"How’re you feeling?" I walked over to him.
"Okay, I guess." His fingers lightly caressed the intravenous tubing that dripped liquids into his arm from two thick, see-through plastic bags on a stand taller than his head. One bag held a clear substance, the other dark red, almost maroon. Blood. As if it were a proud accomplishment, Mike announced with a smile, "I had a bleeding ulcer."
I grinned upon hearing his typical, moderately boastful acceptance of what happened—another survival story to be added to his archive of tales for future retelling. "So I heard."
"I’m on my second unit of blood." Another proud smile.
"Did they say if you’ll need any more?"
"Not that I remember."
"Any word about how long you’ll be here?"
"Nope. But I feel good enough to leave right now."
"Oh no, you don’t. And next time I say you need to go to the hospital, you let me take you. No arguments. Agreed?"
Just then the door opened and a nurse carrying a lunch tray entered. She set it on the over-bed table and stuffed an extra pillow behind Mike’s back. They kibitzed for a moment before she filled his water pitcher and left.
Mike lifted the cover off his lunch plate to reveal a scoop of cottage cheese, half a canned pear, a cup of sugarless green gelatin cubes flanked by a dinner roll, one pat of butter, and a pot of hot water with a packet of instant decaffeinated coffee nearby. The sight of it called my stomach into action. It growled.
Again, as in California, Mike offered me his dinner roll, which I gratefully accepted and enjoyed, butter and all. While he worked at ingesting his meal, I used his bedside phone to call the Porsche+Audi store and told Flo that my husband was in the hospital and I would not be back that day but I would be there in the morning, as usual.
Shortly after the lunch tray was taken away, a third unit of blood was started in Mike’s IV. When our doctor stopped in during his four o’clock rounds, we learned that a fourth unit of blood would be the last one, and that he would likely be discharged in a couple of days.
When his dinner tray appeared, I gave Mike a quick good-bye kiss on the cheek and headed for home. Halfway there I realized it was our German language class night and we were absent. Although my conscientious self told me to drive directly to the school and properly withdraw, my practical self overruled in favor of going home to feed the dog and myself, and getting some rest.
The next morning I called Mike before leaving for work. He let me know that the fourth transfusion was completed during the night and, if the next two days’ blood counts were good, he’d be discharged before noon on Sunday.
I phoned him again during my lunch hour. "How’re you doing? Did they do your blood count yet today?"
"Not yet. Don’t know what’s taking them so damn long."
"Well, it’ll probably be soon. I’ll be up to see you after work, but I’ll stop at the house first to feed Duchess and grab a bite for myself."
"Okay, honey. See you then. Could you bring my razor?"
"Sure. See you later."
The drive home was bumper-to-bumper traffic, but not stressful in that I had no emergency to meet. Mike was in a safe place, with trained medical personnel to watch over himone of those rare occasions when I needn’t worry about him.
I walked to the mail box and emptied it when I arrived home, then went upstairs to change into comfortable jeans and a shirt. I fed and watered the dog and fixed a bite of dinner before leaving for the hospital.
I entered Mike’s room around seven. The minute I walked in, he beamed at me and announced, "My afternoon blood count came back normal!"
"Good, honey. Just one more day and you’ll be out of here." I handed him the electric razor he’d requested and plugged it in. He shaved, utilizing the tilt-up mirror in the over-bed table drawer.
We chatted until the end of visiting hours. I made a list of things he wanted me to bringhis robe, slippers, fresh underwear and stockings. I agreed to be there before noon the next day, Saturday, and keep him company the whole afternoon.
I spent a few minutes with Duchess when I got home, answered a couple of phone calls about Mike’s condition, then showered and went to bed. Sleep came easily that night, knowing Mike was in a safe place. I didn’t have to stay alert.
Saturday morning I watered the dog, started a load of laundry in the washing machine and placed a small pot roast, carrots and potatoes in the slow cooker to simmer before driving to the hospital.
I bought a Sunday edition of the newspaper in the lobby and plopped it on Mike’s bed when I reached his room.
"What’s new?" he asked.
"Sis called last night to see how you were doing. And your supervisor at work. I told them you might come home on Sunday."
The next several hours were filled with small talk, nurses’ visits, a blood draw and the proverbial unappetizing hospital lunch that Mike barely tasted before rejecting. We traded sections of the Sunday paper between us while waiting for the afternoon’s blood count results, reading silently to ourselves unless an article deserved sharing.
During one such recitation, Mike’s speech sounded slurred to me. Years of habit overtook me and I rose from my chair to confirm my suspicion by asking the one question he detested. It wouldn’t be his answer so much as the way he responded that would let me know if his blood sugar was dropping. "Are you okay?"
Prefaced by a stupid-faced grin, he replied, "Yes, I’re okay." The familiar demeaning tone was unmistakable. Likewise his making a fist, tightening it twice, and threatening harm in my direction. "Get me outta here!" he demanded, trying to pull himself upward on the bed rail. "Now!" His decibel level rose. He glared at me, eyes narrowed.
Dammit! My heart pumped an extra few beats. "I’ll get some help." I ran out of the room and through the hall to the entrance area where receptionists and nurses shared counter space.
I grabbed the edge of the countertop and called out, "Excuse me. I need some help." Several women, be they nurses or receptionists, ignored me. I shouted again, "Excuse me! My husband’s headed into an insulin reaction." I pointed down the hall. "He needs some juice with sugar in it. Stat!"
A petite, dark-haired woman in pale pink glanced at me over her shoulder, then turned away without responding. The others kept their eyes aimed at papers on their desks.
Their rude disregard of my requests fanned an ember of frustration deep within me until it erupted in rage. Without thoughts of consequence, I banged my fists repeatedly on the countertop. "Excuse me! My husband needs help! Now, dammit! Do I have to call an attorney to get it?" I flailed my arms into the air like some ranting revival preacher and then, with every eye in the place upon me, turned-tail and ran down the hall into Mike’s room.
He was still attempting, however unbalanced, to climb out of the bed. I grabbed his hand to keep it off the bed rail. He squeezed mine so hard it hurt, reminding me of the brute strength and overzealous determination he possessed during these episodes. I knew he would not give up until he’d pulled out his IV’s and escaped into the hall.
To my surprise, the dainty dark-haired woman who’d observed yet ignored me out front came rushing into the room, stirring a glass of orange juice. Silently she stood before me, her face filled with trepidation, or at least bewilderment. I dislodged my grip from Mike’s hand and took the glass from her, knowing that he wouldn’t accept anything from a stranger in his current state and that one wallop from him would probably send her airborne across the room. I got him to swallow some juice, then a bit more, as the nurse watched and waited with me.
Within fifteen minutes he had calmed and was returning to his usual self. I apologized to the nurse for my behavior. She half-smiled and nodded, but left the room without uttering one word. I sat by Mike’s bed, explaining to him what had just happened.
An hour later, our doctor walked in with a nurse right behind him. He checked Mike’s vitals, then turned to me and softly said, "You had every right to demand help this afternoon. The blood test that was done earlier today showed his sugar level down to thirty."
"Thank you. How was his blood count?"
"Normal." He smiled. "I’ll order his discharge tomorrow morning. There will be some instructions regarding his diet and medications that the nurse will go over with you at that time."
"Okay. Thank you. Sorry about my outburst, but once his sugar starts to drop, it just plummets! In fact, it’s probably low again now—he hasn’t eaten much since before lunch."
Without hesitation, the doctor sent the nurse out for crackers, cheese and juice, then turned back to me. "Don’t worry about your outburst. Very often we find that families comprehend a patient’s condition better and sooner than the hospital staff does."
I knew that. And now I also knew that if this ever happened again in a hospital, I would pick up the bedside phone and dial 9-1-1.