Possibly worse than a root canal

Published 3:53 pm Tuesday, July 21, 2020

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If you remember, we opened the column two weeks ago with me and my dentist talking during my root canal. That was fun.

If you noticed—tell me you noticed; lies are perfectly acceptable—I didn’t run a column last week.  Why?  As it turns out, the root canal was the highlight of July.

I’d been having some chest pains, and I’d had a full cardiology work-up.  Nothing wrong, the chest looked good, the old ticker was cleaner than Roger Stone’s prison sentence.

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The chest pains persisted.   My doctor decided that maybe it was my gallbladder acting up, and he wanted some tests.

My gallbladder decided that impatience was the best policy.  It woke me up around 3:00 Wednesday morning in the worst pain I’ve experienced since I found out that they had passed the perpetually-increasing-but-for-now ten cent gasoline tax.  The pain—like the gas tax—felt permanent, so for the first time in my life I was bundled into a car and taken to an emergency room.

The fun was just beginning. When we got to the hospital in Opelika—yes, the hospital that was almost at capacity for COVID–they acted like I’d just arrived with a full-blown Ebola outbreak.  They donned masks and gloves and somehow found a way to get me into the emergency room so they could do any good and caring hospital would do—they checked to see if I had insurance. 

Once they found out that I did and once we’d played twenty questions I was allowed to speak with a nurse. 

They were not impressed that I’d had a full cardiology workup, they were not impressed that my personal physician thought it was my gallbladder, and they, by golly, had to be certain that I wasn’t having a heart attack.  They decided the best way to test me was to draw blood. They drew blood in the emergency room, in the room, in the hallway, and every time the opportunity presented itself. They woke me up to take blood.  They took enough that I was convinced that if I looked in the room next door I’d see a full-blown Frankenstein monster who was being sanguinated by me.

They finally decided it was not my heart—my cardiologist was so disappointed.  They sent me to find out if it was…. wait on it…my gallbladder.  The testing made things quite clear, so they immediately hooked me up with a terrific surgeon, who, when I asked if I really needed to have a body part removed, looked at me with amused eyes and said, “Oh yes.”

They scheduled it for the next day.  By then the pain had let off—it lasted a delightful 24 hours— and I was able to eat. They kept me on a “cardiac prudent” diet, which, they assured me, meant that my food would be bland.  It had to be bland to keep the gallbladder from attacking me again. I didn’t want that.

The night before my surgery they brought a tray full of food.  When I took the cover off the plate I saw a beautiful bed of bland white rice. The problem is that in bed with the rice were onions and red peppers and green peppers.  Menacingly perched atop the bedfellows was a maliciously-grinning bit of spicey Italian sausage.

I called the nurse in. She slammed the top on the plate, called, and in ten minutes flat I was munching on a beautiful grilled chicken sandwich.

Later on, I asked for something to drink.   You have to remember that I have a serious Diet Coke habit.  They agreed to bring me one, but—remember the cardiac prudent diet for the person with no cardiac problems? —it had to be caffeine free.  I’d just as soon eat a meatless steak.

The nurse left to see if I could have a Diet Coke   Another, younger, and much nicer nurse came in, and I decided to try my luck. I wheedled, cajoled, explained that I’d already been in enough pain and just couldn’t abide the thought of the inevitable caffeine headache. 

And, I reminded her, I was having surgery tomorrow and this would be my last shot at something to drink. And, while she was at it, could I have a snack? She came back in minutes with a delightfully cold Diet Coke and some Double Stuff Oreo cookies. I was happy; my cardiac prudent diet was in cardiac arrest.

Just as I was finishing, the first nurse returned to explain to me that under no circumstances was I allowed (don’t you love the term “allowed”?) a regular Diet Coke. She turned to leave, stopped, her eyes narrowed, and said, “Is that a regular Diet Coke?” “How did that get here?”, I asked.  “I don’t think its even been opened.”   

She grimaced. “I can see the tab. It has been opened.” I gave her my full-on best smile, “Has it now?  Well, I don’t think I’ve had any yet.” She picked it up. “It’s empty.”  She almost stomped her foot. “Is it?” I wondered, “how peculiar!” She knew she’d been had, wished me well on my surgery, and she left.

I felt like a million bucks. I’d had my regular Diet Coke, had swindled them out of Double-Stuff Oreo Cookies, and I was riding high.

Until about 3 in the morning.  That first nurse came in, woke me up, smiled sweetly at my empty regular Diet Coke can, and took a twelve-inch needle as thick as my wrist and drew enough blood to finish the Frankenstein next door.

After that, all I had left to look forward to was the surgery.  It went well, and I’m back.

Oddly enough, my Diet Coke cravings has dropped, just a bit.    And if you see a newly-minted Frankenstein walking around, tell him I said hello and that he’s welcome.