Civil Discourse Now

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IU was playing Purdue, I just had received a REALLY BAD diagnosis: what does one do?

   There were positive aspects to my having been given so many drugs since my admission to the hospital. Given my jolly nature, I was chuckling and having a rousing time. The neuro wore a long, serious face as he sat down. There probably is a course in medical school: "How to deliver REALLY BAD news to patients." Given how many MDs lack traces of personality, the course would about have to be required. If there was such a course, and he had taken it, that was years ago and he had not received a very good grade. He pulled out a deck of what looked like playing cards. A second look and I saw they were 3-by-5 index cards. I inferred he had one for each patient on a given shift. In high school and college debate we’d had to use index cards for quotes; called "evidence" in debate. I wondered if he had so little to say to each patient that he only used 3-by-5s. We’d had to use 4-by-6 cards, and that was in high school.

   He took a seat in one of the two chairs, the one next to the window. Sarah was in a chair at the foot of the bed, or so it seemed.

   He babbled for a minute or two about the tests that had been run, how the startling and extreme onset of my conditions made diagnosis easier, and that I had multiple sclerosis. I started chuckling. He looked at me, maybe out of concern for his safety. People who receive horrific news and turn maniacal. Laughter precedes a lunge for someone’s throat. Of course, with a catheter stuck in my urethra, I was not able to make much of a lunge. Plus, the LP I had received and the three minutes since he had arrived had combined to build up a killer headache.

   I was not trying to put his mind at ease when I said, "MS? Get it? Not many people are diagnosed with a disease the acronym for which also comprises their initials." Honest. I said that. I can be quite lucid when stoned out of my gourd.

   He looked at me quizzically, like he was about to ask me "wtf." I noticed he had ignored Sarah the entire time he was there—and would whenever he came into my room. He cleared his throat. "We don’t know a lot about MS," he said. If by "we" he meant himself, his partners, and other neuros of same or similar capabilities, he probably was right. As we would find out relatively soon, he was wrong about the medical world—and I mean "world, as in Belgium, France, the Netheralnds and the US of A—a great deal was known about MS. But Sarah and I did not know that at the moment. He explained the mechanics of MS, how part of my immune system was attacking the myelin sheath of my central nervous system. Myelin covers nerves in fashion similar to insulation on electrical cord. MS causes the flow in the nervous system to short out.  "We do know certain demographics about the disease: more likely as one travels away from the equator; more likely amongst women than men; more likely amongst persons better-educated..."

   I interrupted him and asked, "You mean like college graduates?"

   Again, he looked perplexed. "Why, yes. College graduates."

   I shook my head. "I knew that dorm food would come back one day to haunt me." To be accurate, I only was in the dorm freshman year, but the food was not great.

   He went back to his notes, said they would put me on an IV-drip of an equivalent of 850 milligrams of prednisone per day, and begin physical rehab the next morning. His lecture given and diagnosis informed, he fled. By then two of Sarah’s sisters had appeared. When, where, how they appeared, I don’t know. Things had a way of happening during those several days around my diagnosis. A techie came in and hooked a different bag up to the tree on my IV, then left. A nurse entered and emptied the bag for the catheter.

   I do know this. I am a native born Hoosier. I just had been diagnosed with a disease everybody always said was REALLY BAD. I figured I was in the hospital and they couldn’t boot me out. After all, it was 25 below outside.

   One of Sarah’s sisters, who is a tee-totaler, asked me if there was anything they could get me.

   "Yes," I said. "IU is playing Purdue in a little bit. Could you get me a 6-pack of Bud?" She said sure, and a short while later, a 6-pack was in the drawer of my night stand, just within my reach.

   IU was ranked. Purdue was good. Everyone left. I am sure Sarah was shattered by the news we just had received. I was too looped to make heads or tails of it. I was too looped to understand I might not be able to work again.

   The 6-pack was of tall boys—16-ouncers. The prednisone seemed to kick in and make me thirsty. After I killed the last of the beers, I hit the button for the nurse. She appeared and asked me what I needed. I said the bag for my catheter was full. She said that was impossible, as she had just emptied it. Then she saw the can of beer on the table and my smiled and said something about how they had a goddamn drunk on their hands.

   I felt a little guilty about causing her to have to deal with a bag full of urine, but I had received REALLY BAD news. Besides, it was a Purdue-IU game. (I like both schools—received my JD from IU School of Law-Indianapolis and was on staff for four years at Purdue.) The guilt I really felt came a couple of weeks later. We were at a party at which people ate chili and watched the second IU-Purdue game. IU won. I said that it was a bummer. Somebody asked why.

   "Because I like to see those two teams split their series. They’re equal."

   Sarah said, "Babe, Purdue beat IU two weeks ago. You watched the game in the hospital."

   That’s how messed up I was that night I learned my diagnosis. I am a native-born Hoosier who likes both IU and Purdue and did not remember Purdue having won a game between the two—and in overtime. 

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