As I sat in the empty waiting room on April 11, I shot this over my shoulder. You can see one of the first line of outposts, there to keep people with the virus out. Or so I assume. To that person’s left is a table, with another person seated at it.
Actually, I thought I was plunging head-first into the mysterious, much feared land of COVID-19. A day after the weirdness had started, I decided that I felt “off” enough that maybe I had it. There was no fever, and no dry cough or any of that. But my taste and smell (which are the same sense, of course) weren’t all they should be, so maybe I had it. And I just didn’t feel right. Anyway, my kids were insisting, from across town, that I go in to be checked. And, as I said before, my primary care doc sided with them when I reached him that Saturday (the 11th, for those keeping score).
So I went in, thinking this would give me something interesting to write about. And things were different from the start. First, some people were camped out about 20 ft. from the entrance to the Emergency Room at Lexington Medical Center (see above). Like they were the expendable ones, there to make sure no one with the bug actually came in. I talked my way past them, before my wife went back to wait in the car. Inside, there were more people with masks on greeting me as soon as I went in. After a brief time with the triage nurse beyond the wall, I was sent back out to sit in the waiting area — alone. The pic below proves my tale.
Eventually, I was shown into the ER proper, and given a room. I knew I would be there for several hours, whatever happened. I’d been through this routine with others. Oddly, they didn’t test me for the virus. From the start, they were only interested in a symptom that I barely mentioned, because it was so odd to tell anyone about — the fact that I couldn’t look down. I could look at things at eye level, but my muscles simply could not make my eyes turn downward. My eyes would quiver with the effort, but I couldn’t do it. If I HAD to look at something lower down, my brain had to work it out again each time — I had to press my chin to my chest and look under the thing, then allow my eyes to drift upward. Which seemed like a lot of work, each time. Hardly worth it. I only bothered to do it a couple of times.
That’s what interested them. That’s why they did the CT scan, which produced nothing. I knew that if the CT produced nothing (and I wasn’t curious enough to ask what “something” might be), I’d have to get an MRI. Knew I’d be there that long. Anyway, about three or four hours into the ordeal, perhaps a bit more, the doctor in charge came to see me for the first time since the very beginning. I realized later that she was very conscious of having to break bad news to me, although it didn’t strike me at the time. She got right next to me and leaned in on the railing that kept me from falling out to that side. We were friends now. She was really close when she told me I’d had a stroke.
The news didn’t really register. All I noticed was that, instead of letting me go, she was telling me I’d have to stay at least overnight. I asked a question or two about the stroke thing, as it seemed the thing to do (you mean a TIA? No, a real stroke; it’s definite — we can see it), but I don’t think if fully registered on me until I saw how others reacted to the news on social media. (People there were all like, “You had a what…?”)
So I asked whether they were going to, at the very least, test me for coronavirus since that’s what I’d come for — and she said, well, no. And she explained: Sure, they could test me, but here was the thing: If they tested me, they’d have to treat me differently. Completely differently. I’d get moved to another part of the hospital where everyone either had the virus, or was assumed to have it. As opposed to being in the normal part of the hospital on a floor with stroke patients, where everyone would assume I didn’t have it. Which would be better for me.
I agreed that would be better. But I didn’t let go of the idea. I asked if I could get a test whenever I left. She said sure, whatever.
Two days later, when I was finally about to go, I asked someone else for my test. He looked at me like I was nuts. They had been observing me and monitoring all my vital signs for three days. They knew I didn’t have it — or at least, that I wasn’t exhibiting symptoms. Which means they knew more about me than about 99.99 percent of the population. I thought it would be cool to know even more, but I took his point. I never got the test.
So, for three days (counting the ER day), I was in a place where officially, no one had the coronavirus, and no one was concerned about it.
Which was nice, I realized later.
Returning home a week ago today, I was sort of startled to notice that everyone was still going on about the virus. When I read my several newspapers each morning, it was all the same stories I’d been reading since I quit going to work back in March. You know the stories — about Trump’s lie-filled daily briefings, about how hard it was for certain people (not me) to deal with the tedium of isolation, what to binge-watch, yadda-yadda.
Now, those stories seem even more boring than they did before. Now, I have had a stroke, which is officially more interesting than not having a virus! That has had little effect on me, but it has had this effect: I’m no longer tolerant of the boring coronavirus stories. Does this mean I’m anxious to get out there and do something? No, far from it. I want to do nothing, each day. I’ve given in to the fact that for the first time in almost three years, I’ll fail to average more than 10,000 steps a day this month. And once I’d given in to that, I didn’t care to do anything else.
I do some work each day. There’s enough for me to do, and I know I’m lucky to have the work, so I feel I must justify myself to that extent. But I feel no urge to exercise, or to post on my blog, or to do anything, really. I’m reading a couple of books. I had recently watched, again, “In Harm’s Way” — the 1965 John Wayne picture, not one of the many, many other things with that title. Curious about the overuse of the title, I found that I could download the novel the film was based on for free from Kindle. So I’ve been reading that. Slowly. I’ve also been reading a novel I had put on my wish list years ago — I think I had read a favorable review in The Wall Street Journal when it was first published — and received as a gift sometime during the past year. It’s set in Spain in the 16th century, when ex-Moors who had been forced to “convert” to Christianity were still called “moriscos” — and mistrusted by the Old Christians. The protagonist is a judge/prosecutor investigating a series of deaths in rural Aragon. It’s pretty interesting — more so than the one about the Navy in 1941 — but nothing really grabs my interest right now.
Someone called asking me to do something for work, so I’m going to stop and go do that. Be back soon…
OK, done with that — huff, puff, etc. Back now, and thinking I should say something about how fortunate I am. I mean, I have had a stroke, and that means I’ve survived something that could have been a whole lot worse than it was — especially since it was bilateral. I haven’t seen the actual MRI yet, but I’m told that is remarkable. And yet, I have nothing to show but a symptom that’s been almost completely gone since the morning of Sunday the 12th (I say “almost” because occasionally my eyes refuse to focus on something low in my field of vision). That, and the fact that my desire to do anything, even something that will burn basically zero calories, is gone. I want to rest all the time, even though I’ve done nothing to tire myself. The last few days, I’ve taken a walk each afternoon that gets in between three and four thousand steps, and that’s it.
In fact, it’s time to do that, so I’ll be back in awhile…
That walk around my large block — just under a mile — is done, but I’m not moved to tell you about it. My capacity for rest is in fact the only remotely interesting thing about me in this particular state of being…
I’ve possessed this gift since Sunday the 12th. I was awakened in the hospital by the arrival of food from my wife. The night before, the hospitalist hadn’t decided I was staying until late, and there was nothing available from the mess hall that I could eat, so my wife brought something to the sentries outside, and it got relayed in to me. This pattern continued with my move to the 8th floor. The staff seemed even to welcome it. They looked at what she’d sent Sunday morning and announced that there was enough for two meals, and that they would be happy to refrigerate the large serving of soup until lunchtime. I concurred, and ate my breakfast. Then I prepared to watch Easter Sunday Mass in Spanish on Facebook. That is, I sat the iPad on my lap and put the earbuds in my ears, and slept sitting up. (I would later be told that sometime around this time they ran tests on my carotid artery, but I have no memory of that).
Then, I caught a ride downstairs to get a very closely detailed scan of my heart — essentially the background for an even more-detailed look from another camera stuck down my throat the next morning (by this time my staying another day was meekly accepted) — after which I went back to sleep, then ate my soup, then took another nap. That’s the way I remember it, anyway.
I say I was in a place where no one cared about the coronavirus. It wasn’t ignored completely. The people doing all these tests wore masks. But it seemed so routine by this time. I was living in a land consisting almost entirely of young women, and they all seemed terribly attractive in part because of their faces being covered. I’d wonder if their faces were as beautiful as the rest of them, and decided again and again that they most likely were. I was, after all, in a magical place.
Anyway, the pattern continued. I again forgot my own mask when taken down for the camera-down-the-throat test. But everyone else wore one, and no one remarked on the fact that I didn’t. The young woman in charge of me was stunning — at least, her brow was and so were her ears, and I’m certain the rest was the same. We decided that even though I technically may be allergic to the anesthesia they were going to use for the test, we wouldn’t worry about it. And it was all fine. We were in the magical place.
After that, and after another nap, it was time to get serious about leaving. I asked each person I met when I could go. At first, it would be after the next doctor who saw me did so. Then, it was decided I’d have to see another doctor after that one — the doctor I’d thought was the last one came back, somewhat breathlessly, to tell me that. Fine. Then someone took out the IV feed I’d had in my left arm ever since the ER. That was removed and I put on my long-sleeved T shirt, and the nurse left and moments later, I realized that the reason why my shirt was warm and wet from my elbow to my wrist was because the IV was bleeding quite liberally and with no sense of propriety. So I strolled down the hall to the charge nurse’s desk and advised her regarding my condition, then strolled back to what would soon be my ex-room. Normally, this would have seemed an emergency. But in this place, we didn’t sweat things. I got the shirt off, she bandaged me a lot tighter, and we decided this sort of thing would happen regularly now that I was taking anti-coagulants every day and would for the rest of my life. A statin, too.
I was told a nurse would have to accompany me to the exit where my wife would pick me up — the opposite end of the hospital, as it turned out. I walked all the way — the nurse asked me if I wanted a wheelchair, but I said no. It would be several days before I got that much exercise again.
After I got home, I took another nap, I think. And ever since then, I’ve slept at will at least a couple times a day, and at least nine or ten hours a night.
Until yesterday — on Sunday, I actually had an hour or two in the afternoon when I tried to nap, but failed. But I was unperturbed at staying awake. It didn’t even bore me.
Anyway, I’ve been home a week at this hour late on Monday the 20th, and I’ve really never gotten over the feeling of being in a place where the coronavirus doesn’t matter as much as it did.
Which is an added benefit of having had a stroke — which seems to impress everyone — but having virtually no lingering effects of a stroke. Aside from being tired all the time. At some point, I’ll have to come to grips with that, I’m guessing.
But not yet. And I thank the Lord for these numerous blessings.
It’s late now, but I might just get in another brief nap…
See? The ER waiting room actually WAS deserted.and