Peace was my intake nurse at Mt. Vernon hospital. She was friendly, but very business-like as she got all my vital signs recorded. She was very competent, but I could tell she was very stressed out at the same time. I wasn’t sure whether it was my condition, or just her workload. Every nurse I’ve ever met has had way too many patients, and not enough time. As we talked, I found out that Peace was from Ghana, and had only been in the United States for a few years. She finished her tests and paperwork, signed me in to the rehabilitation hospital, and had me moved up to a room while she went on to the next patient.
Since I was by myself, I tried to occupy my mind with whatever little distraction I could find. The television wasn’t working in my room, so I passed the time by counting on my fingers and wiggling my toes just to make sure my legs still worked. I was still a little dicey from the ambulance ride, and hoping that part was over. It wasn’t. I started feeling queasy again, and then, vomiting uncontrollably. This time, there was a lot of blood, and I rang the emergency call button. Peace ran in, and called for the doctor on duty. I could hear them discussing what to do, and the topic of sending me back to the critical care hospital came up. I think it was a real possibility for a while, but then the doctor came in, and said, “We’re going to intubate you to try and get that gunk out of your stomach. Seems like that stuff wants to get out of there, and we’re going to help it get out. Should make things easier once we’re done.”
I had no idea what ‘intubate’ meant. I assumed it meant using a tube for something, and that’s all I knew. I signed a document that I didn’t understand, and quickly learned that it was not a gentle procedure. A long plastic tube was inserted into my nose and I gagged as it went down my throat and into my stomach. I felt like I was being suffocated, because every time I closed my mouth, I couldn’t breathe. I tried to keep my mouth open slightly so I didn’t feel like I was gasping for air, even though I was constantly gasping for air.
I couldn’t swallow at all, and had difficulty breathing. Every time I closed my lips together, I felt like I was being smothered. I couldn’t talk at all, but I could write notes. I wrote a note to ask for a bowl of water and a washcloth so I could keep my lips from getting too dry from keeping my mouth open. I watched the contents of my stomach going out through the tube, which didn’t make me feel any better. Even with the tube in, I still threw up several times. Each time, Peace would run in and help me out. Eventually, I seemed to stabilize, but having the tube in made it almost impossible to breathe.
As the night wore on, I couldn’t fall asleep at all. I’d relax and suddenly, find myself gasping for air. Each time, a nurse would run in to check on me. They were doing their job very well, but each time, I felt worse. Each time I found it hard to breathe, I’d get and more anxious.
After 14 hours with the tube in, I rang the call button. After a couple minutes, the on-duty nurse came in and asked what was going on. I got out the pad and paper, started writing, and handed her the note. It read:
“Take this thing out.”
The nurse on duty said, “We can’t do that. The doctor gave specific instructions, and I don’t know what will happen…”
I wrote….”I don’t care.”
…and I didn’t. I wanted to breathe, and with this tube in, I couldn’t. It had been nearly two weeks of tests, surgery, poking and prodding and being reduced to depending on other people for even the most basic bodily functions. I was mad, I was tired, and I was done. At that point, I really didn’t care what happened. I didn’t know if I was going to stand or walk ever again, I hadn’t seen my kids in what seemed like ages, and I didn’t want anybody to see me like this. If they took the tube out and I died, well, I was OK with it.
The doctor came in, looked at how much gunk was collected in the bag, took my vital signs, and said, “I think you’ve probably had enough of this – you want to get rid of tube?”
I couldn’t write “YES!” big enough. I nodded, and they got to work prepping me for removal.
The doctor said, “This is probably going to sting a little…” and started to gently pull on the tube. My nose and throat felt like they were on fire as he pulled the tube out of my nose. I could feel it retreating out of my stomach, up my esophagus and out through my nostril. I had no idea the tube was that long. It was like watching a magician pulling scarves out of a hat. The tube just kept going and going.
As the last bit came out of my nose, I gasped for air, with my nose burning, my stomach hurting…and air rushing into my lungs. Breathing is something I always took for granted, until I found it hard to breathe. I could see my heart rate and blood pressure going back down to normal on the monitor, and I felt an amazing amount of relief that things were going to get better. After the doctor left and nurses cleaned me up, I weakly said “Thanks” and drifted off to sleep.
That night, I slept through the night for the first time in over two weeks. I knew that I was sleeping because I dreamt about lots of things – images seemed to come and go randomly, but I dreamt about my kids, missing my family and times where we were all together. At times, I felt like I was floating above the bed, looking down at myself and wondering why I looked different than I remembered. Other dream bits were just jumbled bits of television and movies that I’d had playing in the hospital. Eventually, I just slept and relaxed through the rest of the night.
The next morning, I blinked as the sun started to shine through the window. I could hear activity out in the hallway as the morning shift came on duty, checking on their patients and making sure everything was OK. Eventually my door opened, and Peace walked in.
“Good morning, Mr. David. How did you sleep?”