I tend not to go to the doctor when something is wrong; I will muscle through the pain until it goes away. Do not mistake this for some strong-stoicism because I will complain every minute that the pain is there. It was this anti-stoicism that landed me in the hospital just a few days before my son Alexander's third birthday.
I woke up that morning with an earache; a dull pain throbbed in my left ear which was now a dark shade of crimson. I downed a few aspirin and went to work that morning with the hope the pain would go away. It didn't. For the rest of the day I downed aspirin and ignored my co-workers pleas (demands?) that I go see a doctor.
"I'll be fine," I muttered between rounds of aspirins and complaints.
That night my wife Arlene also suggested that I go see a doctor but I deferred her request for my own form of self-medication: scotch. I was sure all that I needed was a good night's sleep and I was certain my fifth of DEWARS would provide that to me.
After what happened next I should really consider giving back my degree in self-help medicine.
Arlene went to bed and after I completed about a third of my treatment was still in pain. I woke Arlene and asked if she had any ideas on how to stop the pain. After she gently (Ha!) reminded me that I should have gone to the doctor Arlene went into the bathroom and came back with a bottle of pills.
"These are painkillers from that oral surgery I had a few years ago," she handed me the bottle. "Not sure if they are still good." She then went blissfully back to bed.
I returned to the living room, twisted open the pill container, took out one white pill and swallowed it with a large swig of scotch straight from the bottle (I had turned into a country western song). I waited for the pain to cease as I delivered copious amounts of scotch into my system. Nothing. I went back to the bottle (pills, not scotch) and downed another white pill. After a few more minutes the pain decreased enough that I was able to fall asleep.
I don't know how long I actually slept but I was jarred awake by the fact that I could not catch my breath and apparently while I slept a middleweight boxer had crawled inside my chest and was not trying to punch his way out. I was certain that I was about to die.
I ran upstairs and shook Arlene awake.
"Call an ambulance!" I shouted between my attempts to get air back into my lungs.
I went down into the living room and waited for either death or the ambulance, at that point I didn't care which one showed up first.
"Call again!" I shouted what might have been a minute later, but felt like hours.
Just then flashing red lights painted my living room walls and I looked up just as the EMTs entered my house.
You know those moments in movies where an old man (played by me in this scene) clutches his chest and mumbles "my pills" to whoever is near him? And when the pills are found and one is placed in his mouth he miraculously is able to breathe again and the pain is gone -- I never believed that to be true. You know what? That is exactly what happened to me. The EMT placed a small white pill into my mouth and in that split-second the pain was gone and I could breathe again.
I thought that was the end of it -- I was wrong.
They took me to the hospital and I was placed in the intensive care unit for three days. I wasn't allowed any visitors, except for Arlene. As they went about their business of trying to figure out why this happened I had to embarrassingly tell them, over and over, that it was probably the painkillers and the scotch.
At the end of three days a doctor came in and told me, "It was probably the painkillers and the scotch."
When the ambulance took me from my house I was wearing a pair of hulk-green sweatpants and a super bowl twenty-eight (XXVIII) t-shirt. For the three days that I was there and with Arlene being the only person that was allowed to visit me in the intensive care unit I begged her to bring me a change of clothes. She never did.
After being told by the doctor that I was going to be released and to "never do that again" I called Arlene. She told me that since she was busy planning Alexander's birthday party that day she didn't really have a lot of time. She told me that "she would meet me outside the hospital in the parking lot" and that she wasn't going to come inside because that would "take too much time".
This was the first week of January and we were in the middle of a horrific snow and ice storm. Everything was frozen outside. I sat on my bed in my sweatpants and t-shirt and waited for a nurse or orderly to come get me with a wheelchair so that I could leave. After a while an orderly saw me sitting there and told me I was free leave; no wheelchair was necessary. A little confused (in the movies they always wheel you out) I headed for the front entrance. Clad only in said t-shirt and sweatpants, and with my hospital name tag still on my wrist, I walked past the admittance desk and the guard station and no one stopped me. I felt like Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (albeit I hadn't killed anyone or thrown a marble fixture through a window) and just walked out of the hospital.
Outside I saw Arlene as she waited in what I could only assume was a very warm car as she sang along with the radio parked in the furthest corner of the parking garage. When she saw me she motioned with her hands and I could see her mouth the words 'Hurry up'. When I finally stepped into the warmth of the car Arlene sped off and said, "I don't have time for this."
Her concern for me was overwhelming.
It's been a long time since then. This January Alexander turns twenty-one. The green sweatpants have long gone missing, but I do still have that Super Bowl t-shirt. One thing always bothered me about my short stay in the hospital.
They never gave me anything for my earache.