Calling Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine

February 8, 2013

Last week I spent the night in a hospital. In Britain they’d say “in hospital”, which always confuses me. Why do the British insist on dropping the article and making it sound as though being “in hospital” is like being “in bed” or “in water”? Although more often than not on both sides of the pond when saying someone’s getting medical treatment we tend to name the hospital, and it’s pretty obvious from the name what we’re talking about. In America if someone said to me that they’d been “in Mercy Zion West General” and I asked, “What’s that?” they’d probably say, “A hospital. What are you, an idiot?” And in Britain if they told me they’d been in Chuffington St. Pancras and I asked, “What’s that?” they’d probably say, “A hospital. What are you, a gormless git?”

Anyway, the reason I was in the hospital wasn’t because I was getting medical treatment, and I wasn’t visiting anyone, and I wasn’t having to perform emergency brain surgery because I’d been in a wacky mix-up involving moonlighting as a private investigator. I was in the hospital because I’d volunteered for medical research. I’ve been poked, prodded, collected my own urine, and had needles stuck in places I’d rather not mention, so when my wife suggested that I could volunteer for medical research and actually get paid for doing those things it sounded like a pretty good idea. And spending the night in a hospital room was something I actually looked forward to. That may sound weird, but I consider it a preview of things to come. Barring any bizarre accidents I’m going to end up in a hospital room sooner or later. I’ve been in dozens of hospital rooms already, but always as a visitor, so this was a chance to see things from a patients’ perspective, to get a really good idea of what it’s like.

Aside from a couple of emergency room visits I haven’t been a patient in a hospital since I was four years old. I’ve been cursed with good health. I say “cursed” because I have a bad feeling sooner or later it’s going to catch up with me. Sooner or later I’m going to get ebola, or sclerosis of the duodenum, or cancer of the teeth. Right now I see my doctor so rarely I wouldn’t recognize him if he came up to me on the street and punched me in the face, although that would be a terrible way to drum up business because I don’t think he does plastic surgery. Sooner or later, though, he’s going to tell me, “You need an operation” and I’m going to say, “I’d like a second opinion.” And if he doesn’t say “You need to lose a few pounds too” I’m going to get another doctor because he should have a sense of humor. Although I should probably get another doctor anyway if he’s out there punching people in the face. Anyway I think it’s better to have some idea what to expect from a hospital stay. And it turned out to not be that bad, although there were some things I wondered about. First of all my room seemed less like a place where people get treated for illnesses and more like the ugliest hotel room I’ve ever been in. This was mainly because of the horrendous orange and brown mural of an elephant and a giraffe on one wall. I imagine the person who chose this theme wanted to convey the message, “On the African veldt it’s kill or be killed. Get better soon!” Then there was the bed, which I knew would be adjustable, and which had a TV controller on a cord attached to it. The cord meant I could lie back and flip through the channels without having to get up, but if I wanted to lower or raise the bed I had to roll over on my side and feel around for those buttons, which I’m sure would be pretty uncomfortable if I’d just had surgery. It was nice to know whoever designed the bed had their priorities straight: changing TV channels, easy, adjusting bed, hard and uncomfortable.

The TV, I also discovered, had an extensive library of on-demand movies, from old classics like Some Like It Hot to recent hits like The Help. And a variety of video games. The TV controller also had a large red button with a symbol on it that looked kind of like the Detroit Red Wings logo. Naturally I pressed this button since I had no idea what it was for. A voice said, “Can I help you?” Ah, I thought, that explains it. The nurses are all big hockey fans, and this button calls them. I’m pleased I figured that out so quickly. The first time I flew on a plane (or, if you’re British, “on plane”) I noticed there was a button with a human figure on it right over my seat. Naturally I pressed this six times because I had no idea what it did, and every time I did a stewardess came and asked me what I wanted, and finally I asked “What does this button do?” They explained it was a call button, and that the thing next to it was an air vent, and I thought, well, that explains why I wasn’t getting any answer when I spoke into the air vent, but that’s another story. Thinking quickly I asked the nurse about the lights, because there was no controller for the lights on the bed. The nurse confirmed what I’d already figured out: turning the lights on and off required walking across the room. Again, whoever was responsible had their priorities straight. Admittedly things were a little bit better in the bathroom where there was a long pull cord so that if I fell anywhere but in the shower I’d be able to call a nurse. I assume if I fell in the shower they’d eventually find me because all the hot water was being used up. Also to turn the bathroom light on and off I had to leave the bathroom and go find the switch by the door to my room. A little bit later a couple of nurses came in and checked my vitals: blood pressure, 120 over 59, temperature, 98.6, Red Wings, leading by two. So, to sum up, I highly recommend volunteering for medical research. It’s fun, you get paid, and you’ll help add to the medical profession’s knowledge. I know I plan to do it again, although I really just want to finish watching Casablanca.

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