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My 87-year-old friend Flossy is in the hospital, scheduled for open heart surgery tomorrow morning. She’s at Phoenix St. Luke’s, receiving questionable care. Are nurses supposed to have birthday parties at the nurses’ station and make snide comments about relatives who call in to check on their loved ones? Are old women supposed to wait 24 hours between meals because of scheduling conflicts? Are Emergency Room staff members supposed to complain loudly about how overworked they are and then refer to their current patient as “this one”? “Oh my God, we were so busy last night, and then this one showed up.” Flossy’s heart might be on the blink, but her ears work just fine.
Her experience is starting to remind me of my own hospital stay a couple years back, when my gall bladder went out. I was in good hands—strong, wonderful, safe, manly hands—until the firemen who responded to my 911 call dropped me off at the Emergency Room at Banner Desert Hospital in Mesa. After lying on a gurney in the ER for seven hours with no food or water or pain relief, I was moved to a private room that was so private, hardly anybody ever came in: a huffy nurse if I pressed the call button enough times, and some church lady who tried to convert me. Since I also have an auto-immune disorder and my physical body hates me, it took this opportunity to wreak post-surgery havoc by shutting down my bladder and wasting more of my tissue, which the nurses took no notice of perhaps because of the ongoing potluck they were having at the front desk. I was there for three days trying to get back on my feet, literally.
One night nurse made me particularly uneasy: she’d had a mini-stroke, so half of her face drooped. That would have been fine—people have asked me if I’ve had a mini-stroke, mini-schizophrenia and mini-elephantitis—however, this nurse came in to sing her own praises. “While I’m on duty, you’ll get walked and fed,” she said slurpily. “I’ll make sure you’re not in pain. You’re lucky to have me.” I lay there immobilized, my organs bruised and bleeding, and thought, Isn’t that your job? It was only a matter of time before Sybil’s mother walked in to draw the blinds and what little blood I had left.
I know there’s something wrong with me, maybe some personal problems that I should address on my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t qualify for decent medical care. Flossy either. Flossy especially. The Urgent Care doctor who I saw three years ago for inexplicable pain that had my students asking if I’d been hit by a bus—the Urgent Care doctor who spoke in broken English, which was fine with me because I was broken too—said, “Sick in Arizona…no good.”