Thursday, March 09, 2006


In Which We Subsist on Rum and Gunpowder...

Five days earlier...

I was in the waiting room of a 24-hour urgent-care clinic, on the strip about 10 miles from where my in-laws lived. This particular clinic was really nothing more than a triage center for tourists like myself. Most of us had some mishap or other that required immediate but not necessarily emergency medical care. At least, I think we all hoped whatever we had didn't require emergency care. No one wants to be sick far from home and ruin a perfectly good vacation so I think it's fair to say many of us were in a bit of denial about our ailments. I know I was. I'd had a 100 or so fever for two days and just this morning my dry hacking cough had turned surprisingly productive as I began spitting blood into the sink. Still, I had convinced myself this was mere gingivitis. An unfortunate coincidence. Nothing to worry about.

You want to talk about denial, let's talk about the mother who came into the clinic with her son--about Thomas' age--and was insisting he just needed some Benadryl to counteract the shockingly large welt on the side of his neck where, I overheard, he had been stung by a bee. I'm no doctor, but I saw a neighbor's kid have an allergic reaction after a bee sting, and this kid looked just like that kid: he was listless and bluish and didn't look like his breathing was any too good. All the mom seemed to be worried about was whether or not they'd make it to the beach that day.

I was in no hurry myself--I had already had my day at the beach with the kiddos and they were off to spend a private day with Grammy and Grandpa while Her Lovely Self read a book or took a swim in peace back at Midget Alligator Ambush Estates. And I had my waiting room book with me--David Hackett Fischer's Pulitzer-prize winning Washington's Crossing. So I loudly told the desk nurse that she could put the boy with the anaphylactic shock ahead of me.

Strangely, "anaphylactic shock" is one of those terms that, while not in everyday usage, is one that most people seem to know, and it is especially galvanizing to folks in doctors' waiting rooms. While the oblivious mother chattered away on her cell phone to some other member of the family who was already at the beach, the other five or six people waiting ahead of me also reacted similarly and the desk nurse, to her own head-shaking astonishment, moved the boy to the head of the line. I won't flatter myself to say I shamed the other patients into it. I think we were all of a kind: folks with kids of our own somewhere who knew this kid wasn't doing so good, and we were just reacting the way we'd want someone else to react if it was our kid in trouble. So really, it didn't matter that the stupid, uncomprehending mother didn't so much as nod a thank-you to the rest of the waiting room when she was suddenly called back. We all looked at each other, smiling or nodding or shaking our heads as the mood suited us. It was a nice moment of brotherhood amongst ailing travelers. Then our eyes all glazed over and we went back to our assorted distractions.

(The boy, incidentally, got an Epi-Pen in the thigh--we could hear the howl from out in the waiting room--and you'll be pleased to know the desk nurse was asked to summon an ambulance to transport the boy to nearest hospital for observation. We watched as they wheeled him out and he was already breathing either--or at least well enough to be screaming at his mom that he wanted to go to the beach NOW, though I can only hope neither or them made it).

Spending two hours out of one's vacation in the waiting room of a drab 24-hour care clinic isn't anyone's idea of fun, but the sad truth is, I didn't mind so much. I was pretty wiped. When I have a fever, I'm not the kind of person who sleeps and has neat fever dreams. I either black out entirely or spend the evening thrashing in the sheets. Plus with the hacking cough, I found myself sitting up in my in-laws couch for two nights running, trying to find a comfortable position that wouldn't cause more hacking.

I was doing the same thing in the waiting room now, and using the time to catch up on my old pal George Washington, who was clearly fucking things up badly when the British came to New York to eat the rebels' lunch. And yet you had to admire the guy's perseverance against the greatest army in the world. Come to that, you had to admire everyone's perseverance in that long retreat and the awful fall and winter that followed. As bad as I'd been feeling the past couple of days, I had to admit I was one hell of a lot better off than any of those Continental soldiers, slogging step by bloody step in broken shoes (if they were lucky to have shoes), with no food or blankets or really much of anything to help them prepare for the famous post-Christmas crossing of the Delaware and the stunning actions that would follow at Trenton and Princeton. At some point, I read that the commanders passed around buckets of rum and gunpowder to the troops and everyone had a dram of it. That was pretty much all they got in the way of steeling themselves against what was to come.

Somewhere in those troops, I was pretty sure, was my multi-great grandfather Samuel, who joined the Continentals at 16 and served under General Sullivan. He was a Lieutenant by the time Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown 5 years later and returned home with enough money to start several successful millworks with his brothers. Still, I wondered, as he grew old, if Grandpa Samuel ever thrashed in bed of a fevered night, dreaming of the dark days when all he had to go on was rum and gunpowder.

Such were my thoughts as my name was finally called and I got to see the doctor, a very busy looking mad-scientist type, complete with stand-up-straight white hair and matching goatee--excuse me, VanDyke--plus stained lab coat and glasses with impossibly thick lenses. All he needed was a vaguely European accent. But instead, he addressed me in the gruff tones of an Ed Asner soundalike.

"Fever. Cough. Head and chest pain from coughing. " He recited my symptoms to himself as he pressed a wonderfully cold stethoscope to my chest and back. "But your lungs sound clear enough. Little rattle, but you've got asthma and I bet that's that." He looked me up and down. "Your BP's higher than I like, but you've been taking cold meds, so that would explain it. I've seen this a lot. There's an upper respiratory virus going around that stuffing everyone up and giving them coughs and chills. With enough coughing, it's very easy to irritate the lining of the throat and bring up some blood." He looked at me. "We can send you over to the hospital for a blood workup if you want. But honestly, I think you've got the virus everyone else has got and you've just got to ride it out."

The thought of spending the rest of the day--possibly even a chunk of the evening--in the ER of a Florida hospital on a Friday night did not sound like my idea of fun. "Listen," I said. "My family and I leave for Disneyworld tomorrow. We're there Sunday and Monday, then flying home early Tuesday. I just need to get through the next couple of days."

The doctor nodded curtly; no doubt it was a phrase he'd heard so often, he probably considered including it as a motto underneath his flashing neon 24-hour sign. He scribbled quickly on a prescription pad. "We'll give you some Vicodin for the pain--it'll help with the cough and fever too. We'll also give you some Benzonatate to shut down the cough. But listen--" He stopped for a precious second as he handed me the scripts. "With your asthma, the infection could settle in the lungs and these meds will only mask the symptoms then. If your temp goes above, say, 101, or the cough gets worse even on the Benzonatate, I want you to see a doctor. There's an excellent hospital practically on the property. Those Disney folks hate it when people die at their resorts."

I nodded soberly and the doctor handed over my prescriptions, which I filled at the Wal-Mart down the street about 30 minutes later.

I sat in the car I had borrowed from my in-laws and emptied the plastic Wal-Mart bag. In addition to the two bottles of pills, I had also bought a large bottle of water and a thermometer. Before I drank anything, I opened the thermometer and stuck it in my mouth. About 40 seconds later, the thing beeped and I saw that it was reading 102. Must be a low battery, I thought. It was only 100 back at the clinic 30 minutes ago.

I drank off half the bottle of water and started coughing again. Spots swam in my vision and I leaned out the window and spat a great wad of blood onto the pavement. I caught my breath for a second, then cracked open the two bottles of meds.

Briefly--oh so briefly--I wondered what I'd be doing if it had been Thomas or the Brownie coughing up blood with a 102 fever. I sure as hell wouldn't be that stupid mom, on her cell phone, pissing about losing a day at the beach. We'd probably be at the hospital, getting blood tests.

But my kids weren't sick. This was me, and I knew my limits (though not, as I'm sure will be pointed out, the limits of my stupidity). I couldn't see blowing all our plans when all I had was a stupid flu. That's all it is, I told myself. And if it gets worse, you'll go see a Disney doctor. No one dies at the Magic Kingdom.

"Rum and gunpowder," I said by way of a toast, then dumped some pills into my mouth and swallowed them down with the rest of the water...

MM, as the son of a pair of doctors, and I say this with the utmost respect for you...


Get better!
Oh, please tell me that Her Lovely Self kicked your ass once you were out of the woods and feeling better.

Coughing up blood...102 temp...asthmatic...GO TO THE HOSPITAL! Do you have to fill all the stereotypes for a guy??

I even delurked to say that!
My, MM, your life is never dull, is it? Hope you're feeling better now!
These entries are painful!!!! Why do you do this to us MM? I agree with Shafa and Buffi!
Men. They are either lying on the couch whining about the sniffles as if they were dying, or they are in complete denial about serious illness and refusing to care for themselves.

This does not sound good MM!
As a mother, of 2 young men, I say this with all motherly authority- You KNEW better!! You should be ashamed of yourself, putting your loyal readers (okay, and family too) through an ordeal like this!!
in your defense, i once almost lost my right kidney to an infection, but went through almost the same exact process of denial, misdiagnosis and, i'm guessing, debilitation before i was able to get treatment for it. i understand your thought processes completely here. and i'm female, so there goes that stereotype.
MM, if I was to make fun of you I might as well introduce myself as "Pot". And you: Kettle. We're both black.

Several years ago, I hurt my knee. And we're not talking a bump or bruise here -- we're talking swollen three times its size, lots of interesting colors, etc. But what did I do? I iced it and told anyone who would listen that it'd be fine "in a few days". The verdict? Major knee surgery.

I've never claimed to be medically intelligent.
what the HELL is wrong with you?!? if you think to yourself 'wow, if this was happening to my kid, i'd be at the hospital by now'... THAT'S A CLUE!

i'm kinda surprised that hls didn't whack you over the head with something and drag your carcass into the doctors.

well, i'm glad you lived through it. hopefully this won't ever happen again, but if it does, i trust you'll get thee to a doctor, posthaste.
AWFUL. Scary as all hell. Hope you've recovered by now.

HLS probably kicked your ass, no doubt. I know I would if the love of my life did this to himself!!
As a fellow New Englander, I'll have to defend how long it took you to head for a doctor. Your description sounds like what I had for a week and a half before I gave in and dragged my shivering, oxygen-starved butt to the doctor. And I'm female.

But Vicodin? For a *cough*? Are you kidding me? No wonder people end up hooked on tranqs, the docs hand them out like candy.

Absolutely, Carla. We are a severely overmedicated country.

I don't even take headache medicine, myself. I wouldn't take anything if I could help it. But unfortunately I do have to take blood pressure medicine, thyroid medicine, and hormones...bah. (Hoping to be weaned off the first two eventually.)

You should definitely take your medicine when you need to, but it shouldn't be the first thing you run to when you start to feel bad!

MM, I'll have to agree with everyone who called you a dumbass. (Love and kisses, though!) What did good ol' BB have to say?
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