Thursday, January 13, 2011

Something for now: Medical Melodrama No. 1

Aaah, my poor famished readers (irony ringing very loudly here – all I can say is, if you’ve bothered coming back here, I’m very humbled) – here’s my first post of 2011.

It was nearly written to pass the time for an overnight stay at the local hospital for a vicious bout of gastroenteritis, which must have been a bacteriological immaculate conception, as everybody else in the household are poster children for a spa resort. It has been my third medical drama in as many weeks. I might as well spread it over three posts, as I’ve just heard I’m being discharged and won’t be rattling off self-indulgent tales on a gurney all night long. If you really must know my progress, my friendly doctor who is – grumble – younger and more handsome than I am – is satisfied I am adequately rehydrated and the normalising salt content in my urine shows that I am handling fluid - if not thoughts - properly…

Boxing Day, instead of being the pleasant nadir of the Christmas gorge, turned out to be a bloody comedy of errors when I bashed my forehead against the edge of our bedroom. What I remember most about the moment my skin split open was not the pain or the blood but the protean rage I wanted to direct at the door, making it and every cheaply-varnished, badly-planed wood fibre of its being feel sorry for ever being the ugly eyesore that I’ve been meaning to rip out and replace with a proper Orgeon facsimile for months – as if it really were the doors fault. I pictured the infamous scene in Fargo with the wood-chipper and – ok, chipping an item of wood with a wood-chipper – not as funny as I intended.

Whatever reflexes that were suppressed, thank God for those neural tracts described as “descending inhibitory pathways”, or, “anti-moron-wiring” as I’d like to call them. My clever wife did the best thing and applied so much pressure (aren’t wives supposed to do that anyway!) with her dressing that by the time we arrived at casualty all the bleeding had stopped.

But oh the drama and idiocy that played out at the local private hospital’s emergency department whose name I won’t mention except to say that it’s in this general area. Ok, it was a public holiday and the doctor working the afternoon shift had cancelled. But here is a summary how the scene played out:

The author enters the waiting room of emergency unit supported by his wife. His head is bandaged, blood is clearly visible around the injured area. The waiting room is empty except for a security guard, a patient being discharged by nursing staff, and a receptionist playing Solitaire on the computer.
RECEPTIONIST:    [not looking up from playing Solitaire]: Yes?
ME: Hello there. I need help. I’ve injured my -

RECEPTIONIST: What medical aid are you on sir? [Wife’s jaw drops open. Author
sighs. ]
ME: It’s a hospital plan, so I’ll pay cash if I’m not admitted. As I was trying to say I’ve lacerated my forehead and I think it will need suturing. I’m feeling a bit dizzy so I’d like to lie…
RECEPTIONIST: It will be a deposit of R1250 plus around R500 for suturing and any other extras. 
ME: [irritated]. Yes that’s fine, could I please be seen to? 
RECEPTIONIST: [shoving forms across desk] Please fill these in. 
WIFE: [furious and shrill] For heaven’s sake! Can he at least lie down? I’ll fill in the forms! I hate to say this, but we’re both doctors and he’s hit his head so I think that’s more important right now!
RECEPTIONIST: [raising eyebrows] Ooh, are you doctors? Very well then. [saunters across room, pokes head in casualty door and mumbles something.] Just be patient sir, someone will help you now. Doctor is just busy.

10 minutes later, author brought inside casualty onto gurney, given tetanus shot and wound cleaned and inspected by nurse.

NURSE: Ooh, it’s quite a deep laceration. 
ME: I had a feeling it would need suturing. 
NURSE: [worried look]. Ooh, no, the doctor here doesn’t put in sutures. 
ME: What do you mean the doctor doesn't put in sutures?
NURSE: Ooh, no, he doesn’t like to do it. We’ll have to call in a plastic surgeon.
ME: [blistering] A plastic surgeon? For a simple head laceration?! 
NURSE: Oooh, yes, we’ve got a very nice plastic surgeon here. I can call him. On the other hand if you don’t want a plastic surgeon, I can glue it, it doesn’t look too deep actually doesn’t it? [pads away at wound] 
ME: [flabbergasted] How would I know? Could a doctor at least see the wound so we can make a decision? [gathering up flair for the melodramatic] I mean, let’s at least make double sure my brains aren’t leaking out! 
NURSE: Ooh, well isn’t your wife a doctor? 
ME: [slightly confused] Um, yes? 
NURSE: Well why don’t I call her inside and let her decide. Maybe she can suture you?

Ten more minutes pass by while author is given tetanus shot, but left speechless wondering about the fate of poor patients who are not medical professionals. Too stiff upper lip to walk out and go to other hospital, he and wife get plastic surgeon on phone.

WIFE: Dr S says he’ll happily come through and suture you up. 
ME: [placated]. Ok.

Casualty doctor waddles in from behind curtain. A small, bronzed creature, resembling a spray-tanned trilobite in a white coat. He speaks without punctuation
CASUALTY DOC: Hi hi hi hi I see you’ve gone and bashed your head open let’s  have a [cell phone rings] oh hello there good to hear from you [wanders off behind curtain babbling on phone]
WIFE: [flabbergasted] What the f-? Thank God the plastics guy is coming to fix you. 
ME: I know. How rude.
RECEPTIONIST: [from behind curtain] Excuse me sir, but what did you last have to eat and what time was that? 
ME: Huh? I had a burger and chips two hours ago and – wait a minute – what the hell? I don’t need to be starved for sutures under local! 
RECEPTIONIST: [nonplussed] Ooh, no sir, the anaesthetist will have to see you, and if you ate now, you can only be done after 10 pm. 
ME [indignant] Why the hell do I need a general for a few stitches? I am an anaesthetist myself! 
NURSE: [helpfully] Ooh, the plastic surgeons don’t like doing their cases under local, you see. 
ME: Get me out of here!

This is, alas, not fiction! Needless to say, we stormed out of that particular casualty and headed for a hospital at a more southern latitude in the Cape Town suburbs. However, a mutual decision was made to first go home again,  let the wife do her hair and then meet a friend for drinks at their favourite spot.


Later, the same evening, at a bistro in Constantia with close friend. Author looking much better, wound neatly sutured (total turnaround time at hospital no 2 less than 45 minutes, despite it being very busy) and clearly enjoying himself.

WIFE: Well, baby, that was stupid now, wasn’t it. 
ME: [sipping wine, munching pizza) I know. I should have looked when I got up.
WIFE: No, you idiot! How the hell am I going to know if your consciousness drops because of the head injury or because of the combination of alcohol and painkillers? Oh God, I’m becoming such a Southern Suburbs housewife…

I’ll continue with my next medical soap opera in a while, studies permitting. It’s been great having these few hours without an excuse to study for the looming Part 2 exams since I’m still recovering.

Peace to you all and may 2011 bring you blessings, peace and abundance.