I don't want to write about hospitals in the same way I don't want to go to hospitals, but sometimes you have to do both. Trust me, though, a week ago, going to one wasn't my choice.
First, a disclaimer: Typically, I devote this space I'm so fortunate to have to something Syracuse related. Of course, that's not always the case. Okay, so it's really not always the case. But USUALLY I'm good to keep it on point with Orange basketball, football or lacrosse.
But not this time.
Last week a routine procedure on my throat (done to clear away a stricture), one my doctors say they do over 7,000 times a year, one that typically lasts eight to ten minutes, ended up sending me to the hospital for about five days. Actually, it ended up sending me to two different hospitals. It was "life or death" but to what level of "life or death" I don't know, if that makes sense. Either way, it was too close to the "D" word for me.
"You need to get to the emergency room right now. People in your condition could get very, very, VERY sick."
I only call the on-call doctor because my wife keeps pestering me to do it. She knows something is wrong; I'm dubious, or scared. I do call, though, and he tells me my routine procedure actually may have ended up puncturing or even rupturing my esophagus. It doesn't matter that it's seven o'clock at night or that nurses I spoke to on the phone told me all day long that the pain I was feeling was normal. Nope. When the doc says you could be on the verge of something bad, you go, you go now.
A surgical tool wasn't left inside my body. It's not like I had a second to live or that I was bleeding to death from the inside out. Me? I was diagnosed with a small hole right near my lungs on the left side of my body, and I would eventually learn it was probably caused by a tube doctors used to dilate my throat. Scary? Oh yeah. Potentially deadly? Yup. Cool sounding? Nah.
Which figures, really. Of all people, I would be the one taken out by a tiny tube during a outpatient procedure done thousands of times a day across the country. Seriously, I was in the waiting room looking around at the clientele of this private practice before I went under. Grandmas: check. Middle aged men and women: check. Wealthy looking: check. Non-wealthy looking: Check. The old and the young were all there and they all went into a similar room as I did and they all left and carried on with the day, with life.
One week ago today, my life for the time being flipped upside down.
After talking to the on-call doctor on the urging of my wife, some seven hours after the procedure in Syracuse, my wife, son and I rushed to the hospital in Watertown. Outside of an ambulance transfer to St. Joe's in Syracuse, that warm Tuesday evening would be the last time I would feel the outside air until the following Saturday night. Actually, even though I was kind of confident I wasn't dying, when the Emergency Room doors slid open that first night, all I could think about was, Am I ever going to be able to leave this place?
A handful of extremely long days later, where I would have up to three roommates and dozens of nurses to meet, I obviously did leave (St. Joe's). And even though I'm nowhere near 100 percent, I'm much better than I was just about seven days ago. Sure, had the doctors not made a mistake -- one they defend as nothing more than "this stuff can happen" -- I would have never had the pain, the nausea, the endless days and nights in that hospital bed, the time away from my wonderful son Brady, the wondering if I would need invasive surgery, the thinking about death. Or the sight of my wife wedged into a make-shift bed of two chairs that had as much cushion and give as marble counter tops.
That image is something I'll never forget. The entire time, from entrance to exit, I will always remember how Sarah McClusky did what she had to do to stay by my side. Always there.
I couldn't get out of bed without help -- IVs and antibiotics making my life even more miserable than the pain in my throat or the fear of the unknown. No matter the time of day or the time of night, she was quick to her feet to move me and the subsequent machine that became a part of me. Once up, she guided me to the bathroom -- the only place I was allowed to walk to and from, and even that was in question by nurses. If I was looking to "freshen up," Sarah had my deodorant or tooth brush and tooth paste (God, how incredible it was to be able to brush my teeth. A relatively annoying practice became the highlight of my days).
Rubbing my hands, asking if I need anything every ten minutes, getting me tissues, asking if I need anything, eating in the cafeteria so I wouldn't be jealous because I was on a saline-exclusive diet, asking if I need anything....
Doing EVERYTHING at the house since we've been home, making sure I take all of my (disgusting) medicine now, asking if I need anything...
Spousal duties, maybe.
But Sarah wasn't just there as a literal crutch or some kind of aid to the temporarily handicapped. She took charge of everything, of everyone. It's funny, too, because I usually am the one telling her to calm down or "dial it down a notch" when she gets worked up. But without Sarah's talking to the doctors, talking to the nurses, writing down questions, things would have been worse. It's true because it's amazing how information from one doctor becomes something totally different in the hands of a colleague.
She was making sense of the nonsense. Not because some business had overcharged or because a store wouldn't honor some coupon -- the typical situations that get her goat -- but because Sarah was looking out for me. One doctor says I can but the other doctor says I can't? She'll figure it out. I try to convince her that I can eat solids sooner than she thinks? No dice, she isn't having it.
I'm smiling typing this as she lays next to me on the couch, thinking about her raising her voice at a doctor who was raising his voice at her. One loudly talking, but not shouting, over the other. She wasn't trying to show him up or pretend she knew this topic better than him. She was just pointing out: someone is telling us something wrong, now you go figure out what is right before we go any further.
And the doctor listened and I benefited.
It's all not just because she's my wife. It's Classic Sarah, fighting/working for the people she loves. The perfect daughter, sister, wife and mother to all in her family. And I couldn't be more thankful. It's why I'm better. Because without Sarah being there then, being here now, without her love, those five days in the hospital could have been even longer. Or worse, I may never have gone to the hospital last Tuesday in the first place.