Let me say that this story begins 20 years ago (at least). After Bob and I were married, and even before I became a card-carrying hypochondriac, I would make annual visits to the doctor for check ups as well as other visits as necessary. Like a normal person. I would make appointments for Bob and he wouldn't show up for them. It turns out that Bob is so afraid of doctors and hospitals that he would apparently rather die than go to one to hear that he might be sick. Fortunately, he is a pretty sturdy guy but when he hasn't been well, he has weathered some pretty harrowing storms. For years Bob has suffered from indigestion but over this past year, his bouts have been over the top. One night, he actually thought he was dying. But rather than go to the doctor, he sat in a tub. I guess he figured if he was gonna go - he was going to go clean.
Recently Bob was cast in a workshop production of a re-staging of the Nutcracker (as a new musical) over at the LA Theatre Center. Bob was thrilled to be a part of it. But on Thursday he came home concerned that he had been having severe indigestion during the day at rehearsal. Oh yeah, and his pee was bright orange ("it's probably the carrot sticks I had in my lunch today"). I explained that that would have had to have been some kind of nuclear charged carrot and that he HAD to take Friday off to go to the doctor. I was told - adamantly - "No. I have to go to rehearsal." So this continued on Friday and Saturday (because he had a rehearsal Saturday too) and now I am getting extremely worried because he isn't getting better. But all day Saturday Bob is calling and telling me he "thinks" he's getting better. He says we can go to Candace and John's dinner party. And so we do.
Now I must say here that had this been really serious it may have still been worth it. Candace and John give the best intimate dinner parties ever and the food is spectacular. I remarked at the table that if I was given a last meal request I would request that it could be anything so long as Candace made it. We had a lovely time but I digress. Bob didn't look good all evening so when we left, instead of going home, I drove to the hospital. Nothing he could do about it.
We arrived at Los Robles Medical Center Emergency Room at about 11:00 p.m.-ish I am guessing, and began what would be the epic wait to diagnosis - the one in which he got to lay on a cot with two warm blankets and I got to sit on the hard plastic chair and stare at him. For hours. They took his blood and came back with scary results: indication of liver problems. We were told that we would be referred to a liver specialist because the doctor on call was not well versed in liver disease but he indicated some of the problems it could be and I was off to Bob's funeral in a flash. I could see he was worried too and that magnified everything 10 fold. Here is a sampling of what went through my mind:
1. How long would Bob have to wait for a liver transplant?
2. What is the success ratio of a liver transplant?
3. Liver cancer? What is the mortality rate on that?
4. Hepatitis. Isn't that highly contagious? Are we ALL going to die now?
They ordered an ultra-sound and while he was gone for that I prayed like mad. Please, God,please spare him. I will never take him for granted again. I cannot imagine what I would ever do without him. I would certainly never want anyone else. And then my mind went to all the rotten things I have ever done, said or thought about him. My remorse was palpable. I thought of the things he does that drive me completely insane (like entering a room and announcing himself by belting out an ear-splitting single note "Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" as if he were performing at the Hollywood Bowl without a mike) and how much I would miss that. They brought him back to the room and the ultra sound had really been painful - something he hadn't expected. I rubbed his hands, his shoulders, his temples and his bald head. I soooooo love this dear man. This gift. My Bob. What time is it? 3:45 a.m. And then the doctor came back with the "results".
"He has gall stones", he announced. "And all his trouble is directly attributable to that. But I'm going to have to admit him because he will need to have his gall bladder removed." Praise GOD!!!!! He is going to live! I am spinning with relief. Gall bladder. Like tonsils. So non-life-threatening. And by 4:00, I am SO out of there - leaving Bob behind.
I met Jennifer at home and calmed her nerves, got to bed and was asleep before my head hit the pillow... only to wake up suddenly 4 hours later with a dream that reminded me that my husband was in the hospital! I jumped up, showered, and drove back to Los Robles to find him in "Observation" with several other observable patients separated by curtains. The hospital was full. There would be no surgery today. Bob would be here until they could find him a room (sometime tomorrow) and he was miserable.
Now let me tell you, sitting with someone in a hospital room is more boring than boring. If you have ever thought you have nothing to say to someone, there is less than nothing to say in a hospital room. The chit chat that fills the silence at home seems completely inappropriate for bedside. And how many times can you ask "how are you feeling?" I brought him a magazine and we took a little walk. The girls came to see him. Our pastor came to see him. A friend from church came to see him. And then I finally crawled up on the little twin sized bed with him, balanced myself precariously on the edge, and both of us fell asleep for 3 and a half hours (just like in "The Notebook" - except nobody died). In the "Observation Ward". Later, the GI specialist came in to tell us that he would need two different procedures - one to remove the gall bladder and another to remove some of the stones that had escaped into a bile duct. And they won't do the procedures on the same day. I came to the realization that the endearing and passionate glow of the "nearly departed" had left him in less than 12 hours and I was already reneging on my bargain with God. Yup, it was clear - I was going to take him for granted again. My thoughts moved from "How can I live without him?" to "How much is this going to cost me?"
They don't do surgery on Sunday so he spent 24 hours in the hospital just for the pleasure of being there. And there is no pleasure in the Observation Ward. Evidently Sunday night was fairly horrible for the bed next to him, and so, very upsetting for Bob. But Monday they told him his first surgery would be at 2:30 and so we all gathered to wish him well and sit it out in the waiting room. This was especially difficult for Bob. The last time he had been in this scenario, he was bedside as they were wheeling Anne into surgery and of course, she never came back. I made certain I was there when he woke up. And when he did open one eye a slit to see me andgive a tiny closed-mouthed smile, I was glad to have reassured him that he was still with us and he was not alone. But let's face it, there is only so long you can sit there and watch someone sleep so I left and came back only when they put him into his new room where I would have a decent chair.
Meanwhile, back at home, our church had kicked in to full gear and food started coming. My church celebrates two things: Jesus and food (in that order). And the "Care Team" springs into action like nobody's business when someone is sick. So this time I was on the receiving end. And I am shamed. Because I am on the care team and when I go to someone's house with a meal, it is nothing as good as what I got. Pasta dishes and salads and chicken and veggies and garlic bread and Hawaiian bread and yummy potato and cheese things and chocolate covered strawberries. And it arrives ready-to-go. A delicious, pull-out-a-plate-and-pull-up-a-chair-and-toss-the-container meal. And I'm wondering how long I can milk this.
When I did arrive back (at about 8:00 p.m.) I learned that he had been placed in the new wing. Evidently, the resort wing. He had a huge, quiet private room with a big picture window. His bed was comfy and adjusted to an assortment of progressively comfortable positions with the touch of a button. Phones and buttons and gizmos galore within easy reach. The speakers of the TV were built into the side-rails of his bed so he had stereo sound. Really nice nurses came in at regular intervals to ask if he "needed anything" and I thought to myself: "Shoot. What do Ihave to break to get into this place?" But at home it was nice that there was no one there to drip dry on the bathroom floor (not the mat!) after a shower or dirty every dish in the house just to heat up a can of soup.
It turns out he didn't need the second procedure so we thought he would come home the next day. Uh. No. And this is where the story gets really bad. But before I begin, let me just say that wherever you stand politically, I want to personally thank President Obama for the COBRA Relief Act. The government paid 60% of my $1700 per month COBRA premium while I was unemployed (and will continue to until my new insurance kicks in on May 1st). Had that not been available, we would have been forced to "take our chances". I received maximumunemployment benefits at $1800 per month. You do the math. So the point is we have insurance. So back to the ugly story. We were presented with a bill. This bill did not include doctors, anesthesiologist, lab work, emergency room services or surgery room. This was just room and board. And our portion of the bill was $3100. Yesterday. And he stayed another day. I held this bill in my hand and stared at it - jaw hanging to the floor. And then I looked at him - this man who refused my pleas and waited so long to see a doctor when he started having problems months ago and I wondered what happened to that feeling I had just a scant 72 hours ago - that I couldn't live without him.
But today he came home. And he is a little slow. And tired. And in a little pain. And he is a little bit pitiable. So I love him. But he best give up that habit of entering a room with a ear-splitting note.