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Checking In and Checking Out



Going over some notes made during a too-long hospital stay, all the while breathing freedom ...

· There are two men named Adams on the floor. This happened to each within a day apart.

A nurse coming to work on a Sunday afternoon saw one Adams in his wheelchair a block or so from the hospital. "I'm confused," he said. "I'm supposed to be going to church. Which way is Canal?"

He didn't come back till after 8. Trying to sneak up the back stairs, "drunk as Cooter Brown." For a few days, Adams is a hero.

The other Mr. Adams was in the dining room with a nurse's aide right there while the Giants-49ers game was on the big-screen TV. He has a seizure just as San Fran gets the ball and begins its winning drive; the aide doesn't realize it because she thinks he's celebrating the 49ers' amazing comeback.

· Morbid Thought No. 1: No matter who you are and how much bravery you were born with, if you don't have the one you love behind you all the way, your heart just can't hit the high notes any more.

· In the space between the privacy drapes, he can see the foot of his roommate's bed. And the bottoms of his legs and feet, out from the sheets.

Suddenly, a metal reacher, like a grocery clerk uses to get something from a high shelf, comes into the picture and what it's reaching for is those emaciated legs and it is scratching, scratching and scratching some more.

He watches, at first curiously and then morbidly, and them he can no longer watch at all. He looks away and tries to think of what it reminds him of. A man trying very hard to erase himself from this picture, rub himself right out.

· Morbid Thought No. 2: Once you enter the world of pain and suffering, your own or others, it is amazingly hard to find the exit door.

· Sleep-deprived. Sleep-starved. Sleep-crazed.

Morpheus descending. Morpheus interrupted. Morpheus rebuked.

When you get right down to it, a hospital is a kind of sleep test rather like combat itself. How long can you hold it together -- physically, mentally, psychically -- with how little of it?

Remember all those trite jokes about hospitals, the ones that revolved around some health care professional waking you up give you a sleeping pill?

Trite, but true. And take your blood pressure, measure your blood sugar, set your blood boiling. It matters not, bub, what your medically unnecessary nightmare entails, we can meet and exceed it right here on 9C.

After all, we have a whole new crew who comes on duty at midnight. Full of gossip, full of opinions, chock full of noise. In the halls: Hey girl! Go on and check in 145; he's up again. And in the rooms: Morning, mister. You bathe yourself, right? Well, I'm just here to check and see if you want to go to the shower room now; I've got your towel and rag and new pajamas right here. What time is it now? It's about a quarter after five. OK, I'm gonna leave your stuff at the food of the bed. Go back to sleep, baby.

No chance, baby. No chance at all.

The survivors of a hospital are those who learn how to doze during breakfast, catch 40 winks while you wait for your 3 minutes with the occupational therapist, cat-nap while you line up in the midst of a dozen other maimed at the doctor's office.

· Alexander, waiting by the nurses' station to check out. Tall, patrician, bangs of a lovely color. Like a senator in the final days of the Roman Republic, slightly aloof and slightly uncomprehending, too. Or maybe a medieval nobleman's second son, the addled abbot.

Time to join the pipeline, the stream of suffering that moves through a hospital and then makes way for others whose turn it is to suffer. Like Roger, whose wife stayed in her native Thailand while he came here to die. And the guy whose wife came here with him from the country and spent every day sitting next to his bed from 7 a.m. till 9 p.m. and slept on a sofa downstairs every night.

Alexander drums his fingers on the nurses' desk; three months of trouble has been met and overcome, and he looks pleased with himself. He is standing, which was one thing no one had seen him do here, and he is smiling, which is another.

And you? Time to make some more room for fresh suffering here; excuse me, nurse. I'm here to leave.


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