To say it was a surprise is an understatement. Though my habits were such that I knew something would happen sooner or later. As I got older (I was by then 66) obviously that time drew closer. The surprise was that it was my heart that betrayed me after dealing with spinal problems for so long.
It wasn’t a hard attack, nor was it painful. There was nothing like in the movies, nor even accompanied by the ‘warning signs’ of chest pain, numb left arm, etc. It felt like bad heartburn that didn’t go away with antacid. It was right in the middle of my chest and I worried I was developing acid reflux. I lay down but that didn’t help. Then my wrists felt like they were swelling and throbbing weirdly, so I told my wife I thought I would take her earlier suggestion and go to the ER.
They rushed me into surgery and installed some stents and that was it. The rest was recovery. As it turned out even that was abbreviated, thank the stars -- I was starving in the hospital. It wasn’t because of the ‘heart healthy’ diet, but the sheer lack of edible food. The place had an excellent reputation for heart patients, but the usually execrable food for which hospitals are known was even worse than most I’ve known.
But it is my recovery I am writing about. At first, they had me on one floor in the CRU. That lasted two days. Most of the nurses there were nice, but one was a really caring, short Asian woman whose nursing skills were obvious. Everybody kept talking about when they would move me to a regular room, but didn’t say when.
I asked Kim when that would be, and she said they were waiting to see how well I got around when I felt like walking. “Let’s go,” I said. She got me a walker, transferred my IV line to a portable one and we were off down the hall, Kim wheeling the IV and holding the gown closed in back, so my ass didn’t show. Except for the short time that I drifted into a bent posture caused by my spinal problems (and to which I had become habituated for several years before trying to remember to stand up straight) I did well. Kim even mentioned my stooping posture when she noticed it and I explained, but stood up straighter. I assured her it had nothing to do with my chest or heart, but with the back problem that had gotten me disabled.
After another day of hiking up and down the hall, they moved me. It was at night so there were fewer people around. I hadn’t realized until then that my regular room would be on a different floor. That meant losing my excellent nurse, Kim. I think she was sorry to see me go -- nearly as sad as I was to lose her. She was the night nurse and I slept poorly so she had come in and sat while we talked late sometimes.
When I arrived upstairs the first night nurse there was male. He looked like he had escaped some high school play in his costume scrubs. He introduced himself as ‘Van’ and told me the other shift nurse’s name, writing both his name and hers on the white board at the foot of my bed. I only saw her once when she brought me another pillow so I could elevate my feet. She was the female counterpart of Van, but she seemed more bored and she was attractive to contrast with his gawkiness.
Morning came and a new female nurse came in to give me my medications. She was pretty, chubby and friendly enough. I forget her name because she was so outshone by Jamie, my main daytime nurse. Jamie had black -- probably dyed (it was that black) -- hair and bright blue eyes. She was tall and self-possessed, obviously confident in her nursing abilities. Well-arranged features made her a shoo-in as the star for a medical drama television show.
Since it was daytime and a busy place, she didn’t come around often – not often enough for me, at least. I supposed she was just as friendly with all her patients, but the other nurse, Anne (they wrote her name on the board) told me differently.
“I have never seen Jamie so happy when she comes to work. The last two days she’s been practically glowing.” I’d been moved two nights earlier. If I had been younger, I might have been tempted to think it was me that made her happy. But I’d learned not to get carried away too quickly.
“What is she usually like?” I asked.
“Oh, usually, all she wants is for the shift to end so she can leave.”
“Maybe she decided she likes her job,” I said.
“I don’t think that’s it. She is just nicer and in a better mood, for some reason.” Anne finished taking my vital signs and left the room. I lay there and let the drugs lull me to sleep. I could get addicted to the Dilaudid in my IV very easily, I decided.
Jamie came around fairly often, to check on me or just to say hello, even if she didn’t really do anything but ask if I needed more water or anything. When the shift was almost over, she came in and sat on the side of my bed. I had noticed a tattoo sticking out of her collar in the back and as we talked I asked her about it.
She smiled and blushed a little bit. But she told me it was a flying parrot. The part I could see was the tip of one wing. “Wow. If that is a wing tip, it must be pretty big,” I said.
“Oh, it is. It goes down to my waist, but you don’t get to see that,” she grinned.
“Damn! I had high hopes,” I joked (even though I meant it).
“Yeah, yeah. They all say that.”
“I’m sure it is beautiful, though.”
“I like it. For what it cost me, I’d better like it. ‘Perry’ will be with me the rest of my life, after all.”
“Do you have other tattoos?”
“Well,” she glanced at the door before going on. “I do, but you REALLY don’t get to see them.”
“You mean you have more than one other one? I’ll bet one is on your breast,” I dared to say. She blushed harder.
“Yeah, smart guy, there’s one there.” Her hand went to her right breast.
“I won’t try to guess any of the rest. I’d rather use my imagination,” I said grinning at her pretty blush. I saw that her shift had ended fifteen minutes earlier, yet here she was. Instead of running out when she was finished, she stayed to talk with me.