The Negress hates to make some of her writing sound like a bad movie, but she did promise her 12 or so readers (spread the word people) that she would share some vaguely memoir-ish (memnoir-ish, perhaps?) writing every now and then. So here’s the latest installment. A little long and kind of gross. So consider yourself warned.
The Negress doesn’t know much about Paterson, NJ. It’s not like she’s Junot Diaz or something. She only knows that she comes here when she is really sick. The first time was in 1998. The Crohn’s was new, and she had just jetted back from her first game show tournament (there will be more, much to her ongoing surprise). She ended up in St. Joseph’s Medical Center with an abscess filled with salmonella on her thyroid. Thanks to prednisone, she was also wildly diabetic. Ketoaciditic diabetic. Cool Rockin’ Doc, her gastroenterologist, enlisted the first new members of Team Negress – the infectious-disease guy and the ear, nose, and throat guy. She worked for a newspaper that wants to milk her game-show tournament appearance. Her ego was in better shape than her body (always the case), so she wrote the story of her semifinal flameout in her hospital bed (She had a room to herself thanks to the salmonella).
So then there was insulin and needles and 19 pills in the morning, and this episode became lore and a published medical paper (The Negress was a 38 year old African-American woman in the paper; she really wanted to be Patient Z) since stuff like that only happens to people who are HIV positive. She balanced work and surgeries pretty well for about six years – a knee replacement, carpal tunnel surgery, rectal pruning etc. but it all fell apart one day when she was at The Alternate Orthopedist. He was not to be confused with the Wizard of Cleveland, who eventually upgraded both knees to titanium (kind of like a credit card, but with added mayhem at airports). The Wizard looked like an accountant around tax time except for the white coat and sneakers. The Alternate Orthopedist inherited her wrists and hands. He was caramel-colored, looked like a two-guard and his mocha wife used to work for the Wizard. Her hip had hurt for a month and she thought it was a bone thing; not a Crohn’s thing. Shet left work early, telling her most recent supervisor that she was likely going to end up in the hospital. “How do you know?” he said. She resisted the temptation to mutter, “The same way I know you’re an idiot.”
She called Cool Rockin’ Doc and explained the story of this particular pain. He sent her to Paterson to be admitted express through the ER. He wrote orders while the Negress drove there from Bayonne. About nine hours or so after arriving, she got a bed. In the ensuing days, the Negress was diagnosed with an intestinal abscess. She got a drain attached to her belly that is called a grenade because of its size and shape. The Negress emptied pink fluid out of it at various intervals during the day. She also had a PIC line installed since her veins, which roll and float, shut down in hospitals. Attached to said PIC line is a backpack filled with a bag of milky nutrition. She got this stuff along with insulin and a bunch of other shit she had to inject into the bag shipped to the house. The Negress was at home on disability and fell into the ritual of Stabbing the Bag and watching a lot of “Law and Order” reruns. This would be temporary, Cool Rockin’ Doc assured her. He and Infectious Disease Guy had a plan. The Negress, while waiting on the plan, looked around the house and wished she was well enough to get rid of some the crap she had accumulated.
Could the need to de-clutter be related to the fact that the Negress has begun to believe she will die sooner than later? Possibly. It could also be related to paying monthly storage fees on stuff her sister cannot use in mental-health transitional housing (Not harshing on Sis since the Negress will find that her mental health will take a more overwrought turn somewhat later). Ringing in her head as she chilled insulin, reset the timer for the Nutrition in a Bag are her mother’s words, “I don’t want y’all coming in this house after I’m dead and saying, ‘Why in the hell did she save this crap?’” Cool Rockin’ Doc let it slip sometime after the thyroid abscess that the Negress could have died then. She thought she might die now; therefore a plan was needed for the vinyl, CDs, and books. The Negress felt like a bit of a sociopath during this period; going through the motions of human interaction that people expect from sick people.
She kept with the venal nutrition for a while. Then, Team Negress decided it was time to cut out the abscess and connect the colon. Ear, nose, and throat guy exited and Colorectal Surgeon Guy entered. On the day of the surgery, we also added General Surgeon Guy and his wife, Anesthesiologist Babe. The Negress told them before going under she hoped they didn’t have a fight last night.
Might the Negress mention that the surgical area at St. Joseph’s could have been on TV for all of its colorful residents and folks just back from Iraq? Now this could easily have been a family except for the part where you spent the day cutting people open and such. These people laughed a lot and welcomed people in like we shall be old friends once all the cutting is done. This didn’t happen, but The Negress didn’t mind since by the time she was out of their hands, she was so doped up she wasn’t sure she was there or not.
She returned to Seton 5, where she had spent several post-op stays. This group was more like a dysfunctional family, including the pair of trailer-trash patients who were in a car wreck but were pissed that the nurse won’t let them go outside to smoke. The woman, who looked like she should have been named Crystal as in meth, whined equally about smoke denial and how she missed her “babies.” The Negress found out later the “babies” are in their teens. She wondered how exactly you could smoke in a neck brace with one arm a wad of bloody bandages.
The Negress can’t get up, but she can throw up. This was really no fun when she wasn’t eating solid food. She slept the way you sleep in hospitals, an hour here and there highlighted by blood-sugar readings and blood draws. The Negress woke up at one point to find a little old man at the end of her bed telling her he didn’t feel so well and could she call his daughter. She steered him out of the room for a bit. Back he came, repeating his request and grabbing her foot to stress the urgency of the matter. Turned out he was 96, was in a car accident and his 75-year old daughter was coming for him. The Negress squeezed her eyes shut, trying to blot out this vision of her likely future. Except she has no kids.
She went home with staples in her belly, and some sort of tension-loaded spring rubber coils attached to some of the staples. The incision didn’t hurt that much, but every time she moved and one of those rubber things was disturbed, she tried not to scream. She had a high threshold of pain. Proof of this was the time after a wisdom-tooth extraction that she walked around with a dry socket for a couple of days. She took some extra acetaminophen, but only went by the dentist’s office because she was on her way to South by Southwest and wanted to make sure she could drink. He gave The Negress the eye-popping cartoon face, scolded her for not coming in sooner and packed said socket with soothing antibiotic-laced gauze. She said, “People told me sometimes wisdom teeth hurt. I didn’t think it was that bad.” The Negress did not tell him about eating tortellini less than hour after the teeth were removed.
So, the rubber things hurt. The Negress waited about 10 days or so and drove to Colorectal Surgery Guy’s office to get the staples and springs removed. It was noted that there was some fluid coming out of the incision, but the Negress was assured this thing might drain a bit. She stocked up on gauze and tried to flirt with normalcy. She recalled going back to work, still leaking. She saw Cool Rockin’ Doc who thought the leaking was not normal. So he sent her down the street for a CT scan with contrast. The PIC line was gone so finding veins was somewhat tortuous. There was a bald guy with full tattoo sleeves who could hit her veins every time. She laid in the tube and waited. They injected contrast into the leakage. That felt weird. She hung on, awaiting another visit with Infectious Disease Man. It turned out the corrective surgery had abscessed again and the fluid was from a fistula that had popped up out of nowhere. She danced with antibiotics, but nothing doing. She had to be disconnected.
So back to the OR and Seton 5. In order to make sure everything is clean, the Negress got an ostomy. A rosy pucker of her intestine was now protruding through her belly. She placed a wafer on top of it with adhesive, and then attached a bag. You can figure out what went in the bag. The Negress traveled with bags and wafers once she got out of the hospital. She went back to work equipped with her own poo pouch. Work was just that, but she passed the time between stories imagining the list of people she would throw the bag at if she had the chance.
She resumed socializing and it went well for the most part. One night, the Negress went to a revival of an Alan Ayckbourn play, which was wan and not very funny. She ate richly before the show, forgetting her capacity limitations. She started to leak at show’s end. The bag blew off the wafer. She couldn’t aim it at the stage (it would have been apt criticism), but she snagged it and raced to the loo. After much fiddling and wafer failing, she emerged from the loo slightly shitty and disheveled. Her friend took it in stride. She went home.
At one point, the Negress ended up with acid burns on her skin due to series of miscommunications about the size and type of wafers that were needed. She had a home-care aide who looked at her reddened flesh around the stoma and clucked. She was from Eastern Europe so she didn’t flip out, but she did sternly remind the Negress that this stuff is inside your body for a reason. I healed slowly and got more adept at poo management, which was not something I envisioned on a resume. “Photoshop, Flash, Microsoft Office, InDesign, poo management.”
Not a good fit for the organization.
She hung out with the ostomy for about six months. Team Negress decided that, after some antibiotics and dietary modifications, she was clean enough for them to try this again. Back to St. Joseph’s, the OR and Seton 5. She can’t remember where in the cycle the Astros got broomed in the World Series (by her now-beloved White Sox). She watched some of it on the tiny rental TV, but it didn’t exactly dovetail with getting better. The Devils were doing well, so she cleaved to them and hoped she might get to some games before the playoffs.
The Negress didn’t have a lot of visitors, which was fine. However, a couple of her roommates viewed visiting hours as a contest for how many friends and relatives they could cram into the room at a time. She recalled 12 being the record. That family included one very sharp-looking lesbian military vet who boasted, “Once the girls have had me, they never go back.” The hospital actually did a sweep at the end of visiting hours to make sure these people went home. She thought some of them even liked the food.
The belly incision was pretty weary by the time the Negress finally went home. The ostomy was closed so that added another scar to the tableau. I recuperated with “Law and Order”(doesn’t everyone?) and “West Wing” reruns. As she got closer to returning to work, she realized she kind of liked being home with bills paid and not much on the agenda. Little did she know how soon that’s going to come again.
Also, because we simply cannot learn much from some things we do, she tried the sports thing again. She worked on the copy desk 5 to 1 with Wednesday and Thursday off. It was a fail on a lot of levels. She does become a better editor, but she found out once again she’s not exactly a full-immersion sports fan. She did get out after a couple of years, but all of the aforementioned health mayhem came right after working the night shift. She suspected there was a correlation.
Around the end of 2008, these people offered her money to go away and the Negress took it.
The Negress realizes now that all of the elements for the current events had been in place the entire time she was in the business. However, the dips and dives were, at least, unnoticed and, at best, rewarded (write a concert review in 20 minutes against deadline? Clean up a story by a venerated writer who can’t remember how to spell Joe Louis’ name? All night long ‘til the break of dawn).
The ongoing brain betrayal, which has now been tamed by anti-seizure medication followed by anti-depressants, has the Negress kind of on guard. Will the monster wake up at some point and the whirlwind start again? Why does she feel that tossing the meds might be an excellent idea? (note to the Negress: That would be worse than that trip to Tucson where her plane ticket got stolen by an ex-friend’s coked-up acquaintances.) Could the road being a semi-colon have prepared the Negress for this latest twist? Hell fucking no. She feels like a series of chemical titrations and kind of misses that old hypomanic magic. That is, until she goes through “sent items” and looks back on what she left on various social media sites. There will be no more nodding off behind the wheel while trying to get to Andersonville from Evanston and somehow ending up on Cicero and not knowing how that happened (for the record, she no longer owns a car and there was a successful titration that will prevent that from occurring again). Enough with the intermission. She’s ready for Act III.