“Hello, Mrs. Callahan?”
‘This is the hospital. Charles is being discharged today and you need to pick him up.”
“Uh, what’s the latest time I can pick him up before you charge another two grand for room rent?”
“Four o’clock this afternoon.”
“Good. Have him at the front door at 3:58 and I’ll zoom by and get him. I’ve got important crap to do today.”
Sometimes I wonder if I annoy Martha when I’m recuperating at home.
* * * * *
Home. That’s exactly where I was going the night I was convinced the nurses (or doctors) were attempting to murder me by exchanging my IV drip bags with IV bags full of poison.
This, I swear, is a true story. It was April 1998, and the first operation in my life. I won’t go into specifics, other than I sport an eight-inch scar from my stomach to my pubic bone. Luckily, the lawn grew back.
What happened was I had a very bad reaction to the anesthetic. I was ten years sober at the time, but ether is one tiny molecule away from alcohol. Time makes no difference to an alcoholic: snort ether for a couple hours and you have a full-blown drunk again.
My “bad reaction” was auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia, and blackouts—I have no memory of visitors or much of anything else. (No memory of the food was a good thing.) I heard the nurses (or doctors) changing my drip bags and, paranoiac that I was, I knew there was poison in them. I had to get out of there, our house was exactly two miles south on the same street, and I was going to walk there to Martha.
I put my stuff, including my street clothes, into my luggage—a big Macy’s shopping bag—and headed for the door in my own pajamas, robe, and slippers. I didn’t get very far, though, because something stopped me short. The drips, the ones that were causing my fear, were still connected to my neck! It was some sort of modular IV (obviously Y-compatible), and I pulled the toxic lines out of the module. No blood spurted out, so I was free to flee.
Right around the corner from my room were two elevators used for transporting patients. I got on one, pushed the button for “ground,”, and got out in a small vestibule with a crash bar—it was an emergency exit. Well I had an emergency, and I crashed right through it.
If there is any humor in this long saga, this is it. I could see the street that would pass my house on my left, but my feet turned right. I was half-dead man shuffling, walking deeper into the prison complex rather than away from it. I was a bit confused, you see. There were cars passing me on the driveway I was following and one stopped. It was a nurse coming on shift, and I remember the stunned look on her face. She checked my wristband, said, “Yeah, you’re one of ours,” helped me into the building, and plopped me down in a wheelchair.
In the women’s OB unit, “The Birthing Place” or whatever they called it. At the crack of dawn, the place was doing more business than Starbucks. And there I sat among them with my luggage on my lap, unshaved, and hair that I’d combed with a Mixmaster. I was drifting in and out of real time and I remember thinking, “What are all these fat women doing in my room?”
A nurse from the unit came to get me, along with a security guard—one of Barney Fife’s many cousins because he just stood there and watched me assault her: I pushed her away three times, hard, because I was scared to death to go back. How they got me up there I don’t know.
“Hello, Mrs. Callahan?”
“This is the hospital. There’s been an incident with Charles.”
“What has that idiot done NOW? He’s already broken two tray tables, worn out the motor on his bed, unplugged everything, beat a machine that wouldn’t stop beeping—“
“—I’m afraid it’s more serious than that this time. You need to come over as soon as possible.”
To say that Martha was annoyed is an understatement. And righteously so. Why wasn’t a Fife patrolling the grounds? Why didn’t a Fife respond to the opening of a crash door? Why didn’t Fife stop me from pushing that poor nurse, whom I apologized to fifty times? I never got an answer from the Head Hospital Guy after I detailed all this in a letter to him, so I let it go.
* * * * *
The bad reaction to ether was confirmed when I talked to the Head at a detox unit at another hospital. She’d been detoxing drunks for thirty years and she said, “The hallucinations and paranoia didn’t start for a couple days after surgery, did they.” “No,” I replied. “It’s rare, but you had the DTs (delirium tremens)—you were drunk, and then you went into cold turkey withdrawal.”
So I’m a rare bird, which we all know, but I’m also the worst Charlie Houdini on the planet.