Nursing My Wounds

THE HOSPITAL – This is a place where no one wants to be unless she is having a baby or he is in need of medical treatment. I am not having a baby. Wait. Here comes a nurse. “Just taking your temperature.” Fortunately these days they just stick a dull plastic needle in my mouth. Be thankful for medical science. Where was I? Oh, yes. Hospitals. They operate, so to speak, 24/7 Christmas and Super Bowl included, with an army I refer to as “nurses” since some are and some are not: they are also technicians, lab workers, cleaners, X-ray types and waiters. Once every January an actual doctor comes by, looks at my chart, asks a few questions, nods and leaves.

Everyone is cheery and helpful, but I could not work in a hospital. Patients keep hitting the Help button so some kind soul can rush in and scratch their back or move their pillow. At 3 a.m. they slightly knock on the door and enter to take my blood pressure, give me a pill or, upon demand, scratch my back.

Here comes a nurse who says, “Time for your Quilatain.” There must be a company whose job it is to come up with names for medicines. Like those which advertise on TV. “Be sure to ask your doctor for XXtyztcon” or, “Feeling tired and depressed? Then you need Nycoggatrine.” What she is feeding me could easily be cocaine or rat poison. How am I to know? I swallow a pill about the size of what Cristian Javier was throwing last night in Minute Maid Park. Taken with a gulp of water. Trying to swallow water while lying on your back brings on a sensation. The medical term is “massive coughing.”

Hospital rooms today look something like a MAS*H operating room. I count three computer screens, some metal boxes and lots of buttons. There are even buttons on both sides of the bed to make it go up or down or, I suppose, sideways. Hopefully there is not an ejection button. All are connected by wires. I must have a mile of wires in this room. Then there is this paddle in my bed with – one guess – buttons. It allows me to turn on the TV or summon a nurse. The TV carries channels from all known stations except the one that shows the Astros. I suspect the engineer who installed this gizmo is a Texas Ranger fan.

You know the old line about, at a hospital, they wake you up to give you a sleeping pill? At precisely 3:45 a.m. last night or this morning, sure enough, that’s what happened to me. I once visited a hospital late at night and asked the nurse if he disliked working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. since every study shows our bodies need to sleep at night. “Not at all,” he said. “At night the halls are empty of visitors. No flowers, teddy bears or balloons. The patients are asleep. I get off in the morning, eat a big breakfast and sleep all day. At night I go out to dinner with friends, have maybe a half glass of wine, and go to my job.”

You may have seen the movie, “Airplane!” It was undoubtedly the dumbest, silliest and funniest movie around. One exchange was when a doctor says a passenger is ill and needs to go to a hospital: Flight Attendant: “A hospital? What is it?” Doctor: “It’s a big building with patients.” I am currently in a big building with patients, lots of patients. It’s in the Texas Medical Center or TMC as we hypochondriacs call it, the largest medical complex on Earth. How big? It has 106,000 employees and 61 institutions, eight different academic and research institutions and 21 different hospitals. Over 160,000 people visit the TMC each day – yes, each day. That’s more than 7.2 million visitors a year. More heart surgeries are performed in the TMC than anywhere else on the globe. Today, people come from across the country and all over the world to die in Houston.

Let’s talk about food. No one checks into a hospital to critique the food. But it’s bland, tasteless and most unappealing. So what’s the solution? I haven’t the foggiest idea. The menu looks really tasty with Italian food and seafood and delicious salads and desserts. But the kitchen has to serve up 400 or so meals all at once. Most chefs don’t have to worry about serving salt-free diets, no sugar, cut the mayonnaise and go easy on the Jell-O. This morning I was served the nicest breakfast of scrambled eggs, French toast and bacon. Alas, the eggs were not just cold but frigid. The French toast was soggy and the bacon was limp. This is an observation, not a complaint. I couldn’t do any better. I just wonder if a deliverer from Door Dash carrying six dinners of enchiladas with taco salad would delay the dollies trying to take a patient to a double lung transplant.

A brief mention as to why I am in this hospital. One night I was engaged in my after dinner routine: in my patio with cigar, brandy and iPad to read the next day’s New York Times. Just as I was setting up my evening nest I tripped and fell. I couldn’t move. Being all alone that night, I was stuck until I was found by a son. He called 911, two very large medics arrived within minutes and raced me to the hospital. I felt really stupid lying in the back of a screaming ambulance, red lights flashing, racing through the rain on a Houston expressway. I can hear a motorist saying, “Poor devil, hanging on to life.” I had two skinned elbows and two skinned knees. But the doctors didn’t like my heart beat, so here I am – two days and nights of tests.

My advice to you: If you’re ever in a hospital, don’t order scramble eggs.

Ashby has recovered at

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