Sunday, June 22, 1997

Journal entry, back at Kaiser


6/22     Yesterday I went into the emergency room  and I wound up spending the night in the hospital after two visits to ER for a collapsed lung. A nightmare of a day and a night. I knew the nurses and lab technicians by name by the time I got out of there. 

After hours of fiascoes, being shunted around from ER triage nurse to Outpatient Clinic where the doctor went out to lunch during my appointment, and the receptionist told me to do the same, I flipped, with what little lung power I had, I began screaming obscenities, and hobbled back to ER nearly collapsing from pain and a lack of oxygen.

Back at ER, I was finally seen to, only after throwing a tantrum and weeping hysterically. The triage nurse I’d seen earlier, came to my rescue and said “Admit this woman.” After hours of waiting for ex-rays, the surgeon said, “Congratulations, you seem to know your body.” 

Fuck You! How come no one listens to me here? I said I had internal bleeding when I was admitted, and again when they released me. I said something is terribly wrong: “When I turn my head to the left, I begin to lose consciousness.” Arrogant bastards can’t handle the concept of the patient self-diagnosing.

(I know plenty about medicine. They released Herman with a “strained back.” I was standing there when the doctor read the ex-ray; saw the cracked lumbar vertebra myself. Granted, I was wandering in and out of everyone’s examining rooms like a zombie, fighting to stay conscious, but I wasn’t about to lose sight of my “patients” for I was the one administering first aid, getting everyone out of the car, etc., before help came. 

I watched them flush Verona’s eye cuts, stitch them up. I Insisted the doctor stitch up the gash on Neil’s nose, a three corner tear needing 8 stitches. They were more worried about the fractures in his skull, and rightly so, but meanwhile, I knew his face needed attention too. Since I was a patient, they couldn’t very well throw me out. There was no one to take me home. I was already released, but I couldn’t stand to be separated from them. Safety in numbers?

I gave the ambulance drivers hell too when they tried to separate us—especially when they were going to send Neil and Herman to Novato Community Hospital. I screamed legalities, Hippocratic oaths, saying that by law, Kaiser had to admit us all. Fuck the system. Neil’s life was endangered. 

A mouthy, feisty patient from hell, I even unstrapped my head restraint to go fight them off, when they made to move Neil, but they assured me we would all go to Kaiser. (Was that really me?) Then I had to insist they take us via Novato, a ride down Lucas Valley Road would’ve killed us off for sure. 

The ambulance didn’t have good shocks. Lord knows where I found the strength and resolve to stay on top of it like that. Everyone else had long since succumbed to their individual pain and retreated from ordinary consciousness. I was the consciousness of the group. Somebody had to be in charge.)

Puncturing the lung is an extraordinary pain. I’ve got a Heinlich valve in my lung, but it took a surgeon three attempts to insert it through my chest wall; I was screaming in agony. My chest wall is tough and thick, he couldn’t get between my ribs. I made him go through the procedure beforehand, explaining my body was not like other women’s: more muscle mass, denser bones, but he didn’t listen. 

They wanted to release me from ER, when I was in such great pain I couldn’t even move. I was fighting off shock to the best of my ability. The doctor wouldn’t check me into the hospital, but kept me for observation. I was afraid of hemorrhaging, of dying the hall.

I call Neil on the house phone and begin weeping. He said, “Not to move, help is on its way. I’m sending the yoginis.” What’s a yogini? I wondered. The nurse said, “You have two visitors.” I said “I don’t know you,” to the two women from Neil’s ashram who handed me a coral rose. “From Neil,” they said.  “A rose from the Gurumayi’s visit.”   

I wasn’t sure who the Gurumayi was, but this wasn’t the time to ask as I was barely conscious and had to fight to get a pain killer. I can’t believe doctors would deny me pain medicine at a time like this! After the doctor bungled the insertion twice, trying to slip it between my ribs and poke it into the lung without having gone deep enough to make an incision into my lung. Barbaric! He had to slice me some more. I was traumatized, clinically speaking. 

I told them I could handle Percodan but because it’s a controlled substance they didn’t want to give it to me. “It requires special paperwork,” the doctor said. So? Demerol’s out. As are most of the IV pain killers: I had projectile vomiting after knee surgery. Vicodan also makes me vomit, I can’t handle Tylenol. Codeine surely wasn’t going to work. 

The pain was so great, I could hardly figure out how to breathe, let alone vomit. Each breath, the tube rubbed the pleural lining. More ex-rays. The tube, like a tiny coiled snake sleeping beneath my collarbone, the shadowed half-moon of the collapsed lung, like an eclipse.

The yoginis (tiny poodle-haired Jane Bark from the Isle of Barra, and a giantess with coal black hair named Laura—kindly, compassionate faces) wheeled me down the endless corridors to the hospital and into Neil’s room. I thought they were angels. I was in the hands of friends I didn’t even know, having to let go, too weak to stay in control. 

(Looking back, I’m surprised by my incredible reserves of strength, rage, and functionality under extreme duress. I always knew I was strong, but not that strong! Superhuman strength and will was required of me again and again. Conversely, the physical pain was quick sapping my strength, my will to survive, weakening by the minute. I was letting go…)

Neil played some chants, we meditated as pain spasmed through my body. A steady stream of tears slipped down my face, I could only take in the tiniest sips of air. He said, “You’re in the best of hands now, you’re right where you need to be. With me.” 

Maybe it was the Percodan, I was hallucinating, but I swear I had a transcendental experience: energy running up my spine. I had the thought as the energy radiated into a branched pattern up my spine, that the so-called “candelabra” etched in a sand dune in Nazca is really a map of the kundalini’s path. Earlier, as we meditated, the faces of gods drifted before me beginning with the Aztec gods ending with a pantheon of Hindu gods and I don’t even know their names.

Another image I’ve had was of the dream fragments sliding into place from last June. So, some of it was also to prepare me for this accident. I’d already told Neil he was to help me through a trying time when I was very frightened. (In one dream we were married, though, and I had fear… but the image was that he took me through and out of my fear—which was connected to him. This isn’t that dream, but it’s connected. Like a dress rehearsal.) 

I’m released from the hospital after three long days and nights. I’m so weak, I mostly sleep. My pulse drops so low: 113/58, but they don’t seem worried. My fever breaks the 3rd night. They remove the valve next morning. Take more ex-rays. The lung puncture has sealed. It’s staying inflated. I’ll have a scar on my chest, like a knife wound. Everything hurts. They took Neil down to Oakland yesterday. I feel so desperately lost without him. Afraid to let him out of my sight.


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