11 May, 2020


It's been nearly two months since I checked into the hospital, and though I've thankfully been able to spend recuperation time at home for the last four weeks, it's been a constant struggle, with home health nurses and nurse practitioners coming thrice each week, having to infuse antibiotics for over an hour every eight hours (and having to prepare 45 minutes in advance for each infusion, meaning I could only get five hours of uninterrupted sleep each night), and the constant reminder of tubes coming out of my body, with staples and stitches in various places.

So it was with great pleasure when I learned that my peripherally inserted central catheter would be removed. I dreamed of finally being able to take showers again (though, as it turns out, continuing to have a nephrostomy tube means that dream hasn't quite matured yet), and the thought of being able to roll over onto my right side at night made me downright giddy. And, if that were not enough to celebrate, I'd finally be able to remove those sutures!

Ah, but the plague that comes in the form of these mysterious sutures has driven me mad for over a month. Supposedly, you only have to cut under a knot and then pull, and they'll come right out. But first one nurse, then two, then a nurse practitioner all claimed to be unable to get it out. They didn't want to pull too hard. They couldn't see the suture properly. They were afraid that my skin had grown over it. The excuses seemed to have no end. So, for the first time since I left the hospital, I traveled to a doctor's office for the sole purpose of removing a single stitch.

This was the surgeon who put in my chest tube in the first place. It was another who stitched me up afterward. I felt so bad for wasting his time when supposedly a nurse was intended to do it. He asked: "They didn't want to pull too hard? Does it hurt?" I said no, so he pulled out a pair of tweezers, grasped the end of the string, and before a single second had passed, my suture was out. "What was wrong with those nurses," he sighed idly.

But it was what happened before this that really caught my attention.

I could hear, through the door, as he took a phone call. It was another doctor, asking for a consult. He was already familiar with the patient: positive for COVID-19, older, currently intubated, but stable. There's a good chance that they could recover -- except when they took an x-ray before removing the intubation tube, the metal object that they had seen previously had moved. "We assumed it was shrapnel embedded in tissue; but now it seems to be loose. If we remove the intubation tube, it could cause severe damage." A slight pause allowed me to hear my heartbeat ever so much more loudly.

"You'll need to inflate the tube slightly, then take it out. We have to just hope for the best."

"But that's too dangerous; couldn't we --"

"We could, but it would be --"

"I know, I know; that would be heroic --"

"No, suicidal. There's not enough capacity with COVID-19. You're thinking he could get better, and yes, he could, but he is DNI/DNR. It would be different if he had long healthy years ahead of him, but he's coming off the intubation so that he can talk to family."

"I can't…"

"Get them to do it. … I'm sorry. I really am very sorry."

"I know."

There's another pause after the phone is hung up. In a few moments, he will enter the patient room I am sitting in, and we will both pretend he didn't just have this conversation. But just then, in that moment, I recognize just how lucky I am.

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