If you’ve tuned in to holly loves john before you have probably seen that picture of me. Pouting lip, hospital gown, oxygen tube under my nostrils. It’s one of several hospital stays I have had under my belt since I’ve had my son.
I would not say I was the paragon of health before I got pregnant. But it’s fair to say that the last time I wore a hospital garment it was a swaddling clothe in 1985.
The list of problems I had while I was pregnant was almost ridiculous it was so long. I had morning sickness, I had gestational diabetes, I had a constant itchy allergic reaction to my son’s DNA known as PUPPS (don’t let the cute name fool you, it’s pregnancy hell .) Then to top it all off, at eight months pregnant, I was diagnosed with dangerous hypertension and preeclampsia. Which resulted in induction four weeks earlier than expected and a c-section that made me lose consciousness from the IV fluid that had surrounded my lungs in the previous 72 hours of labor. (They gave me a cat scan shortly after that because I kept talking about Christopher Walken. Maybe the Little Prince resembled him a bit? Maybe I just felt like some cowbell? Who knows?)
So, needless to say, John got a vasectomy not long after the birth of our one and only son. Yes, if the Little Prince is ever going to have a brother or sister, it will be through adoption, or the animal shelter. It was that kind of ordeal.
But this isn’t about the birth of my son, or the heinous pregnancy leading up to it. It’s about the hospital. In particular, the both unsettling and oddly endearing, rural hospital we have in our small town.
We live in a smallish rural community in central Illinois, just on the border of Indiana. So, in essence, we have all of the “charm” of rural Indiana with the state taxes of Illinois. I kid, but it does have its moments though. Everything is super vintage and retro, with great little restaurants and fabulous old architecture. Not on-purpose vintage, but vintage still. This odd Havisham effect, leaving a slightly dogeared version of the sixties and seventies, pretty much just a less shiny version of what it was like before all the manufacturing jobs left and the poverty came to stay. We have a lot of really great antique stores for the same reason. No one is a collector, or anything. It’s just what grandma had in the living room. She wants to make room for a Lazy-boy. That kind of thing. There’s a hot air balloon festival that nearly makes me wreck my car every summer. (You try to drive a car when hundreds of hot air balloons are overhead.) And a big beautiful lake that I catch glimpses of as I drive past the really big waterfront houses on the way to our adorable 60’s ranch home on a cul-de-sac.
But this isn’t about the town itself (which is another story, for another time) this is about the hospital in the town. It’s a Frankenstein of a building, with several additions, and very few of them matching. I’ve been in four of the wings of this monster personally, and I can attest to just how different each of them are.
The first time I staid at the hospital, it was shortly after I had given birth to my son. We still lived in our apartment at the time. We also lived in constant fear of disturbing the neighbors with our newborn late night crying jags (the baby cried too some times.) Fortunately for us our downstairs neighbor was just a little bit deaf and very, very sweet. Anyway, I was laying down during one of my son’s naps (sleep when they sleep, right?) and suddenly it felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest, Temple of Doom style. So, of course, I did the same thing I do in every emergency, whether it’s unexpected ritual sacrifice or the microwave is not working, I called my husband. But as I called him the pain got so bad, I was pretty sure I was not going to survive it. I remembered my Dad having a heart attack in his thirties and I was just about to turn 32. I told John what was happening, how bad it was. He told me to hang up and call 9-1-1. I did. They sent an ambulance. And while I waited for them to find our apartment— this was a common problem for both the pizza delivery guy and UPS. They could never find our apartment, which probably had a lot to do with the Rubik’s cube logic of the numbering used in our complex— While I waited, I called John again. This time to say goodbye, and tell him how much I loved him. That’s how painful it was.
John raced home from the office so fast that he met the paramedics and led them to the right address. I don’t remember much after that. There was a less than dignified stretcher carry down the flight of stairs from our second floor apartment. Which involved me throwing up all over myself right as we passed our concerned elderly downstairs neighbor. John says that my vitals must have been stable because once he got the baby in the car and followed the paramedics, they suddenly turned off the sirens and lights. At the time though, he was pretty sure it was because I had died, right there in the ambulance. We might be prone to pessimism in emergency situations. I say we suffer from overly vivid imaginations.
Anyway, we roll into St. Frankenstein’s Emergency Room, and after several tests on my heart and a sleepover in the cardiology wing, they give me the very professional opinion, that they have no idea what is wrong with me. It’s every anxiety sufferer’s worst nightmare, something psychosomatic, emphasis on psycho. One perky blonde nurse told me it was the energy drink I drank the morning of the alleged attack. She looks accusingly at my newborn in John’s arms, lecturing me as she removes my IV line (an IV that took her several tries to get in, by the way.) And when I genuinely ask her what the limit of caffeine is that I can safely drink with a newborn (cause I’m really fucking tired) she throws her arms up in the air like I am gonna strike her, and shouts, “I’m just trying to educate you!” Another win for someone with social anxiety. I know I am supposed to feel guilty for something, but I am not sure what, so I will just feel guilty for everything. She didn’t have an answer by the way, so she really just wanted to judge me, out loud.
So after spending all day, and night, in a busy ER with no answer, John, the baby, and I go to McDonalds. Because that’s what you do, after you win a peewee football game or baffle several heart doctors. It was also pretty much all we had energy for, as I shuffled around in my hospital provided shoe socks. Less than five minutes into a Big Mac, and the pain was back, vibrating through my shoulder blades and ripping through my sternum.
Back at the ER, I get a different nurse. She’s my age, maybe a little older, my size and build, clearly a mom. I explain the pain, and she asks, “in your chest?” And I say, “Yes, my chest.” She looks at me a little sideways. And at first I’m like, this nurse thinks I am an idiot too. She’s gonna “educate me” where my chest is. Sure enough, she says, “Point to where the pain is.” I sigh, and shifting under the left side of my ample boobs I point to where the pain is. “That’s your abdomen,” she smiles. “For real?” I ask. “Yes.”
Huh. There I stood, educated. (Or laid out rather, on the stretcher. Dumbfounded.)
Turns out it was repeated gallbladder spasms, which are incredibly painful, and often mistaken for heart attacks. (They mostly happen when you eat something particularly fatty because the gallbladder is where your liver stores the bile to digest that fat AND also when you drink something caffeinated. Take that heart doctors! … I think all of that’s right. Every time a doctor explained it to me I was in horrible pain. So, you know. My memory is unreliable for medical jargon, other than chest vs. abdomen.) The nurse knew right away because she had to have her gallbladder removed after the birth of her youngest son. Nothing like experience for a true education.
A week after my first true gallbladder education, and becoming the happiest, most grateful gallstone patient they had ever seen “You are saying that I am not crazy or dying, I just have rocks in one of my organs? That’s fantastic! Thank you!” A week later, at 2 am, it happened again. This time it felt like someone was stabbing me in the side, or abdomen, with a big-ass claymore. For you non-nerds, a claymore is a really big two handed sword. Something you would expect a viking to use. Think Lord of the Rings.
We go back to the ER. This time they put us in an older wing of the ER where someone in the late nineties decided it would be a good idea to paint faux windows with beach scenes in them. Like, “Oh man, I’m worried about this gunshot wound, but that Jamaican window scene is making everything all right.” There are also faux aquariums with painted fish. Not fish murals, but paintings of aquariums with very happy and super feminine fish. Like I am some kind of species of lizard in the reptile house at the zoo, where they have painted the idealized form of a hospital room on the walls, or you know, my natural habitat.
Anyway, just as I am about to tell John about this article I read about how estrogenic hormones in the water table from pollution are causing them to get tumors, or aka super feminine fish, I scream in pain. Another viking stab to the abdomen! This is the worst pain I have experienced in my whole life. And I just had a ten pound baby sawed out of my stomach like a magician’s assistant. The pain is so bad that once John had finally dragged a nurse to our Jamaican vacation room they give me something called Dilaudid.
Which is… apparently… good shit.
I told the same male nurse that John had dragged to the room that I would build a statue of him in his honor. He told me that it was the drugs. I told him that he was too modest and asked him what medium he would like his statue to be made of, marble? Mayonnaise? Then I started to giggle at the idea of a mayonnaise statue. Ok… I was perhaps a little high.
Now, because of the drugs the mayonnaise man had given me, I don’t remember a lot of the next part of the night. The doctor came in and told me that I would be admitted because I had Pancreatitis, which I think, is latin for phantom sword pain to the side. I think my Mom came down from the Chicago area that night. Because that’s what my mom does.
But the next thing I surely remember is a large sweet faced man named Bob at the door with a wheelchair. Bob starts a short prepared speech with a smile, and this I recall with perfect clarity, “My name is Bob. They call me trouble. I like to have fun but I’m very serious about my job. So keep your hands inside the ride at all times.”
So off I went, with Bob, to the medical wing, four flights up. Then I never left. Or at least, that’s what it felt like.
See Part 2, for the exciting conclusion…