plague-infested Walkers. I played Minesweeper on my phone and patiently waited my turn.

Then my throat started to tickle. I had to cough.

I contained myself for the first couple minutes, but there’s apparently nothing more difficult than suppressing a cough (much to my idiotic surprise). I coughed quietly into the crook of my arm a few times before I started to worry that I would be caught without a surgical mask on. I fantasized that some silent alarm would go off behind the reception desk, triggering a wave of CDC agents to swarm and toss me directly into quarantine. As clandestine as I could, I snuck into the bathroom where I proceeded to invite a coughing fit that lasted the better part of five minutes. I coughed so hard I nearly peed my pants. Thankfully, they didn’t call my name while I was indisposed.

When I got back to my seat (still not wearing my mask), I noticed a mother and her daughter seated nearby. The little girl was adorable; probably about 4-years old with a Spring dress and a bow in her hair. I watched her and her mother interact for a few minutes; she was very reserved and well-behaved. Then she coughed.

The noise that emitted from this child was other-worldly. I was convinced that she was recently retrieved from some South American coalmine disaster. There was simply no known disease on the face of the Earth that would make someone sound like this. In a panic, I strapped on my crumpled surgical mask as fast as possible. You win, urgent care; whatever this 4-year old had would’ve most certainly ended my life.

When my name was finally called, I sat with a nurse for a few minutes and did the whole questionnaire thing you have to do before seeing an actual physician. This is my favorite part of the hospital visit, because I like being asked questions and I know I’m giving them the right answers.

“Allergies?” “Nope.”
“Do you smoke?” “Nope.”
“Drugs?” “Nope.”
“STD’s?” “Nope.”
“Vegetarian?” “Totes.”

The exact opposite of this is the Dentist, where everything I tell them is either incorrect or a lie.

Just before the nurse left, she told me that the doctor was going to listen to my lungs, so I had to take my shirt off and put on a gown. I have no problem taking my shirt off, but I find the gown (for a man) to be pointless. Why can’t I just sit there shirtless? I’m assuming it’s for the emotional well-being of anyone who has to see me, but I find it far more palatable than having to impossibly navigate a hospital gown. It’s like an MC Escher sketch; no reasonable configuration makes sense.

For the next 20 minutes, I sat there in my gown and mask waiting for the doctor. At one point, another nurse popped in and told me that they “hadn’t forgotten about me.” All I could think about was how there were no other people in the waiting room but myself and Zombie Coalmine Girl; what was the holdup?

Nonetheless, the doctor finally showed up and started listening to my lungs. Whenever a doctor uses their stethoscope on me, I instinctively revert to Manual Breathing Mode and become incredibly hyper-conscious of how I inhale and exhale. I’m certain I always skew the results. She said my lungs “sounded great,” though, and started rubbing around on my temples and oily T-zone.

Does that hurt?” She asked as she was massaging the bridge of my nose.

Um…actually that feels pretty good,” I said, a little too honestly.

It’s a sinus infection,” she said. She prescribed me a “bungload” (medical term) of amoxicillin and sent me on my way. As I was leaving, I could hear Coalmine Girl hacking up a lung in an adjacent room. I shuddered and quickened my pace.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I first got sick, and I’m still having all sorts of (thankfully dissipating) symptoms. Either this was one hell of an infection, or I’m getting older and my immune system is becoming weaker to such volatile intrusions. Since turning 31, I’ve sort of declared myself legally dead to the world, so perhaps it’s more of a psychological anti-placebo than anything. All I know for sure is that these pills are the size of water softener pellets and digesting them requires complete disregard of my gag reflex.

I’m lucky, though. If this is the thing that sends me to the hospital, I’ll deal with it. Just a few hours spent watching TLC will remind you that there are millions of people worse off; I could have been born with tree limbs for arms, for Christ’s sake. Or a parasitic twin growing out the base of my spine that does nothing but chain smoke and tell racist jokes all day. Pretty sure I’ve seen both of those.

More than anything, I’m just hoping this will get me out of attending Easter next year.

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