Recently, I spent six days in the hospital. It all started with stomach pain in the emergency room and quickly turned into pancreatitis. (This is a condition where your pancreas packs its bags, waves goodbye, turns cannibal and uses its own enzymes to devour itself.) If you’ve never experienced pancreatitis, my advice is… don’t. And if you want to know what it feels like, have a baby. And if you want to know what that feels like, well, go impale yourself, all the while breathing regularly and making comments about how beautiful the process is.
Suffice to say, by the time they admitted me, I was doubled over, my heart rate was sky high, and I’m pretty sure sweat was dripping off my face. That’s when a nurse said, “Have I admitted you before?”
Me (grunting): “No.”
Her: “Are you sure? You look very familiar.”
Me (grunting): “I’m sure I’d remember being admitted before.”
Her (revelation hitting): “Oh, I know how I know you! You write for The Tribune.”
This was an unfortunate time to be recognized, since I’m sure I looked like a grunting pile of sweaty goo, and there’s a good chance my hands were frozen in two permanent birds. (That said, love you, Trib readers!)
My stay didn’t start out smoothly. I was in my room for less than an hour when a friend, in an effort to adjust the room temperature, accidentally pulled the lever that called a code blue, which indicates that a patient is in cardiac arrest, and the entire hospital staff is supposed to rush in to save the day.
We apologized profusely, and we were lucky that they actually took the time to show us morons where the thermostat was. No offense to my friend, but I have to say: The thermostat looked like a thermostat, and the code blue lever definitely looked like something we shouldn’t touch.
For the next few days, I was not allowed to eat or drink anything. My mouth was like the Sahara Desert, except drier. At the same time, they were pumping me full of fluid. This led to an incredible swelling of my body and my face. One friend said it was like looking at Jabba the Hutt wearing a blond wig. She said my double chin was only being held up by my ginormous stomach. I love her dearly.
On the third day, they said I could have some ice chips. I got a large cup of ice chips and proceeded to shovel them into my mouth with a spoon. I quickly asked for more, and the nurse (we’ll call him Fred) said, “You already went through all those ice chips?”
Me: “Yes, I was hungry.”
Fred: “Ice chips are to be used to wet your mouth and melt slowly.”
Me: “Perhaps you should’ve been more specific in your instructions.”
That’s when I lost ice chip privileges.
By day four, my IV was a little bit of a mess. I asked the nurses to redress it, but they were wary about disrupting a very good IV and vein. I begged them to redress it. They did, carefully maneuvering around the needle and the tubing. The second they were done, I thanked them, and then reached down to grab my phone. My tube got caught on the bed lever and when I turned back, my brand new IV popped out, blood and fluid rushing everywhere.
I apologized again as they put a new IV in my other arm.
By day five, there was a new concern. To put it politely, my digestive tract wasn’t doing its business. This was due to the pain medication. So, the doc gave me something that would hopefully jumpstart my system.
I had made friends with the staff, and at one point the housekeeper (we’ll call her Stella) was in my room lamenting about her ex-husband. We were really getting into a deep conversation about midlife crises when my intestines raised their hands and said: “Hey, remember us? The strike is over. We’re ready to work again.”
But Stella was in the middle of some soul-searching information.
I tried to tell my intestines to take five, but they weren’t having it. So I interrupted Stella by pointing to my stomach and exclaiming, “Thundercats are a go!!”
By day six, my pain was under control, I was back on solid food, I was off my IV pain meds, and it was time for me to click my heels and go home. I wouldn’t say I was anxious, but I was unhooked, dressed and made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
In a way, I’ll miss the third floor, and the awesome day nurses and the unflappable night nurses and the observant doctors and the gift shop operator who always asked me if I had staged a jailbreak every time I visited her in my hospital garb, towing my IV machine.
But Stella, I think I’ll miss you most of all.
And I hope to never see any of you ever again. Needless to say, I’m sure the feeling is mutual.
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.