This hospital bed would be comfortable under different circumstances – maybe in my bedroom, watching television; or, maybe in a Las Vegas hotel room, overlooking the Strip; or, even parked in my office, in front of my computer, next to the phone. But, here I am on the fifth floor, in the cardiac unit of a hospital, staring at the stained ceiling tiles, listening to squeaky I.V. racks and E.K.G. monitors roll up and down the hall, reminding me of my own monitors, stuck in my arms, adhered to my chest. And, I just want to go home, and to work, back to normality, my own schedule, and family, and security. But, here I am on the fifth floor, in the cardiac unit of a hospital, staring at the stained ceiling tiles, wondering how they became stained – maybe a leaky water pipe overhead, servicing the sixth floor?
There’s a knock on the door of my private room, and I wonder if it’s good news or bad, maybe it’s solid food or more blood-thinning shots in my stomach?
“Come in,” I say.
“Mr. Smith,” the on-call doctor, Madeira, says in the most graveled voice I’ve ever heard, walking in with his clipboard, wearing a yellow tattersall oxford shirt that I recognize from L.L. Bean’s fall line some years ago, a shirt that I almost bought during my first semester working at the college, but couldn’t afford. “How are you?”
“I’ve been better,” I say, rolling over slightly, toward where he is on my left bedside. “How are my test results?”
“For whatever reason, your body isn’t producing enough blood,” he says, placing his clipboard on the counter in my room. “Your red blood cell count is exceptionally low.”
“I know, that’s why I’m here, Doc,” I say. “Delight me with something new.”
“Yes,” he says with a pained smile, as if hardly baring my sarcasm, standing beside my bed, an arms reach away, his hands crossed in front of his khakis slacks like an alter boy.
“What are all of the tests showing?” I ask. “You’ve taken nine vials of blood, performed an angiogram, a colonoscopy, a stress test, and had me drink mud while scanned by some nuclear machine – you must have at least found a button that I swallowed when I was two?”
“Well, yes,” he says again with a smile, glancing down at his shoes. “I’d like to give you blood.”
“Do you know anything more than you did yesterday?” I ask.
“Well, we’re still waiting for more results,” he says, reaching for the pager on his belt. “Excuse me, I need to use your phone.”
He walks around my bed, to the phone on my nightstand, and calls someone, explaining that it’s alright for a given patient to stop therapy. Then, he walks back around my bed, to his previous place, resuming his posture of his hands crossed in front of him.
“OK,” he says with that damn smile. “I’d like to give you blood.”
“We discussed this last night – can you tell me in no uncertain terms that it’s vital that I receive blood?” I ask.
“It’s in your best interest,” he says
“Look, again, unless you can assure me that it’s vital, then I’m not willing to take the risks of receiving blood,” I say.
“OK,” he says, now without the smile, impressing me that I’m a difficult patient. “You also refused your antispasmodic – is that correct?”
“Yes,” I reply.
“And, why is that?” he asks.
“I don’t take antispasmodics,” I reply.
“Why?” he asks.
“I don’t need them,” I reply.
“And, why is that?” he asks.
“I’m comfortable living with myself – I don’t need to alter my body or mind,” I say.
“Have you ever taken medication for your spasms?” he asks.
“As a child, and it made me a doped-up mess,” I say.
“Well, medication has changed in thirty years,” he says. “There are medications that can help you.”
“Help me with what?” I ask.
“Well, I see that you’re amazing adept at living with your condition,” he says, pointing from my bed to my manual chair, having seen me transfer myself last night. “But, medications could make you more comfortable, allow your legs to relax straight, for example.”
“The reason why my legs are pulled up toward my chest like this is because I am comfortable – it’s my body, in its natural state, whether or not it makes you comfortable,” I say.
“But, you take medication for your acid reflux – so you pick and choose your treatments,” he says.
“Acid reflux is a medical issue, my cerebral palsy isn’t,” I reply.
“And, how’s that?” he asks.
“My cerebral palsy is static, it doesn’t get better, or worse, and doesn’t require treatment – it’s like any other permanent physical characteristic, it just is,” I say.
“OK,” he says. “I’ll see you this evening.”
He leaves the room, and I try to relax, taking a deep breath, feeling the pinch of my I.V. sandwiched between my left forearm and thigh. But, then there’s a knock on my door.
“I forgot my clipboard,” the doctor says, walking by my bed, toward the counter.
“Robert, I notice a tracheotomy scar on your throat,” I say, making eye contact. “What’s that story?”
He stops in his tracks, crossing his hands in front of him, paused.
“Yes, when I was thirteen, I had a lung collapse, and removed, and had a trach for nine years,” he explains.
“I appreciate that,” I said.
He nods, picks up his clipboard, and heads for the door.
“So, you understand,” I say.
“No,” he says, glancing back at me, closing the door behind him, leaving me to return to the ceiling tiles.