“One! Two! Three! Lift!”
Two big orderlies lifted Denise Webber on a sheet from her gurney and onto a hospital bed. Denise gasped as her leg gave another stab of pain that shot from her shin clear to her hip, where it lingered for a while.
“Hey, I’m Owen and I’ll be your nurse for the evening,” a voice said from the door.
Denise looked up and was startled to see a rather chubby-looking man with brown hair and eyes standing there in a powder-blue smock and matching pants.
“Hey,” she managed, trying to shift herself into a less uncomfortable position without hurting herself any further. As she tried, the needle the EMTs had inserted into her left arm gave her a painful jab and she subsided.
Owen smiled, stepping over to her bed. “Now, I’m gonna give you the ten-cent tour. This is the remote for the bed and the TV. Push this button if you need something and I or some other nurse will come and help you.” He pointed to the remote embedded in the bed railing to her left, indicating a red button at the top, conveniently labeled “nurse.” “Your phone is on the other side, dial ‘0’ for the operator and ‘9’ to dial any number outside of the hospital.” Owen added, pointing across her chest to the other railing, in which a telephone handset had been embedded. “A nurse will be in every hour on the hour to check your vitals,” he finished, “Any questions?”
“Would you get them to move this?” she complained, gesturing to her left arm. “It’s rather difficult to move with it in my elbow and there’s already a bruise.”
Owen took a quick look at the inside of Denise’s left arm. Sure enough, a bruise was spreading from the needle site. “Well, that’s fairly normal.” he told her, “Sometimes, EMTs can be pretty rough, but if it’s uncomfortable, I can send you a phlebotomist later to change the needle placement to the back of your hand. Well, if that’s everything, your surgery is scheduled for tonight, unless a more urgent injury comes in, in which case it’ll be on Wednesday. You’ll know which it is by whether or not you get dinner. Patients aren’t usually fed prior to surgery.” Delivering a quick pat to the railing he stood by, Owen turned and left.
Denise sighed, staring at the blank TV screen in front of her. She wasn’t really one to sit idly watching television all day long. She’d never liked just sitting still for any length of time. Now, with her leg broken in four places, it seemed she had no choice. She never thought she’d end up having to spend even one night in the hospital. Now, after having been hit by that car while she was trying to cross the street, here she was.
She’d just come off work when it happened. She’d had a doctor’s appointment just an hour after work and her car was in the shop for repairs that week. Thankfully, the doctor’s office was within walking distance and her doctor had been pestering her to walk more, so she quickly changed her clothes and prepared to walk to the doctor’s office. She walked to the end of her driveway and looked right. There was a car that was pretty far away and Denise had been sure she could make it all the way across the street before that car reached her. She’d stepped off the curb and taken a few steps into the street when she’d heard an incredible squealing of brakes and the honk of a car horn. Belatedly, she realized she’d forgotten to look both ways before she crossed. POW! She flew forward like a rag doll, landing in the street ten feet from where she’d been standing previously. When she’d come to, there had been blood in her hair and her leg had bent strangely in a place it should never have bent.
X-rays later confirmed the leg was broken; three breaks across the tibia and one across the fibula, according to the ER doctor. It was only a complex fracture, though, no break in the skin, thankfully. Nevertheless, the hospital emergency room was full to bursting with patients that day, so she had to stay a while. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be here for more than a couple of days. She thanked God and her mother’s insistent nagging that her medical insurance was paid up.
Not wishing to begin a TV habit, Denise, instead, sat and listened to the hospital. There was the rhythmic tap-tap-tap of shoes and the squeak of wheels going back and forth down the hall in front of her door as doctors, nurses, and visitors tended to the various other patients on this floor. There was the scent of disinfectant mixed liberally with air freshener, something floral, to mask the smell of the sick and injured. Occasionally, a voice would speak over the hospital PA system, calling for this or that doctor or nurse. In the middle of this, Denise heard a moan. The patient with whom she seemed to be sharing the room, an elderly man, was waking up. Denise tried mightily to ignore the smell of sick old person coming from his direction. Not his fault, she told herself, Don’t make a face.
“Hey, there!” Owen’s cheery voice interrupted Denise’s thoughts. “I brought you a present.” He wheeled in what looked like a blue, plastic breadbox on a long metal pole. The breadbox had some kind of computer inside it and the pole had a number of large hooks on the top. Following after this strange contraption was a woman wearing a smock with colorful fish printed all over it. Denise almost laughed at this. She was carrying a tray full of equipment, which she promptly placed on Denise’s good leg. A name tag hanging around her neck by a lanyard proclaimed her as “Marty.”
“How are we, today?” Marty asked, smilingly.
“’We’ are in terrible pain,” Denise groused, “and ‘we’ keep getting poked by the needle inside our arm because ‘we’ keep forgetting it’s there.”
“Well, let’s see what “we” can do about that,” Marty laughed, completely ignoring Denise’s rudeness. The woman crimped the tube attached to Denise’s needle and carefully removed the tape holding the needle to the inside of her arm. Holding a piece of gauze to Denise’s arm, Marty pulled the needle out, deftly taping the gauze into place.
“Now, let’s see your hand,” Marty asked. “If I can find a good vein, we’ll put the new needle there.” She quickly examined Denise’s hand and, making a satisfied noise, reached for her tray. “I’m going to put this flexible needle into your hand,” she added, showing Denise the needle. “It’ll be less uncomfortable and you should be able to move your hand without any pain.” She wrapped a rubber strap around Denise’s forearm and began tapping the vein she wanted, adding, “They could’ve put one of these in your arm at the scene, but EMTs don’t use them.” In no time, the whole operation was over and Marty was retrieving her tray. “Enjoy your stay,” she called as she left the room, just as if this was an expensive hotel instead of a hospital.
“I have good and bad news for you,” Owen said, approaching from the door, where he’d been standing while Marty was busy. “The good news is this,” he put his hand on top of the blue breadbox computer, attaching a tube from the machine to the tube now coming from Denise’s hand and hanging the bag of water it was attached to from one of the large hooks at the top of the pole. “This is morphine,” he told her, putting his hand on the top of the box. We don’t want you to get hooked, so I’m going to set this timer. Every time you push this button,” he handed her a button on a long cord, “you’ll get a shot of morphine, which should take the edge off your pain for a while. When it beeps, you can have more. Okay? That’s the good news.” Owen carefully tied the cord to the bed rail so the button was within easy reach. “Now for the bad news,” he said, laying a clipboard in Denise’s lap. “Your doctor won’t be able to do your surgery today. A more serious injury came in. So I’m supposed to get your order for dinner. What would you like?”
Denise sighed again, looking down at the menu clamped to the clipboard. Welcome to the hospital hotel, she thought gloomily.
This story is based on an actual event from my past. Only the people have been changed. On May 8th, 1995, I was actually struck by an oncoming car, the driver of which obviously wasn’t paying any more attention to where I was going than I was. I spent a week in the hospital. On Wednesday, they operated to install a rod and four screws into my right leg. That rod is still there to this day.