Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Not-So-Great Escape

You know, it’s odd. Martha’s most quiet, relaxing times at home always coincide with my hospital stays. I can’t prove it, but whenever she’s told I’m being discharged, it seems like all the relaxation drains right out of her and forms a puddle around her sneakers. A metaphorical puddle, of course, except for the time I accidentally knocked my urine bottle on the floor in my haste to get the hell out of bed. Boy, was that ever a mess.

[Ring, ring]

“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.

[Ring, ring]

“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.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I had no idea about the effects of ether on someone with alcohol addiction issues. I can only assume they no longer use ether, as I am sure there are better and safer anaesthetics now.

You sure know how to make an entrance. Not so much an exit though.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Good thing you didn't see the keys to the ambulance sitting there in the ignition... a sufficiently harrowing story at that.

Diane said...

You crack me up with your stories. Seriously, Charlie, I hope you are doing well, and that Martha is a caring nurse to you :)

TechnoBabe said...

I think Martha is a saint and I like the "zoom by". Smile. You can probably laugh at the story now, can't you? Writing with humor helps I think. I hope you and Martha have a wonderful Easter.

Pat said...

Golly Charlie you really have had an eventful life. I hope it didn't set you back on your drying out programme. One hopes the medics are now aware of this awful side effect and can use stuff other than ether?
I think Martha rocks.

Wandering Coyote said...

Well, that is one great hospital story, Charlie. I can only top it by my incidents with the flasher who kept bringing his little friend out at meal times and at the nursing station every so often...Now I find it humourous, but quite frankly the last thing one wants to see on a prolonged stay on a psychiatric ward is a penis popping up at you all the time. I have no escape stories of my own, though I did witness a few attempts...

Charlie said...

BARB: I don't know if there are alternative anesthetics or not. The idea is to depress the central nervous system, and ether uses the same cell receptors as alcohol.

Ponita might know if she comes around.

ROBERT: I surely wouldn't have been the first totally-drunk driver. And in my drinking days, I drove drunk every day. I was truly a menace, and I'm still haunted by the carnage I could have caused.

DIANE: Martha is a wonderful nurse, despite the fact that I am annoying.

Charlie said...

BABE: Or cupcake, if you prefer. You're right, we do laugh at that story now—Martha especially enjoys it, and she urged me to write this post.

PAT: No, that incident did not set me back—I did not start drinking again, and I'm coming up on 22 years of sobriety. I have absolutely no desire or cravings to drink.

Alcoholism has always been a mystery to the medical community, and it pretty much still is.

And you're right: Martha rocks.

WC: You had to make me LOL, didn't you.

I often wonder why they commingle men and women in psych hospitals. Someone should have given the weenie wagger a good hard pull--that may have slowed him down a bit. The thing of it is (a pun!) is nobody wanted to touch it without wearing a Hazmat suit.

Fay's Too said...

I just keep learning more about you! I have a feeling that Martha is actually a teeny bit nicer than you paint her.
I had ether (Happy Ether, by the way) when I was 3 and 4 or maybe 4 and 5. I can't remember exactly, because I was totally psychotic. I had eye surgery and the ether made me not only sick, sick, sick, sick, but nutty. I remember the orange and black Twilite Zone tunnel that they make me float thru while it just kept spinning faster and faster. . . . yuck. I'm pretty sure I wasn't an alcoholic at that tender age.
Now, my recommendation is to stay out of the hospital. Just be well. I'm sure you hadn't thought of that one.

Stinkypaw said...

Interesting fact about ether, I didn't know that. I'll go to bed smarter tonight, thanks to you!

I believe Martha is your guarding angel or something, that or the woman is freakingly patient... ;-)

Murr Brewster said...

What a rotten shame that you got a good ether drunk on, and were out cold at the time. When you COULD have gotten a real drunk on, and totally blacked it out afterwards.

Wait a minute.

Meg said...

Goodness, Charlie. You've had some experiences. That's crazy that no one stopped you on the way out.

Charlie said...

FAY: You learn about me because I'm so transparent you can see straight through me.

I remember that same exact twirling (and buzzing) when I had my tonsils out at 5. No, we weren't smashed.

And Martha is nice, unless I'm annoying her.

STINKY: Martha is ultra-freakingly patient—the old word is "long suffering" (two words, actually).

MURR: You're right: I wasted a pefectly good drunk, and I had a note from the doctor authorizing it.

Wait a minute.

MEG: One of the Fife boys should have stopped me, but they probably had doughnuts in the office.

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

My grandma was kicked out of two hospitals.. I am not sure she just really didn't want to come home and was faking it, since when she got home she was just fine... lol

Kevin Musgrove said...

Ether. Oh yes. The downer's a horror. Bad luck on having that reaction.

If you behaved yourself when you are recuperating Martha would get really worried. You know your duty. (-;

Tiffin said...

Well no day goes without light: I didn't know that about ether either. I don't think they use ether any more, it's all intravenous stuff and you are gone in an instant.

WC, that happened to a friend of mine in the psych ward at the hospital too. She fixed him with a Gorgon glare and told him "oh put that stupid thing away". He did.

Wandering Coyote said...

@ Tiffin: LOL! This guy was so out of it he wouldn't have gotten any of that!

kara said...

you wouldn't have gotten past me. the macy's back would've been the tell. you're just not the type.

Charlie said...

SHELLIE: Who in the world would fake it to stay in the hospital?

Oh. I forgot. Your grandma.

KEVIN: If I wasn't a pain in the ass while recuperating Martha would think I'm sick.

One has to be quite creative to maintain a high-level of annoyance.

TUI: Given that you've been in the hospital a few times, you probably know best about anesthetics.

And carry on your discussion with WC about "Weenie Waggers We Have Known."

KARA: I have no choice in the luggage I carry because Martha is the shopper. She cares not a whit about my image, and one time handed me a Victoria's Secret shopping bag.

I know I'm setting myself up here, but what "type" am I? Walmart? Target? Dumpster?

laytonwoman3rd said...

I really have nothing to add to this hilarious discussion, except that my verification word is "shlut"...shounds like a drunk ish inshulting me...

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

Charlie -
No, grandma faked insanity and rudeness to get out of the hospital...

She wheeled up and down the halls taking her clothes off and abusing the nurses.

Alice said...

See, that's what my family needs...some good hospital stories. The closest we come is my brother insisting he broke his cervix. (AKA: clavical - sp?)

Charlie said...

LINDA: You don't have to add anything—it's just nice to know you stopped by to see me.

And I shirley know you're not a shlut.

SHELLIE: LOL. I obviously misinterpreted your first comment. What a mind-picture: Gradma doing a striptease in a wheelchair! No wonder she got kicked out.

ALICE: LOL at yours, too. Medical science might be vewy, vewy interested in his cervix.