I just want to call my friend, and ask her if she really visited me in the hospital last week, or was it just dream, a hallucination from the medication I was on as a team of cardiac specialists inserted catheters into four veins through my stubbly groin to reach my heart without cutting open my chest and splitting my ribs apart. The reason I wondered, was because I became unconscious partially through the procedure and don’t remember waking up. In fact I kinda like the idea of it all being a dream. It would be a nice dream for a change.
On the drive into the hospital Last Tuesday morning with my ex, she’s my friend too, I suddenly recalled the dream I had the previous night and shared it with her. I was holding my brain in my hands, it was the size of Tuscan cantaloupe, wrapped in some sort of greenish-gray fabric and I wasn’t concerned or worried at all. I just waited patiently for someone to put it back it in. I don’t remember the rest of the dream and I didn’t fall back to sleep.
During the procedure I was awake long enough for them to trigger my heart into tachycardia and begin the ablation process; a procedure that would destroy small portions of my heart that were creating abnormal electrical signals, thus causing arrhythmia. This was my last memory. The surreal sensation of tiny instruments inside my body burning my heart was too much to take. The technician, the one from Millinocket and who wore her blond hair in a ponytail, was in charge of my pain meds and muscle relaxants. She must have noticed my discomfort as my restrained body twitched and I gasped. “We’re going to make you a little more comfortable Gia”, were the last words I heard before falling into a pharmaceutical sleep.
Hours later, I was returned to the recovery room, and in my foggy state was greeted by a ghost from my past. An angel with the face of a friend from high school was sitting in my hospital room chair. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Over the past few months we’ve become reacquainted through emails and Facebook, and earlier that week she volunteered to drive to Maine to visit me in the hospital and drive me home if necessary. And while it was a very kind gesture, I was going to pass on her offer; it was too much to ask. But then it occurred to me, I really would appreciate the help and I would love to see her in person, “see some old friends, good for the soul,” isn’t that how the song goes? So I called on Monday and hearing her, instantly reminded me why I called. And even though thirty years had passed, it was still her, alive, honest, and compassionate. There was something reassuring in her voice and I asked for help. So seeing her in my hospital room, while startling, was very comforting indeed. I hope I called my mother and my ex to let them know I was okay, but I don’t remember.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t going home, at least not that night. The procedure was slightly more complicated than expected. The discovery of a birth defect, forty-seven years later, known as Wolf-Parkinson-White Syndrome, had made accessing the errant electrical paths more challenging, in fact a needle had to be passed through my heart to the opposite side to do the ablation. So, being late in the day, I was going spend the night for observation, just to be sure I was okay. It was good thing; I certainly wasn’t in any condition to be traveling, or even walk to the bathroom. I offered my house to my visiting friend, but she passed and decided to drive the two -plus hours back to Massachusetts to be with her man. I understood. Before she left, she said she’d be back in the morning to help me home. Again, “I was like, don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine.” That didn’t get much traction. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” And with that she was gone. Maybe she was a ghost, you know, like George Clooney’s character in Gravity; just giving me enough hope to believe.
I was transferred to the seventh floor. The night crew wasn’t on duty yet, so I had an hour or so to meet the day shift of nurses. Around 6:30 I pleaded to go to the bathroom, it had been at least seven or eight hours and I didn’t want to use the plastic bedpan. I was supposed to be off my feet until 7, but he understanding nurse acquiesced to my request and I shuffled to the bathroom holding my IV in one hand and the back of my Johnny in the other. That was a relief. As I returned to my bed I noticed the nurse going through my white and pink LL Bean book bag, the one I got as a farewell gift when my position was cut at the high school I had been teaching at for nine years. “Ms Drew” was stitched on the outside. “Hey lady, why don’t you put on some panties if you’re going to be walking around,” the nurse said, handing me my pink and gray striped undies with a smile.
“By the way, I also work at a plastic surgery clinic. Have you thought about getting your breasts done, you’ve got some pretty nice ones already, and your nipples are great?” I had, but her comfort with talking about my body made me blush. Two other nurses had entered the room and joined the conversation. “Don’t mind her, she doesn’t understand boundaries.” That was obvious, but it was nice to be appreciated and seen for who I was, and it was a welcome distraction from my heart. Yes she crossed a line, but I was vulnerable and took it as a compliment.
She asked to borrow my notebook and she wrote the names and phone numbers of two physicians if I was interested.
After a forgettable dinner, was that chicken? and attempt to watch the news; I nodded off to sleep in my adjustable bed. While I was raised in a family of nine, with plenty of noise and a severe lack of privacy, that was decades ago, and I’ve grown to appreciate the silent solitude of sleeping in peace and quiet. It’s probably why I’ve lived in the county for the past twelve years. No city lights or city noise. It’s just me and a few critters, and the occasional pack of coyotes crying into the night. But my slumber didn’t last. The IV needle in my left arm was a nuisance and became painful as I bent my elbow in an attempt to clutch the pillow. Awake, asleep, awake, became the pattern through the night. The sound of alarms and monitors beeping was punctuated with the sudden flap of nurse’s sneakers running down linoleum-floored hallway to help patients get back in bed or reattach wires and IVs. I was even paid a visit as one of my heart monitors detached as I squirmed through the night.
The wrenching sounds of construction, power saws cutting through metal and hammers clanging, were certainly an inhospitable greeting to the next morning. Steel I-beams floated in space out my window as workers pirouetted fifty feet above the ground focusing on their task at hand, seemingly oblivious to their recovering and convalescing neighbors. Desperate, I gave the food a second chance and ordered breakfast. Were those eggs? Vital signs and my morning meds were accompanied by a text from my friend. She was stuck in traffic, but was headed my way to rescue me from my tower. I’m a princess, if you haven’t noticed. The eager cardiac nurse practitioner with her bright teeth and sparkling white robe reviewed my procedure and let me know the Doc had formalized my discharge. I was going home.
Before I had the opportunity to give the food a third chance, a visitor greeted me at my window, rappelling down from the roof. Was this a well-planned escape? Alas it wasn’t, he was just the window washer. While his visit was unexpected, he was interesting to watch and I wondered if he could see me lying in bed with my flowered Johnny. With my glass clean he moved on. Suddenly a familiar face appeared around the privacy curtain, a welcome smile and hello made my morning brighter. With my discharge papers in hand and a change of clothes we quietly made our escape from the seventh floor to the parking lot and the waiting getaway car, a smelly red Jetta on loan from my friend’s teenage daughter. Lunch awaited us.
A bowl of Pho and hot tea was what I needed and I convinced my friend to order chow foon, just so I could have a taste of fried noodles. I told you I was a princess. Lunch ended quickly and we headed the 30 miles south to my house. I needed a shower. Clean and feeling somewhat refreshed, I curled up on the couch next my friend. It was comforting not to be alone. We talked, filling in the some of the blanks from many years apart, but ended up chatting about our complicated and wounded souls, not as teenagers, but as adults. The afternoon evaporated, and with a warm embrace, my friend was gone.