Monday, August 16, 2010

My first trip to the hospital

My husband and I drove to Tupelo in his grandfather's old beat up 1962 Chevrolet Impala. I learned how to drive in this car around the pastures on the farm in Woodland, terrorizing the stampeding cows. It was the color of puke green and the seats had seen better days, oozing rubber from every vinyl crack. It baked in the sun while Sterling went fishing. We were glad to have the old car, it was heavy, burned a quart of oil a week, but it always cranked and took us where we needed to go. I covered the seats with towels, to make it more comfortable to ride in. When we went to parties or church, people were too embarrassed to ride with us.

My in-laws had decided for me that I had to have my tonsils removed. I was scared to death since I've never been admitted to a hospital before and I did not know what to expect. I had heard horror stories under communist care and I saw the results of Romanian surgical skills hopping on crutches, deformed, maimed, or worse, in graves. I was frightened and I thought I was going to die.

I've always had issues with tonsil infections growing up. I was given so much Streptomycin, I am still surprised that I can see, hear, and smell. Moving to a totally different climate, a sub-tropical, extremely humid and hot, created challenges that my body was unable to fight off very well and exacerbated any symptom I've previously had. I was plagued by more infections and severe nose bleeds from allergies to plants and flowers unknown to my immune system.

Here we were going to Tupelo - I felt like going to the scaffold. I had asked my husband to buy me a meal at KFC, it was the only food that somewhat resembled the fried chicken I ate in Romania, and, if I was going to die, I wanted to have comfort food as my last meal. He refused, since surgical patients cannot eat and drink hours before surgery. Sam* was laughing all the way, having a good time at my expense.

We did have insurance, so they were going to kick us out of the hospital shortly after the procedure unless complications arose. Everything seemed like a luxury hotel. The friendliness of the admission personnel and staff in general was a sharp contrast to the insulting rudeness and carelessness of the Romanian medical corps. The bed was clean, comfortable, I did not have to bring my own sheets, I had my own room, nurses checked on me every so many minutes, the doctors were friendly, knowledgeable, did not reuse needles and bandages, I had my own bathroom in the room, I had a TV, and the walls had been freshly painted in a "cheerful" grey color. Even so, it beat the Romanian hospitals where layers of paint from World War II were still chipping everywhere, revealing water, rust, and blood stains. And the floor was a mosaic of dubious marks. Imagine that, a TV in my hospital room - I had to wait until twelfth grade in high school in order to have a black and white TV with two channels playing mostly communist propaganda. It was lunchtime, the aroma of cooked food was everywhere, and I thought, "great, they are bringing my last meal."

Slightly drowsy and feeling no pain, I thought I had died and went to heaven and I just did not know it yet. I gave my husband my last wishes before they put me to sleep, firmly believing that I would not wake up again as I was counting backwards from 10. I had written a good-bye letter to my parents. In typical independent young person fashion, I had not told them I was having surgery - I did not want them to worry unnecessarily - there was nothing they could have done since I was 8,000 miles away.

I woke up in the recovery room, fire in my throat, and I thought, "oh, I did not go to heaven, I must be in hell and it hurts so badly." There were some angelic faces in a bright light telling me to wake up, the surgery is over. I closed my eyes and wished it all to go away. I spied a beautiful bouquet of flowers next to my bed, sent by my friend Lois, and I really thought I had died. But every time I swallowed my saliva, a volcanic burn enveloped my throat. I asked for water and they brought me ice. I was shocked since I remembered my little cousin Rodica having the same surgery and being given hot tea. I was offered ice, ice cream, and slimy jello. Rodica was in misery for weeks, it was probably the hot tea causing her slow and painful recovery. I was pondering my demise from so much burning pain. Ice cream was truly a miraculous cure.

Romanians and Europeans in general have this fixation with cold drinks causing sore throats and stomach cramps. That is why everything served there is room temperature. Waiters give customers dirty looks if they ask for ice and bring demonstratively only a cube or two. A doctor performing a tonsillectomy there would never give ice or ice cream to a patient - not when I was growing up.

There were no complications and they sent me home the next day. I called my parents to tell them about my brief encounter with the American medical care. They were incredulous about my descriptions - they thought I was fantasizing and delirious from my surgery and describing an expensive hotel. Until my mom saw the inside of an American hospital with her own eyes, she never believed me. To this day, she says, American medicine is very advanced and futuristic, while socialized medical care standards in Romania are still fifty years behind.
*Not a real name

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