To a Friend
About to Enter Hospital
For Major Surgery for
The First Time
You too have to be an operator when you are being operated on ... devious, even. I've had four stays in the hospital this last summer, so I am now an expert.

Demand pain killers. Demand them. When my bladder went out to lunch (the feel of a bladder on strike is unique in the agony world) I demanded strong medicine. I was offered morphine and took it and was subsequently able to enjoy some of the finest journeys to Renaissance France in the history of time travel. We went to war, held courtly dances, visited luxurious flag-draped receptions, the nurses and I. Do not miss the show. It's something you and I wouldn't probably do if we were out in the world, but the hospital has its own strange rules, and if you want to have a night or two of bliss, perhaps for the first and last time in your life, they'll let you do it. They will allow you few other pleasures ... but this is now one that the modern American hospital can and will permit.

If you can dig up a laptop, it can be a life-saver in this wheeled and sterile environment. All the hospitals have wifi, but usually only for low level activities. Maybe yours has a higher level. The Internet BBC3 is a must, especially with their all night six-hour shot of elegant musics. And YouTube has more Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Chamber music than you can shake a stick at. Jordi Savall is a major miner of ancient musics here, and, along with your morphine, may keep you in peace while they are committing unspeakable acts with drill, hacksaw and jackhammer in the deep recesses of your inner plumbing.

If you have to have a roommate beg for one who is deaf, dumb and blind. In my ultimate visit, they put me in the room with an old alky who wheezed and mumbled far more than he should have, more than this old alky (me!) ever did. I somehow convinced the nurse (at 3 am) that I would die rather than share space with such a rumbly old beast, and somehow she found me a spare single room.

Visitors drain a lot of your time and demand that you entertain them. I gently but firmly refused all visitors until the very last night when two of my best friends appeared and magically bailed me out. The price I had to pay for it was a bit high: since the nursing staff was convinced I would not be able to pee on my own --- pissers often go on strike after they have been gang-banged by a Foley Catheter for more than a day --- the nurse insisted that the two of them attend a class on how to catheterize me. My first time in strip tease!

Me (and my little playmate) were in full attendance, although he was a little bewildered because of all the ministrations that has been made on his behalf (I had been admitted with severe bleeding of the prostate) during my time there. The nurse was professional and when she grabbed him I neither screamed nor sighed. If you have ever been hooked up to a Foley, you will understand why.

My friends got to see me in the buff, ready for the onslaught of (what looked to be) another garden hose. That's what friends are for, I told them. Poor old Dobbin secretly promised me that when we arrived home again, he would do what he is supposed to do henceforth forever more without hesitation until death do us part.

Each hospital has a troll who erupts from the sub-basement to do strange things to you, or to make you do strange things, at strange hours. In hospital number one he emerged from the "Speech" Department ... but not teach me how to speak. He sat at my bedside and had me eat a cracker, a bit of cheese, and a cookie. Evidently I ate all wrong, because they only food they would give me over the next few days was --- for breakfast --- canned grapefruit, canned pineapple, and canned pear. Lunch was rice and three-day-old lettuce. I swear. One supper was a half of an old wrinkled English muffin and cottage cheese left over from the Crimean War.

Evidently it was determined that if I ate something normal I would choke to death and sue the hospital. I suggested to the Charge Nurse that they were trying to drive me out (or nuts) by starvation, and if the situation didn't change, I was a goner. No matter how many calls I made to see if I could get Speech to reverse the Canned Fruit Manifesto, I was unsuccessful: he was hidden under the troll-bridge there in the basement, unavailable for further communication. The only reason I survived long enough to escape was by having a two friend smuggle in a huge fat, rich, juicy turkey sandwich on rye toast which I hid under the covers to nibble on when no one was looking.

There was one other troll working on my case. He appeared late the third night. While I was awaiting my two deliverers, Troll Two appeared at my bedside, perched his belly on the side of my bed, and thrust a inhaler at me and told me that I should suck on it. I pointed out to him that I had come into the hospital on this particular visit to addressing areas below the belly-button, not above, and he was apparently looking at orders from last month's pneumonia.

He wasn't interested in my excuses and delivered a directive which took me back to my first years on the wards sixty years ago. "Look," he said, "you're in the hospital now. We make the rules here, you don't. The orders are that you are going to use this now." I hoped that if I blinked my eyes, he would disappear ... like all trolls must, like those pushy nurses and trusties from fifty years ago when they ran hospitals like prisons and no one was ever to permitted to say "no" to anything. No soap.

I trust you know you are not in the hospital to rest. They'll be on your case day and night, at least every two hours. Taking blood, looking in your ears, in your mouth, taking your pulse, sticking needles in awkward places, sticking awkward devices in your mouth or in other private places, coupling you to noisy wired beeping electronic machines and turning on bright lights just when you've managed to settle in. They own you and all your organs for the time you are under their insistent care. Just pray that you have better trolls than I did. And remember that you can always say no.

That's the big change, I guess. For instance, since I have a stent, there are standing orders to stick a needle-full of Plavix in my gut every six hours. But as they are preparing to do this, pulling up my smock, I tell them "No." I don't do blood-thinners, I explain, since they contain the exact same chemicals as rat poison. The nurses shake their heads, knowing I am going to get a blood clot and up and die and besmirch the name of their good hospital. But I defy them; you can do the same.

Recovery, as you know, can be slow (and a pain), for we've lived in charmed times. We are not permitted to grow old in stately and dignified fashion as our parents did, and we were not required to pop off so suddenly ... as they often did. We get the full treatment now: being an up-to-date society that is set up to keep us alive as long as possible. We will live on and on and on in bodies that can be truly and disgustedly fed up with living, supported by an astounding band of doctors and nurses and hospitals and blinking machines and scanners and support systems that are determined to keep us going on damn near forever, if not, indeed, forever.

--- C. A. Amantea
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