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tags: story mrsa covid bad nurse maternity ward

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After meeting with the Surgical Team, a porter came with a gurney to wheel me away to where I was going to spend the night.  I asked if I could just walk wherever I was going, but was told it wasn't a good idea. (I am not sure why, and didn't want to quibble.)  So I transferred into the gurney, laid on my back, and got wheeled down the hall, past the CAT scan area, and to an elevator.  En route, I passed Jackie, and I told her I was being admitted for acute appendicitis.  (I think I wanted her to know I actually had something legitimate so she wouldn't think I was being a big wuss, earlier on.)

I was taken, for some reason I do not understand, to the maternity ward.  (I joked with my wife through text I thought it might be because of my pregnant belly.)  I was whisked into a very spacious room, with its own large bathroom, all of which I had to myself.  Shortly after arriving, two nurses came by, to do some swabs.  One just watched, and the other did all the work as well as all of the talking.  Perhaps the watcher was being trained?  The duo made me think of Penn and Teller.  (Weird fact: I have read that Penn and Teller are not really close friends, but rather work colleagues that both recognize they are better as a team.)  In any case, shifts were about to switch over, so these nurses would only be with me for a few minutes, and they needed to quickly test me for two things: MRSA, and COVID.  Honestly, I was surprised that my COVID test had taken so long to be done.  It was now almost 8 p.m. at night, and I had been in the hospital since early in the afternoon.  In this time, I had interacted with many, many people. (Though always with a mask on.  I had arrived with my own mask, of course, but it had been replaced earlier with a "hospital grade" one that was provided for me.)

The MRSA test was two swabs: One inside my mouth cheeks, and one between my butt cheeks; well, at the top of my butt crack, anyway.  The friendly nurse who administered the test told me she would not swab my "bunghole" (her words) but just somewhere on my backside.  "Bunghole" is not a very big part of my vocabulary, but it seemed kind of sweet to me when she used the term, so I am going to make an effort to use it myself on occasion.  "Butthole," which I do use, doesn't seem nearly as fun.  Come to think of it, "sphincter" is a funny word, too.  It has a nice ring to it, no bung intended.

After the two MRSA tests came the COVID test, which I was somewhat dreading.  The nurse told me to try and relax, and that it *would* be unpleasant, but if I moved at all, it would make things even worse.  I put my head back a bit, and she quickly inserted what looked like a skinny pipe cleaner pretty far up my nose.  It *was* uncomfortable, and made me tear up.  When it was happening, I thought of a very thin, fuzzy, orange and black caterpillar, but with really rigid bristles, twisting around in my nasal cavity.  The nurse doing all the work was kind of folksy and salt-of-the-earth, and made feel pretty at ease, under the circumstances.  She was a "good" nurse.  In retrospect, almost all of the nurses I encountered at Mount Sinai hospital were good ones.  But they can't *all* be good ones, and I was about to meet the worst one I would come across for my entire stay.

The folksy nurse left, along with her mute counterpart, and after several minutes a new nurse came to check on me.  She was in her 50s, short and squat, and made me think of a chubby koala bear.  While I knew her, which was only for a couple hours, we seemed to have a good rapport going.  We talked about politics, and history, and where she was from, among other things.  But I soon learned I had to wary of this woman, because she had a very unpleasant habit.  While we were in the middle of talking, or when I was distracted and not prepared for it, she would launch surprise attacks on me, and poke me for all manner of different things.  At one point, mid-conversation about Charlemagne, she suddenly lifted up my shirt and jabbed my belly for a "blood thinning" shot.  It was very odd to be having an interesting conversation, with my guard down, and then Whammo! I get hit with (what to me seemed like) a surprise attack.  At another point, she gently lifted my hand up for inspection, like she wanted to casually take a closer look at a hang nail or something, and Whammo! She pricked my finger with a little device I had not noticed she was holding, drawing blood.  It seemed to me she pricked my finger *at the same time* she told "We need to test your sugars," so I was totally unprepared.  

That little prick hurt, and as I mentioned earlier, this would be the last blood sugar test for which I consented. (Truth is, I don't feel like I even consented to this first one.  She just did it, all sneaky-like.)  Furthermore, after she pricked my finger, it produced much more than a single drop of blood.  Likely because of the blood thinners I had been given, or maybe because she did it too aggressively, there were *many* drops of blood.  When I asked her if I could get a bandaid, she reacted like she had never been presented with such an odd request before?  Strangely, it took her several minutes to produce one. (She had to go down the hall and find one, it seemed.  You would think bandaids would be much closer at hand *in a hospital*!)

When I first met this nurse -- the Bad Nurse -- she very quickly set me up with an IV, and had me change into a hospital gown.  The IV she gave me entered into the crook of my right arm through a port Jackie had made, from when I had my CAT scan earlier.  A little "IV machine" with a digital display pumped a bag of fluid into me, which kept me hydrated and provided antibiotics.  This machine was hanging on something similar to a metal coat rack with wheels, and it plugged into a wall outlet that was at chest level.  I paid no attention to the IV, and how it was setup, because I did think I needed to know how it all worked.  I would soon come to regret this lack of understanding...

After I had been subjected to various pokes, prods, blood pressure checks, etc., the Bad Nurse said she would let me get some rest, and explained how I could buzz her by pressing a button on a little wand she left close to my bed.  I *was* tired, and did want to rest, so I bid her adieu.  But soon after she left, I realized that I didn't have a pillow, which would go a long way in helping me relax and hopefully sleep.  When I summoned the nurse with the wand, she told me through an intercom that there were no pillows to be had, but if I *really* needed one, she would try and figure something out.  Again, like the bandaid earlier, she made it seem like me wanting a pillow was a strange request.  I told her it would really help me out, and several minutes later (possibly even half an hour!) she returned with two bed sheets that were tightly folded, making for a very firm, rectangular "pillow", when they were stacked together.  And while there was no real cushion to them, at least they lifted my head up a bit from the mattress.  They must have worked well enough, because soon after I closed my eyes, I fell asleep.  I am not sure how long I was out, but I woke up in a crisis situation...

My sleep came to a halt because suddenly I had to pee more desperately than I ever have before in my life.  I wanted to just hobble to the bathroom, but I realized I was attached to an IV, which in turn was attached to the wall. Even if I drew out the tubes and cords as far as they would reach, the bathroom was too far away.  And I had no idea how it all worked, and if the whole apparatus could simply be unplugged from the wall, or what?  Was it even battery powered? And if it was, did I have to press some combination of buttons to prepare it for mobile use?  I frantically pressed on the wand to summon the Bad Nurse.  When she answered, I told her I really had to go to the bathroom and needed her right away.  She said she would be there in *a few minutes*.  I tried to steel myself while I waited.  I got to my feet, and shifted my weight from one leg to the other, in serious distress.  

As soon as she arrived I blurted out I *really* needed to pee, and asked her how to deal with the IV.  Moving in slow motion, she grabbed the cord of the IV machine and yanked it from the wall, with her eyebrows raised as if it should have been obvious.  Then she told me to relax and to sit back on the bed for a minute, so she could do a blood pressure check or some small test.  She pressed on me lightly, to try and guide me into sitting back.  She clearly did not grasp how desperate I was.  At this point I told her in no uncertain terms I was about to pee myself, and needed to go *NOW*. Unbelivably, she again insisted first she needed to do her tests.

At this point, things are a blur when I try to remember what happened.  But the upshot is this: With no more words exchanged, or assistance from her, I frantically rolled/carried the whole IV contraption into the bathroom.  With one hand on the IV pole, I used the other hand to yank my pants down as a stream of urine began exiting my body in haste.  Some pee got on the floor, some got on my underwear, and some got in the toilet.  Probably in equal measures.  And I was pissed, literally and figuratively.  And embarassed. (Although I wish I wasn't embarassed, in retrospect.  This incident was the fault of some very poor caregiving, not the fault of a sick patient, about to be operated on.)

To make matters worse, I had to clean up both myself and the bathroom as best as I could, on my own.  The nurse was nowhere to be seen now, and she never did do her tests.  One good thing was I didn't see any pee on my hospital gown.  But there was plenty on my underwear, and I ended up throwing my urine-soaked boxers in the garbage in the bathroom.

Not long after this, the Bad Nurse returned to tell me a room had opened up in the General Surgery department, and I was going to be moved.  At the time, and even now as I reflect on this, I do not think it was a coincidence that I was being moved.  I think the Bad Nurse viewed me as a "Problem Patient" and she was eager to wash her hands of me. 

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This writing above is one chapter from the long form article "3 Days and 2 Nights".
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