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Pain, Add Nauseam

I called 911 the other day and was soon greeted by firemen who acted like I was one of the drunk, shirtless dudes on Cops.

“Hey, man, whut’s goin’ on?”

“I’m in intense pain.”

“Well, what do you want us to do about it?”

“Help me.”

The conversation continued along similar lines inside the ambulance, with them asking stuff like “You been in pain three days, why didn’t you go to the doctor?” and “You don’t have any friends you can call? Cuz we’re gonna charge ya for the ride” (and everything else, of course).

Here’s the one immutable truth about hospitals: Everyone you meet will ask you the exact same set of questions as the last person. They will write down the answers on yet another sheet of paper. You will probably meet 10 such people the first day, and at least three per day thereafter. This may simply be bureaucratic inefficiency, or they could be making sure your story stays straight, or perhaps it’s to keep you from passing out.

After going through nurses, interns, orderlies and everyone else, I finally saw the doctor, who said he’d get me some pain medication. But, of course, he had to get the guy with the keys to the drug cabinet. And that guy was the sort of guy who’d stop to have a conversation with everyone in the hall on the way back.

I checked in around 11 a.m. It was maybe 5 p.m. by the time I got a shot that reduced the agony in my abdomen to that of a typical stomachache. One of the questions they ask is if you’ve had any previous surgery. I had testicular surgery 16 years ago. Unfortunately, saying this meant that my first test was a scrotal ultrasound. An old German woman fondled my nuts with Vaseline. As a test, it revealed nothing. As a way to lower my shame threshold so that nothing subsequent could possibly embarrass, it succeeded.

As part of a CAT scan, you have to drink a radioactive milkshake (which ought to turn you into a superhero, but doesn’t). Most people hate that part, but I was dehydrated, and had been denied any liquids in case I needed surgery, so it actually tasted good, too. For the CAT, you have to hold your breath 20 seconds. I couldn’t. Hurt too much. For the regular X-ray, I had to stand up straight, which was getting tough too. I was starting to need more painkillers.

A guy with a shaved head was wheeled in next to me — his face was split open and bloodied. He made the sign of the beast with his fingers and banged his head when he saw me. He’d been in a nightclub brawl (“with niggers,” he whispered in my ear), though he proclaimed his innocence in starting it.

“That girl, I heard her say she has a big welt mark on her chest from me punching her,” he told the cops. “Can you have your CSI guys do a DNA test on that or something?”

“No, sir. They don’t really do that.”

I overheard some talk of kidney stones, but pretty soon it was unanimous: My appendix had to come out. Surgery took all of 10 minutes, and when I came to, the pain was instantly cut in half.

Following the surgery, I’d puke up green stuff, but not violently — it was like my vocal cords and mouth would suddenly just say “Bleeahhh!” and green tea would fly out. After each performance, I’d get a shot of anti-nausea medication, which never worked.

I plied my doctors for info on how close I was to dying but got nowhere. Though when I brought up gangrene, they said yes, I had had that. My necrotic appendix shut down my digestive system. It had to learn how to work all over again. I wore a diaper out of the hospital and crapped myself three times on the way home. If you think the smell of bodily emissions is bad, try to imagine what it would be like if all your secretions smelled like household chemicals. Minus lemon-freshness, of course.

And now the bills are coming in. But that’s a whole different kind of pain.