The Common Good
March-April 2001

CODE BLUE! (Or is it red?)

by Ed Spivey Jr. | March-April 2001

I was either having a major cardiac event or was standing in a pool of water being repeatedly struck by lightning.

My heart has a curious sense of humor. Every three or four years something strikes it as funny and it chuckles arhythmically in my chest. Maybe it's anticipating how humorous I look when, immediately thereafter, I fall to the floor and come to rest with my face pressed against the carpet. At that moment I usually think two things:

  • I'm having a heart attack.
  • The floor really needs vacuuming.
  • And then, of course, there's the ride in the ambulance with the cool flashing lights and the neat siren. By the time I arrive at the hospital, I'm actually feeling much better and don't see why I should stay. But then they do an electrocardiogram (KGB) which shows an abnormal heart beat. I have to take the doctor's word for this, since the print-out just shows a bunch of squiggly little lines. Sort of like the artwork our kids used to make and then we'd have to say what a fine job they did even though it was just a bunch of squiggly little lines. (Sorry kids. But I can't live with the lies any longer.)

    So for the next three hours I'm walking around the emergency room with all these wires coming out of me, not realizing that my movements were sending false signals that I was either having a major cardiac event or was standing in a pool of water being struck repeatedly by lightning. Which caused nurses to come running. "SIR! You can't walk around here like that! Now please get back into your bed!"

    "But I'm not tired. And, by the way, it's NOT a bed, it's a gurney. And why do they call it a gurney, anyway?"

    Nobody ever answered that question, or the other interesting questions I had, except once when I asked, "What's this handle thingie do?"

    "It turns off that man's oxygen, sir, and YOU SHOULD NOT BE TOUCHING STUFF! NOW GET BACK IN YOUR BED!!"

    "You mean my gurney?"

    "WHATEVER!"

    It went like this for several hours, until they finally got around to drawing a quart of blood from my arm. They did this, I believe, to make me weak so I'd stay in the gurney. But they claimed it was for enzyme tests, the same tests given to Vice President Dick Cheney (the man who's just a heartbeat away from not being the vice president). In fairness to the nurses drawing my blood, they were sensitive to my squeamishness about such things, so they only left the big clear vials of bright red blood on my pillow RIGHT NEXT TO MY FACE just long enough for me to pass out.

    The good news was that my doctors quickly diagnosed what was wrong with me: Either I'd had a heart attack, or hadn't had a heart attack. Or I'd eaten too many M&Ms at the staff party earlier in the day. (It's hard to stop after just one bowl.) So they decided to admit me for more tests, which meant that I was sent upstairs to a room with an actual bed where I could finally get away from the constant noise of the ER and settle in to the constant interruptions of floor nurses.

    I didn't sleep much, mainly because of the guy next to me who, judging by his steady moose-like snore, was getting plenty of sleep. At least until he was awakened abruptly at 5 in the morning when the following actual dialogue took place (reprinted here verbatim, which is a Greek word meaning "you really should have been there"):

    Nurse (hurriedly): Wake up, sir. It's time to take you down to surgery.

    Patient (groggily): Surgery?

    Nurse: Yes, sir. Now stand up and remove your underwear.

    Patient: Underwear?

    Nurse: Yes. And we're on a pretty tight schedule.

    Patient: Schedule?

    Nurse (looking down at her clipboard): Is this room 3310?

    Me (tired of this guy answering everything with a question): No. This is room 3312.

    Nurse: Oh. Sorry.

    Now THAT'S why I have such confidence in this country's health care system. It's the very BEST in the world. Unless you're sick.

    "Sick?"

    Oh, be quiet.

    Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of

    Sojourners and did NOT have a heart attack. He was released the next morning on his own recognizance and told to avoid stressful activities, such as eating more than his share of M&Ms.
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