Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hospital Madness

Truth is funnier than fiction.

Some novels, like Catch-22 and A Confederacy of Dunces are laugh-out-loud funny because they reflect, at least to a certain extent, the craziness of real life - even in situations that are in and of themselves not funny. Catch-22 deals with bureaucratic regulations in the face of war and death. Confederacy spoofs the quirks of New Orleans life through the eyes of an obviously mentally ill person. War and mental illness are hardly funny, and yet surrounding these very serious situations is a cocoon of absurdity, silliness, and human foibles that one can only laugh at.

I've been in the hospital a good bit lately - mainly as a pastor visiting parishioners, but yesterday, as the husband of a patient. Mrs. Hollywood had a minor surgical procedure yesterday. It was done while Lion Boy and I waited, and then we drove her home. She's doing just great, and feels a lot better.

But yesterday, Mrs. H. was doubled over in pain. Her doctor told her to meet him at the emergency room of West Jefferson Hospital. Rather than take the expressway at rush hour, I "cleverly" took the back way - which includes a draw bridge over the Harvey Canal. Of course, just as we got to the bridge, it opened. There was no way of knowing how long we would be waiting as traffic mounted and backed up. So, we abandoned that plan and ended up on the expressway anyway - having to go in the opposite direction and find a turnaround.

I was looking for the next way to cross the Harvey Canal - namely the Harvey tunnel. Unbeknown to us, the tunnel was closed - as a dump truck driver had just accidentally spilled a load of mud into the tunnel, causing a 23-car pile-up. The driver had abandoned the truck and fled on foot. Thankfully, we missed out on that pandemonium, as I missed the turn for the tunnel. That left the expressway overpass, and its huge back-up of cars at the hospital exit.

We finally made it to the hospital, and I dropped Mrs. H. off at Emergency. Now, all I had to do was to park and carry the sleeping Lion Boy to the emergency room. However, parking is never easy at this hospital. I did find a vacant spot for clergy - but the sign said "WJMC Clergy." Did that mean all clergy (which hospitals typically have), or was that only for clergy employed by the hospital? Seeing the big orange sticker pasted on the side of the one car in a clergy spot as a punishment for "illegal parking," I figured I didn't need that "ag" and moved on.

I found a spot about 20 miles away, and finding no camel, trekked across the Sahara with the small furnace known as Leo slung across my neck and chest. I headed toward the large date palm like a Bedouin in search of an oasis and kept my feet moving. Eventually, we made it to the hospital to find Mrs. H. inside doubled over in agony.

Her doctor appeared out of nowhere, with his ever-present Mona Lisa smile and supreme calmness. He summoned a nurse in as few words as humanly possible, and had us follow him to admission. He chatted with us as though he were sipping a pina colada without a care in the world. This truly had a calming effect. He was very compassionate, but in a matter-of-fact way that kept angers from flaring.

The clerks skedaddled about muttering about paperwork, since Grace's "case" had been opened on the ER computers. The doctor calmly took out his blackberry, pulled up a seat next to the clerk, and started arranging for a room. The clerk, who was extremely nice, asked Grace and me to fill out enough forms to close on a house. From her bent-over position, Grace had to write her initials probably a couple dozen times, and then sign several forms. I also had to sign some papers. She also had to dig around her purse for her drivers license. It was kind of surreal.

For insurance purposes, I had to answer questions about my employment: Salem Lutheran Church. (I was wearing a clerical collar). I was asked what my religion is. I was also asked if I attend the church where I work. I could not help but look around for Chaplain Tappman and Major Major. Through it all sat the serene doctor in his impeccable green scrubs, Mona Lisa smile intact, getting things done for us.

Finally, Mrs. Hollywood was whisked away in a wheelchair, as Lion Boy and I scurried behind. At last, the questions and paperwork were done. Ha!

We got to the room, after which a nurse's assistant proceeded to ask the same questions all over again. Then came a nurse - with the exact same questions. Then the doctor (apologetically) asked the same questions. He smiled that little knowing grin, and said "I'm sorry" after each question. Then came another nurse - same questions. Then the anesthesiologist. Yep, you got it. The exact same questions. And the doctor continued to smile calmly, while Grace answered the same questions in between bouts of agony.

One of my parishioners was on duty as a nurse. It was nice to see a familiar face in such conditions. Finally, Miss Grace was wheeled over to "same day surgery."

Lion Boy and I hung out. And hung out. And hung out. We went to the gift shop, rode the elevator, had ice cream, played Spider Man, and passed the time. While Leo played with a toy "Venom" (a Spider man villain), I read from A Confederacy of Dunces and laughed out loud at the madness of my fellow New Orleanian Ignatius J. Reilly and the absurdity of his world.

Finally, we joined Mrs. Hollywood back in the hospital room, and watched cartoons to hold Lion Boy's attention. They brought Grace some food, and even a meal for me. We turned it into a "date" as we dined on salisbury steak, squash, rice, Jello, and lemonade as Leo watched movies. Of course, this won't help my reputation as a New Orleanian, but I actually liked the meal!

The nurse checked in on us a couple times, and was very compassionate, attentive, and helpful.

We finally made it home, to a houseful of hungry cats singing in five-part harmony for dinner.

It was a long day, but in the end, all went well. We had a lot of comedy to reflect on. Lion Boy was such a brave and compassionate lad, even when Mommy was being poked and prodded by people in strange uniforms. We asked a lot of him, being stuck in a hospital for hours on end. The staff at West Jefferson was absolutely wonderful. Through all the absurdity, all the bureaucratic regulations, all the insane legal documents - they were compassionate, kind, and generous. And Grace's doctor is the greatest. I don't impress easily, but I'm impressed with this guy.

I realize that the absurdity is due to our society's litigiousness as well as the ubiquitous bureaucracy of medical insurance (the medical-industrial complex?). A lot of the repetition of questions (which only increases the chances of a mistake) is because of HIPA and other burdensome regulations. Remember the good old days when each hospital bed had a "chart"? I guess those days are gone. Perhaps technology will pick up the slack at some point. It seems like kids with hand-held video games that talk to each other have it more together than hospital staff. It seems like with online database technology, redundancy should be a thing of the past. I suppose that will come with time.

But at least in the meanwhile, we have something to laugh at. Were it not for the ridiculousness of life and the bungling bureaucracies that mankind continues to create, there would be no Catch-22 or Confederacy of Dunces to make us laugh, we could find no joy at all in the midst of war and hospitals. For in the final analysis, wasn't it another author who loved to laugh at the madness of real life, William Shakespeare, who said: "All's well that ends well"?

1 comment:

hausnfef said...

Your post made me laugh as did A Confederacy of Dunces.

I pray that Mrs. Hollywood is doing better.

It's funny the way bad situations and events can make us laugh later. Sometimes it seems like God brings us through these kind of days just to show us how worthy this world and life are of a good laugh.

Christ be with you.