Never before this week had I been hospitalized. Like most kids, I hang on every word that’s said on ER and Scrubs. I look to the bravery of the doctors and patients alike and am always left wondering, When will that be me?
It began, like so many of the adventures of our generation, at a Qdoba urinal. I was texting when I looked down to discover that the urinal looked like it was filled with the end result of a fish in a blender with the purée button pushed for at least half an hour: brown and red, and watery.
“Hooray!” I shouted. “I’ve been chosen.”
If you’ve seen the Golden Ticket scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory you’ll have a pretty good idea of what followed. I ran outside, crying “I peed blood! I peed blood!” Everyone at the Qdoba threw up a cheer. The girl at the counter rang the bell so many times that free burritos began to fall from the ceiling.
I ran up to the frisbee team, still seated, “Have you ever peed blood after a tournament before!?” I asked.
“No!” They screamed, “You must be headed for the hospital!”
I decided not to get cocky: I had better start with McCosh. I felt like I was gliding as I walked there, on a gurney already, just knowing that my journey wouldn’t end at University Health.
“Oh that’s wonderful!” They said when I told them, “Do you think you could do it again?”
A rush of terror: Could I? I said I’d do my best and walked into the bathroom. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. What if I had messed up? What if that was the only blood my bladder got? I called Qdoba to see if it was still in the urinal but some Catholics had gotten to it first, in case I ever get canonized.
I decided to just follow procedure. Open cup, ready sterile wipe, begin to pee in toilet, clean unit with sterile wipe, pee in cup. But even the half second I was peeing into the toilet let me know that everything was going to be okay. I walked out of that bathroom with perfect posture, holding a cup filled with what unmistakably, triumphantly contained blood; and one P-Safe ride later I was at the genuine ER.
The above description is a dramatization, but I really did think it would be an adventure somehow. I’ve never broken a bone, never had a serious illness; the only stitches I’ve ever gotten were from surgeons my dad knew and so took place in their kitchens. I wanted the blood to mean something. And nothing. I had made a number of heroic dives in a day of frisbee, landed on my stomach and chest a bunch and I wanted to have peed blood as a result of it. And then I wanted the problem to be over: no long-term kidney disease being a hope. It wasn’t really through a desire to legitimize the sport in the eyes of the public. (If you don’t understand the irony present in explaining to people that you’re pissing blood because you played a whole day of Ultimate Frisbee then God bless you, but you probably do: Everybody wrote it down, but nobody believed it. One doctor asked if I’d hurt myself playing Extreme Frisbee.) I just wanted to feel cool.
I felt immediately like I was in the future. They have these forehead thermometers. No longer are we in an age that requires us to stick mercury up our butts or in our mouths (did anyone else ever use the armpit?). They’ve got this wand now that’s straight out of Star Trek and they touch it to your forehead and it knows your temperature in two seconds. I’m not very old, but that blows my mind. Blood pressure is all automatic too, I was surprised to learn. The IV is still pretty pure; good old gravity is still chugging along.
Eric wheeled me to the CAT scan room. He was a first or second generation immigrant from I don’t know where. Right as he started pushing me, he asked me, “If I’m getting a laptop for seven hundred dollars, but can get a notebook for five-fifty, what’s the better deal?” I had him repeat himself. I asked, “Isn’t a notebook the same thing as a laptop?” I thought that the latter was just the old name, replaced because using them on top of your lap makes your sperm count suffer. He didn’t know about sperm like I did. “Notebook is just like a smaller one. But I took the notebook, because I’ve already got a laptop and it works pretty well.” I told him I guessed he’d done right. There’s a short story called “Emergency” that focuses on a pair of orderlies at a hospital that are on a ton of drugs and run around and having interactions that don’t make sense. Eric made me think of “Emergency.”
If you haven’t had a CAT scan, they warn you what it feels like, but not wholly. They focus on the fact that you’re going to feel like you’re peeing, and tell you not to worry. But it’s not that often that you feel your blood. Maybe when you’re pumping adrenaline in a moment of shock, but never when you’re calm and thinking about what’s going on in your blood. Imagine the experience of a hot drink, but with a horribly awry trajectory. A warmth that enters, not your mouth, but your arm, before going for the back of your neck rather than your throat and then sliding down your spine. The lingering feeling is not in your belly, but your bladder. It’s pretty weird. I had never had a CAT scan, but I had seen the “Scrubs” episode where JD flirts with this girl who’s in a CAT scan machine that jammed. The point is that he asks her out without seeing her face so it’s this gamble, but you only see the outside of the machine. I wanted to know what the inside was like.
Eric wheeled me back, not seeming to remember me or our notebook discussion. When I got back, the nurse told me I’d been diagnosed with rabdo mylisis, breakdown of muscle tissue due to exercising while dehydrated. This later turned out to be untrue. My dad—a doctor, who, though not in this line of medicine nor in this state, involved himself in every step (and, amazingly knew exactly what was going on at all times)—looked at the writeup for my urine sample and told me I hadn’t been dehydrated, end of story. But the nurse gave me other some thought-provokers as well. She told me if friends visited me they couldn’t be drunk because things got too loud. She told me the only thing good about New Jersey was that it was close to the City and the beach, but that she didn’t care about the city. She told me not to go to Terrace, because it hospitalizes more people than the other clubs. She asked me if I wanted juice.
It should be noted that though I narrate all these things as if they happened in quick succession, there was a lot of waiting involved. Waiting in the Waiting Room, waiting for the doctor, waiting for the nurse, waiting for the nurse to take out my IV so I could go to the bathroom. (The rabdo diagnosis had called for the infusion of my arm with five liters of water. It took forever and made me pee.) My primary occupation during all this waiting was distracting myself from reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (which, if DFW hadn’t got to it first, would have been a snappy title for this piece) by texting people with the news that I’d pissed blood and was in the hospital. I don’t know why it gave me such joy to do this. I understood the gap between my actual state and what “I just pissed SO MUCH BLOOD,” suggested. I guess I wanted to be—not really pitied, because there was nothing pitiable about my situation—but at least thought about, at least interesting.
My friends came and one of them was a little drunk, but not too much, so he didn’t arouse the suspicion of my nurse or anyone with a badge. He did, however, ignore my insistence to stay off the gross hospital floor and received some of the incredulous wrath of my nurse when he lied down. It was a good time and I felt good about this distraction from reading my book. I was getting sleepy.
Finally I was ready to go home. My friends had come, people on both coasts of the US of A had expressed concern at my well-being (via text), I had ridden the whirring CAT-scan machine, a nurse had brought me juice in a cup, my profile picture was me making a face in my hospital gown; in short, I had gotten everything one could hope from a visit to the hospital. I knew nothing was wrong with me: my urine had long since made the progression from being the color of barbecue sauce to that of rosé wine before getting back to looking like Grade A regular pee. But joyrides to the hospital don’t work so well, because hospitals exist for people with real problems. I wasn’t in real trouble, so I wasn’t getting the high level of attention required for someone who wants to go home when he’s ready. They didn’t want to underdiagnose me, so they kept me and ran too many tests with way too much of my blood.
So I lay back in the fantasy that I would be going home, not suspecting that between UMC and McCosh I would spend another twelve hours in an infirmary, alone, always thinking I was about to be discharged; that I would get my blood drawn so much in the next week that I would move past my initial blood-donation-style excitement and fully into the ache that made me think of Requiem for a Dream and having to tell a nurse she could find a vein in my other arm; or that even weirder than people look at you when you tell them you peed blood is when you try to tell them it was normal. So all in all, it was interesting, but didn’t turn out to be that fun. I guess I can say I’ve been to the hospital. And can you really put a price on a choice profile picture?