Saturday, August 15, 2020

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world—and a half-brained Doug (but one of us is getting better)

I’ve been having a pretty tough time coming up with things to write about lately.  There’s been so much strife all around us, anything not related to the pandemic or Trump seems superfluous.  All I know is, November 3 cannot get here soon enough.  

Today is Day #41 since I quit vaping.  And if it wasn’t for my TMD I’d still be puffing away, even though I’ve been telling myself to quit for years.  It was a silly habit, sucking vapor from a gizmo—and yes, I miss it.

Anyway, I suppose I do have something interesting to share…

The night before the Fourth of July, I came pretty close to hurting myself.  It wasn’t my intention, well, not at first.  I don’t know WHAT came over me.  I was trying to reduce the pain from this godawful TMD, and broke out my secret stash of oxycodone pills (prescribed for kidney stones in 2016 which I never took). 

After swallowing a pill and waiting an hour or so for SOMETHING to happen, I discovered their expiration date was 4 years old, and angrily took several more.  I came to my senses (when I began shaking & sweating profusely) and dialed 911.  Then I quickly scribbled a note of apology to my sister and left it on my dining table, in case my lame-brain actions proved fatal.

(That note was a big mistake; it didn’t help my case when I insisted none of this had been planned in advance.)  I was told by the ER psychologist that I would be checking into the Behavioral Health Unit at UPMC McKeesport Hospital for a couple days for observation.

I wound up in the cuckoo’s nest for 5 days, from July 4 thru July 8.

My first night there, the doctor in charge read my file and said “This man needs pain management, not general therapy.  But you DID leave a note, which indicated a possible attempt…”  I insisted the note was a hurried afterthought and Dr. Bernstein said “I believe you.  But since we have you here…”

After being shown the layout of the place and meeting some of the other inmates (roughly half were female) I was shown my room.  And my roommate, Marty.  He was white, 58, my height & size—me.  He seemed like a nice enough fellow, and I asked why he was there.  He said he was on the run from Mexicans, and the hospital was helping him out by letting him pose as a mental patient.  “NOW do you get why I keep the light off above my bed, Doug?”

Marty had lots of stories—I especially liked the one where Peter Fonda came to him for his expertise on choppers, for a little film he was making called Easy Rider.  Marty… didn’t that movie come out in 1969?  You were 8 years old!

Later that first night, as I was on my army cot (they were literally cots), worn out and drifting to sleep, one of the staff took my foot and shook me awake. “Doug, don’t you want your meds?  They’ll help you sleep…”  I was escorted into the hallway to the “Meds” window and handed a cup of water & tiny paper cup of pills.  I asked what they were and was told Xanax, Ambien & 3-4 others I’d never heard of.  All the patients there were heavily drugged; soon I’d be a zombie too.

The following day, I was a nervous wreck.  I wasn’t used to the lack of privacy, and you were not permitted to be alone more than a couple minutes—even when going to the bathroom.  One of the nurses came up to me and said “The night nurse says you’re not peeing.”  I told her I had a bashful bladder, but if I could just have some alone time…  She said “Not to worry, we have pills for that.”

(For the next 3 nights, I was awakened at 3:00am by Todd, a hulking male nurse with a portable ultrasound machine to scan my bladder.  I didn’t NEED to be awake, but when someone is rubbing cold gel on your groin in the middle of the night, you tend to wake up.) 

On my third day, I was approached by one of the staff and a woman in a white doctor’s coat.  I was told “Doug, this is Doctor Tara.  And she’d like to talk to you alone.”  We went back to my room, and she closed the door.  I said “I don’t think they like that.. the door being closed.”  She assured me we’d be fine.  I said “So where do you want me to begin?  I had a pretty normal childhood…”   She laughed and said “I’m not a therapist Doug, I’m a urologist!  We were looking at your medical files and couldn’t find any records of a prostate exam.”  I told her it was on my bucket list.  She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a blue latex glove and a tube of gel.  She said “This won’t take very long.”  Oh, the fun never stopped.

On my fourth day, I was told by Amber (the morning MHS—mental health specialist) I’d probably be going home that afternoon, after Dr.Bernstein made his morning rounds and signed my release.  Thank God!  I calmly waited for my 5 minutes with the doc and his entourage, only to be told he wanted to keep me one more night.  I said “WHY.”  Dr. B tapped my stomach with his clipboard and said “I want to ensure everything is working below the belt.” 

I said “I thought I was here to have my head examined.”  Dr. B said “Excuse me?”  I muttered “Jesus Christ… nevermind.”  He said “Listen here buddy boy, I’ll 302 you!”  I said “I don’t even know what that means!”   He stomped off.  Amber pulled me aside and quietly said “Take it easy!  302 is involuntary commitment.” 

Omigod, I felt like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I was never getting out of there!

The next morning when I met with Dr. Bernstein again, I apologized for my attitude the day before.  He said “You were perfectly rational.  Listen, I’m aware this hasn’t been a healthy environment for you, but my hands were tied.  You can go home today after lunch.”  I had to blink back a couple tears from the relief that washed over me, and said “Thanks Doc.”

He fished a small prescription bottle from his coat pocket and handed it to me, and said “This only contains 4 pills, but I’m sending a prescription for these to your pharmacy.  Try not to take more than one every 6 hours.”   I asked what they were, he said lorazepam, for anxiety.  I told him they weren’t necessary, he said we’ll see.

He was right, though.  When I finally arrived home later that day, and saw my apartment in disarray, the remaining oxycodone pills on my dining table (and that damn farewell note), I took one of Dr. B’s anxiety pills right away.

And now a month later, I’m still working on being okay.  Still wrestling with the TMJ pain, but after 3 months I’m starting to eat some solid foods again.  A couple days ago I got a call from Dr. Bryce, one of Dr. Bernstein’s colleagues to see how I was doing.  He said “Douglas, I’m looking at your last physical in December, and your recent chart.  Your blood pressure is normal.  Your heartrate.. normal.  How much weight have you lost?  60 pounds?  That’s impressive.  I’m sure your jaw disorder hasn’t been a picnic, but have you considered the possibility it’s proven more a blessing than a curse?”

I wanted to slug him.  I said “Well, I guess anything’s possible.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

You’ve come a long way, baby… I’m just glad you finally made it!

Earlier this evening, I was taking a little snooze on my couch (an unintended one, as my TV was blaring away) when something awoke me.  It was either the setting sun streaming thru my living room window (opposite my couch) or Ari Melber from The Beat with Ari Melber on MSNBC, announcing over & over, that Joe Biden had selected Kamala Harris to be his running mate, and potentially our first woman (and woman of color) vice president. 


We knew a woman was coming (and most of us assumed or were hoping it was a woman of color).  But as much as I wanted it to be Senator Harris, I worried Joe would see her as “too much a force to be reckoned with”.  My God, what an awesome surprise.

I realize this is a day of celebration for women, for women of color—but it’s one for the rest of us too, including middle-aged men like me who can admire her accomplishments, courage & style of leadership.  This woman’s the real deal, NOT some warped reality show—gosh I’m excited!

Oh Joe, I wish you had told us a day sooner—I mailed my application for a mail-in ballot yesterday, but I would’ve done it with a real spring in my step if I’d known what was coming.  I just may vote in person anyway, seeing as how the Trump campaign is suing the state of Pennsylvania over the convenience & number of our ballot drop-off boxes.  I’m not taking any chances with my vote!