...nothing here is promised, not one day... Lin-Manuel Miranda

Librarians and Nurses , pt 2 (actually just nurses)
Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Read/Post Comments (2)
Share on Facebook
In 1974, I spent my summer vacation at Massachusetts General Hospital. Ok, five weeks of it. Yes, one could spend five weeks in a hospital and not be dying. Technically, it shoulda been three weeks but, wait.

I spent the last year and a half or so of college wearing a back brace, doing almost nothing but going to class and going home and falling over. Or so I remember it. And I remember the one bitch teacher who wouldn't give me any consideration. Oh yeah. Graduated June 1, 1974. Entered Mass General June 2, spine surgery June 3. Left after Independence Day, July 4.

The surgery was a success (okay we still don't KNOW why after 3 years, the fusion dissolved but you see the seeds of the weird stuff that's wrong with me today, hm?) but this cute thing happened. I developed a staph infection and I'm allergic to penicillin. This was 30 years ago, folks. Staph lives in hospitals and there weren't too many treatment options that weren't penicillin-based.

Now, ya got yer good news, bad news. The bad was - mazel tov, you're in the hospital til you kick this nasty infection. We cannot let you go home, even though your back's mending terrifically and you should be out of here in three weeks (yeah, three weeks for "simple back surgery") (ok, it took 5 hours, but still.) The good news was that it got me my private room at MGH. I'm a privacy junkie and a private room junkie; had my own room as a kid from very early on, had a college roommate for less than a semester. And even then kept night-owl hours; was up at midnight.

My parents lived in Connecticut; mom was there for the surgery, dad was with me for the first few days, mom came up every single weekend. Every single weekend she brought a bag of stuff with her and every morning, I opened the day's present. For five weeks. Like Hanukkah only way better. It got to be the talk of the floor; the nurses would come in to check out today's toy, or barrette, or puzzle, or pencil or whatEVER. And I had a cousin who visited constantly, as well as the cousin I'd not seen in what must have been 15 years, who was in med school in the area and stopped by one day to say "hey, I'm David and I didn't know what you liked to read so I just gave a pint of blood for you." SNIFF. Waaaaaah.

So there I was, doped up on well, not much, aspirin for the most part (too much but again 30 years ago) with very limited concentration (I'm very SENsitive you know - anesthesia does things to me) and unable to read mostly and they didn't HAVE televisions in every room back then, you had to arrange to get one (and the bitch on the floor who finally got me one got me one without a remote control. When mom and I explained how useless THAT was, she insisted that I could just call a NURSE to change the channel for me. Right. Amazing that we had more respect for her staff that SHE did. Bitch.) Listened to lots of Red Sox baseball on radio. I wasn't allowed to SIT, mind you. I could lie, I could stand up, but as little in between as possible. No, no, do Not ask how one gets from here to there. Magic is involved.

Did I mention this was Boston? Oh, right, you would have guessed that from the name of the hospital. And that it was summer? Oh, right. Did I mention that back then MGH, or hospitals in general were seldom air-conditioned? Someone might get sick you know.
Five weeks in the hospital in Boston in June and July. Whoo boy.

I was also not on the orthopedic floor or ward; don't recall exactly why not, but lack of beds put me initially in a room on a, well it can't have been a dermatology floor, but probably I'm now guessing a surgical floor; still recall one roommate for those first days who had had surgery for I think a deviated septum; but another was dealing with serious psoriasis. Got moved to my private room around the corner and have no idea what else was there. Except for the guy who got moved in late one night from the ER; the victim of a hit and run who had a broken thigh bone and broken or dislocated shoulder. Nice guy; I visited him every so often as he was in traction. I was able to walk. He was a bartender, and it seemed to me on reflection that he probably worked at a gay bar, guessing from his visitors (I didn't exactly know lots of gay people then.) But we knocked 'em dead one day. Looked over into his room across the hall and said to him "um, what's that?" And he replied "why, it's lobster of course." Right. Um…okay. "Want a claw for dinner?" I THINK he thought it amusing that night when I complained about the lack of melted butter. And I did enjoy the mental image of the folks in the cafeteria unloading the trays that night and seeing Not the usual.

I had a friend on another floor; yeah, really. I had a college friend who'd had a very bad accident about 2 years before. She'd never come back to college and was in during MY stay for her 12th or 13th arm surgery; unfortunately, due to my infection and her vulnerability (and later osteomyelitis) we could seldom be within feet of each other. We did manage a few visits and one lovely day, took a stroll together. Caftans and sunglasses, hand-held fans (from mom) and a quick turn around the lobby as we wandered about, wondering if anyone thought that MGH HAD a locked ward. We discussed this as we strolled by the Admitting Office wondering if we should go in and admit something. (ok, we stole it from a get well card.) (The other best card was the one that hung on my bed. It was a sign that said "I Am Rich. Make me well or I will buy this hospital and FIRE the lot of you." That was from dad.

So this friend, who had been a freshman when I was a junior, had shown up when Edie and I lived on the stairwell in our dorm junior year. There were 3 rooms on the end of the hall, on the stairwell (rumor was that the rooms on that floor were originally for the young ladies' maid who accompanied the y.l to college). Mine was a single, Edie's was a single across the hall and the double had 2 people one of whom was this friend. Who later had this accident. By the time she came into range, Edie and I had become Hawkeye and Trapper, so it was not a total surprise that the newcomer became Duke. And on July 4, my phone rang in my room at MGH and I heard this southern voice say "Hey Trapper!? They're shooting at us! Don't they know this is a hospital?!" July 4. Mass General Hospital. not far from the bandshell, the Boston Pops, fireworks and Stars and Stripes. Forever.

MGH had, by the way, two menus. One week, then the other. Yeah. And here again, I got lucky. There was the night that my friend's mother and my mother went out and got us pizza (probably really common now, but then, it almost felt like breaking a rule.) and then the wonderful night of the leftover Chinese food. And here I finally finally get to the topic I was aiming for, the wonder of nurses.

For five weeks, the nurses on that floor at MGH kept me sane. Day in, day out these women (and they were all, in '74, although they were just giving up wearing white dresses with little white dixie cups on their heads) were The Best.

For one thing, I wasn't exactly sick. I wasn't even really in pain after the first several days. I just couldn't leave. I was healing nicely. I could walk a little - down the hall and back once or twice a day to the lounge at the end of the hall. This room overlooked the hospital entrance. One day, weirdly, there were no waiting cars. No line-up of 20 taxi cabs. "It's a disaster drill". I was told. "Cool. What do you have to do?" "Well, not much so far. It's an airline crash. Right now we're just creating lists of folks to send home if we need the beds." "Cool. Could I go home." "Yeah, sure. You wo…no, you'd have to stay. You have staph." "Damn." And it was with skin creep that I learned at least back then, that the codes at MGH for a disaster were various stages of "Copacabana" (stages 1, 2 and 3) after the hideous nightclub fire in that city.

I was often awake for the night shift to talk with. I was in pretty good spirits and didn't require much from the nursing staff (especially as I refused to make them my channel changers). My doctor came around at night to see me, often making me his last stop because again, the staph infection required special care and if he wasn't going to see another patient after me, he didn't have to gown and glove up.

I was on the phone late one night with my father. 11 pm or so and I looked up and there she was, my favorite nurse. And I SO wish that I could remember her name. There she was, in a manual wheelchair. I put my hand over the receiver and asked her what exactly she was doing. "I've been working for 20 hours" she informed me. "I'm tired and this is my second shift. Anyone wants me, THIS is how they're gonna get me for the rest of the night." And she wheeled and sped down the hall. I was hysterical. She was my hero.

I heard from her about the laundry sack races when things were really boring, and the wheelchair races. It was her co-worker who stopped by one night asking if I liked Chinese food, they had leftovers. And then there was the frog.

Someone gave me a beanbag frog. The frog lived on the bar over my hospital bed; the bar being there for the little "trapeze" thingy which I used to raise myself up because, remember, no sitting, blah blah. Also where one hangs plants that one is given (and why one's feet get wet when one's mother overwaters one's plant.) And the froggie draped over the bar and observed. Every morning Favorite Nurse made her rounds. I'd be not so awake (remember up til midnight) she'd stick the thermometer in my mouth, grab Mr. Frog, put him on her shoulder and continue on her way. (yeah, yeah, maybe he had staph but they ALL carried it with them all the time). And she'd be back, check my temp, do the bp thing, and return the frog to his rightful observation post. You think he came home with me? You know better. Of course he imprinted on her. Sheesh.

And they talked to me, and they kept me from cross-eyed boredom, and they laughed like crazy the day they said "oh, you're not up yet" we'll get your bed next, and I undid the sheets and oh so carefully brought them into the next room saying "don't say I never did nothing for you". And they rubbed goop into my shoulders, and admired all my prezzies from my mom, and showed up one day out of the blue with buckets and plastic sheeting and oh god they washed my hair for me when I wasn't allowed to shower. In the summer. In Boston. In a hospital without air conditioning. I gotta say I missed the frog, but it was right that he stay.

Read/Post Comments (2)

Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Back to Top

Powered by JournalScape © 2001-2010 All rights reserved.
All content rights reserved by the author.