One year ago this week, Christy was lying in a hospital bed in Omaha, surrounded by family and friends. It was difficult seeing her body deteriorate; but at the same time, her spirit seemed so strong -- almost illuminated. It was such a blessing to share that time with her and her family -- to be able to say all the things I wanted to say; to share memories and stories that were so significant and defining in our friendship.
I was recalling a trip to the ER in the late summer/fall after her initial emergency surgery in 2005. I had gone out to LA to stay with her. I arrived on a Friday, and being a nurse, I was very curious to take a gander at her abdominal incision (what can I say? I love looking at that kind of stuff!). She had a few open areas that were being packed 2-3 times per day so that the wounds could heal properly -- from the inside to the outside (her friend, Abby, in LA was doing the dressing changes for her everyday -- Christy had such amazing friends out there!). When I went to change the dressing, it became very clear to me that she had an infection. I believe my exact words were: "Ummm...that looks like purulent drainage." Christy correctly assumed that I was NOT complimenting her on her healing process -- her response? "Crap! That doesn't sound good. If we call my doctor and you tell him that word, I'm going to have to go to the ER aren't I?"
Well, we put off the inevitable, and waited to call her surgeon on Monday morning. The minute I mentioned the word "purulent" there was no going back. We left for the UCLA ER in the late morning. We did not leave the hospital until the next morning -- a full 17 HOURS later (about 13 of those hours were in the waiting room)!!! How did we pass the time? Well, we made up stories and diagnosed the other patients and their families who were also waiting -- some more patiently than others. Suffice it to say, we "met" a lot of interesting characters: the LA Golden Girls (minus Sophia); the guy with knee pain who kept playing "drums" and singing rock ballads; the girl who Christy thought looked "sicker than I am", but who turned into a total loony tunes when she was finally seen and the doctors wanted to admit her to Psych; and the schizophrenic homeless lady who insisted she knew Christy, so she sat next to her on the same bench, and then wet her pants -- the lady, not Christy (just to add a little insult to injury after a hellish night of waiting to be seen, Christy almost got peed on!).
About 8 hours into our ER "experience," I was able to convince the triage nurse to at least give Christy some pain medicine. After all, she hadn't brought anything with her, and she hadn't sat up for more than 2 hours at a time, as she was still recovering from a major surgery. I also reminded her of Christy's diagnosis, and threw in a little guilt trip along the lines of, "Every moment is precious, and shouldn't be wasted, when one is faced with such a diagnosis." I also kindly reminded her that Christy's surgeon had told us to have the ER notify the "Pink" surgical team upon Christy's arrival (we liked to imagine them wearing hot pink and entering the room doing a musical number -- hee!). The nurse explained that they had been tied up in the OR for hours treating 3 gunshot victims. When I relayed this last tidbit to Christy, it caused her to really ponder the irony of the situation: "You know, if I went out and committed a felony right now, I wouldn't have to wait like this. I'd have health coverage! This is so frustrating!" Sad, but all too true.
When we finally were taken back into the ER, we still had to wait in the hall, because the rooms were filled up. A doctor finally found an empty stretcher, and as I held up a sheet (for privacy - HIPPA at its finest!), she removed Christy's dressings to assess the wound. The doctor actually gasped a bit when she saw the infection, and then proceeded to profusely apologize for making Christy wait so long. Then Christy's resident surgeon from the "pink team" saw her waiting and was shocked. He said nobody had informed them of her arrival, so they had figured that she hadn't come in, or that she'd given up waiting and gone home (we were both asking ourselves why we hadn't done just that for the next 4 years!). In no time at all, Christy suddenly had a room, a CT scan, and an okay to go home as long as she had a nurse staying with her (having a nurse friend has it's benefits sometimes, I guess)!
While waiting for her walking papers, we dimmed the lights so that Christy could try to get a little rest. I was just sitting there, in the dark, when Christy suddenly asked my why the ER doctor had reacted so strongly when she assessed Christy's wounds. I explained that her wound had actually "bubbled" when the doctor pressed on her abdomen. I thought Christy had fallen back asleep, but then, with a giggle, she asked me if I thought she could make it bubble again by plugging her nose and blowing really hard. Once a goofball, always a goofball! Even after all that she had been through during those 17 hours, her sense of humor was still intact (thinking about it now still makes me shake my head in amazement). Hearing our giggling, the doctor pulled back the curtain and asked us if we were having a slumber party camp-out. He jokingly told us to quiet down and go to sleep.
The most important part of the night for Christy was when the ER resident came in to apologize for misdiagnosing her with a kidney infection and just sending her home on antibiotics, when what she actually had was a perforated bowel from a tumor (she ended up having emergency surgery the very next day). I believe his exact words were: "Do you remember me? I'm the dumb ass who sent you home with pyelonephritis. I am so sorry." Christy's response: "Well, they did tell me that if they had found the tumor ONE day earlier, that it probably wouldn't have spread." Once a smart ass, always a smart ass! When the resident finally understood that Christy had forgiven him, he humbly left the room with a very sincere "take care." That simple apology allowed Christy to forgive and move forward.
On the ride home, Christy looked at me and said that "purulent" was a 4-letter word, and that if I ever said it to her again, she wouldn't let me visit her anymore. My response: "F*#k that! You're stuck with me!"
Man, I miss that girl!
P.S. Forgive me for being such a rambler. Christy would go bananas if she saw I used such poor grammar and punctuation -- not to mention all of the run-on sentences ;-)