Monday, July 30, 2007

Flashback: Awake with a Jolt and a Sudden Urge to…and the Entire Recovery Room Staff Tells Me to…the Entire Recovery Room Patient Load Wishes I Would.


[Fifty years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

My eyes beheld a white light…yeah thought I, this parallels what I’ve been told by those who had a glimpse of the Hereafter. I am indeed with the echelons of generations since Adam, in that waiting room marked Purgatory, pent up for release. Then the white light focused and it was a fluorescent. One of several on the ceiling. Purgatory was filled with fluorescence. And the great yearning to go to heaven was…surprising to me…a physical pain. As I thought about it: a great pain. Interesting, when one waits for heaven it is a magnificent pain—almost like: gee, this is scatological but I must say it: the pain of having to urinate badly. So awaiting heaven is like having to go to the bathroom urgently?

It must be. But the pent up feeling, painful, like I was going to explode, caused me to wonder if I had not through some major sin which I had neglected through oversight to confess, recent the outer precincts of Hell. Then it occurred: the grinding pain in my gut seeking release was, sad to say, not the pain of being separated from God but in fact the spectacular need for urination. Which led to me reconsidering the old joke: if I am alive, why am I staring at a white light but if dead why do I have to go to the bathroom so urgently? Then I shook my head and realized: I am not dead, not in Purgatory and the pain that is very real, very pent up, is in fact the strongest need to urinate, to squeeze, indeed wring my kidneys dry. How can I satisfy this? I will arise and go to the bathroom. But I could not. I was bound tight by a sheet onto a bed as hard as a pallet.

But how shall I communicate this need? I opened my mouth; bah! my lips were like dried sausages and my voice did not emit. I shall try my damndest by seeking to yell. I went: EEOOOWOWOWOW! There, that did it! Nurses rushed to my side. Now I know where I am. I am in the Recovery Room and there are others having been operated lying there, all of us looking up at the white fluorescence. How to communicate this most basic need? They must let me up. They began talking to me. Damnit, I tried to say, you’re seeking to pacify me. I know where I am! I’ve had the operation for subdural hematoma and have survived. But now I must…oh I should not use the vulgarism for urination but perhaps if I do and shout it out over their comforting babble…shout it out: Nurse, in the name of God I have to _ _ _ _!” And so I did, fighting to sit up and lean on my elbows. NURSE, I HAVE TO _ _ _ _! DO YOU HEAR ME! IT IS URGENT! I TELL YOU I CANNOT HOLD ON ANYMORE! THIS IS AGONY!

Every other patient in the room started to call NURSE! NURSE! WHAT IS GOING ON? My wife’s face appeared over mine. LILLIAN, WHY DON’T THEY LISTEN TO ME! She said, “you’re not listening! They’re trying to tell you and you’re not listening! They are telling you that you have a catheter and you just should release it. It’s all right!” The round, balloon face of an olive-skinned Indian doctor hove into view. In their sing-song he said, “Mistah Roeser, this is Dr. Patel and I tell you it is all right since you have a catheter inserted sir to allow nature to take it’s--.”

But I could not! A wheezy voice called out from another surgical patient who heard me. “Who the hell is that? What is he saying? Aren’t you letting him go to the bathroom!” “Quiet him down,” said Dr. Patel. To me: “Mr. Roeser, can you hear me, sir?”


“Then I tell you that it is entirely permissible, indeed advantageous, for you to go now, sir.”


“Mr. Roeser, this is Dr. Patel. It will not happen in front of anybody. The catheter is inserted in you and all you have to do is to relax and allow nature to happen! If not we can give you a pill that will relax your inhibitions and allow you to although I frankly--.”


“Good, Mr. Roeser.”


I said AH. AH.


It was then, with my pain subsided, that I discovered a huge apparatus hooked to my head. Pipes and wires, tubes of every kind. “Mr. Roeser, this is Dr. Patel. You are doing quite well. All you need to do now is relax and sleep. You are in the recovery room. The operation has taken four and one half hours. Now it’s all downhill from here, sir.”


Not hardly. The next time I awoke I was in a private room. True, I was getting the hang of having confidence in the catheter. But very drowsy. And for some days that was it; my sleeping, awakening for a short time, sleeping again. Then I would be assisted to my feet to walk, my wife watching and cheering silently…if one can cheer silently. A private room, she said, was a rarity at this hospital, arranged by the ever-so-thoughtful Dr. Jerry Bauer. My wife of course was exhausted and had to go home on occasion. The nurse I had during daytime—a real Nurse Mildred Ratched from the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”—was totally unmoved by any of my requests. Again, not to be elementary about it, but I always had to be helped to the bathroom by a nurse who would have to await my summons to assist me back to my bed. Nurse Ratched was singularly unsympathetic to this request.

She would say, “why didn’t you think of this earlier after you had lunch?”

I said: Lunch? Good God, that was four hours ago!

“Planning,” she said sternly as speaking to a retardate, “is everything. We must think ahead.”

I thought: ten days of this but I don’t think I can hang on with this woman. And she seems to be always here—night, day, mornings, afternoon, whenever I ring it’s that same old groan of exasperation.

Then a few days into the stay a letter came to me at the hospital from the White House. I opened it and saw it was from President Reagan. I smiled; Reagan knew not and cared less what was happening to me. Henry Hyde’s wife had a job in the White House basement working for Anne Higgins who was the director of presidential correspondence. Some letters obviously the president wrote himself and the office sent them on their way. Many letters—ceremonials, greeting citizens who had turned 100 years of age, letters to certain college valedictorians which were requested by Congressmen—were prepared by Jeanne Hyde. She was a gifted and fluent writer. She also had an auto-pen, a device with an engraved plate on which a fountain pen was placed that traced “Ronald Reagan.” Or for short: “Ron.” I knew the drill. It was pleasant to know that the Hydes were thinking of me. Nothing to do with Reagan, of course.

The letter Jeanne wrote was magnificent. It said something like this: “As Nancy and I are flying to the London Economic Summit on Air Force One, I am taking the time to write to you, Tom, to wish you well, to recall the times we had together, especially at O’Hare when you picked me up and we went to lunch at the O’Hare Hilton before you so kindly placed me on the plane for California.”

It went on for two and one half pages, recalling days in which Ronald Reagan had no possibility of knowing. Then it ended with a kind fatherly summons to obey the help at the hospital and that he and Nancy would be seeing Lillian and me after I recovered in the White House. It was signed “Ron.”

But the letter was a veritable godsend to me. I immediately called for help to go to the bathroom although I did not have to go and Nurse Ratchad appeared, grumbling as usual, chewing gum and asking why I was choosing this particular moment when I had just gone about three hours earlier. I was cheery, allowed her to assist me. And I left on my bed the letter from Ronald Reagan.

Once in the bathroom, I sat down and reflected a long time. I could hear her rattling the pages as she read. Then after five minutes I rang and asked for help to be escorted back to my bed.

Her attitude had changed from stormy to the brilliance of a summer day. As she tenderly assisted me, she pulled back the covers and sought to make me very comfortable. She said, “I know you like chocolate ice cream. It so happens I can get you a Dixie cup, maybe two. Would you like that in recognition of being an understanding patient to all of us who have had so much to do?”

I said: That would be fine. Of course, if you had chocolate chip that would be better.

“That can be arranged,” she said and whistled out the door.

After thumbing a magazine for a minute, I looked up and she was there not with a Dixie cup of chocolate chip but a hefty bowl of it with silver spoon.

I cannot thank you enough, I said.

“Can I ask you something?”

Of course, uh-uh…


Ask away.

“I could not help glancing at the letter on your bed—this one—which appears to come from the President.”

Ron? Of course. Read it if you wish.

“Well, I don’t make it a practice of reading patients’ mail.”

I insist. Read it!

“You know the president that well?”

Yes, Ron and Nancy are very special people.

“Mr. Roeser, I must tell you that you have become a very special person in my book.”

Really? Why?

“My husband and I have been fans of the President since he was an actor in the movies.”

Is that right?

“…and the fact that you know him gives me a very special thrill.”

I’m so very glad.

“I have to go on my rounds right now but I will only be a short buzz away. And before I leave this evening, I’ll check you to see if you need anything.”

Like more ice cream?

“Yes and whatever you wish. And I’ll be talking to the night nurse who is my special friend. Both of us drove to Eureka a few years ago just to see him speak at Eureka College. And to imagine that we have one of his best friends here, well, it’s mind blowing.”

Well, I’m glad.

Glad was not the word for it. Gratified, edified and exhilarated because the remainder of my hospital stay was like living in a penthouse with a flood of eager nurses seeking to respond to my call to go to the bathroom.

When I finally was allowed to use the phone, I called the White House, asked for the Correspondence Unit and Jeanne Hyde.

“Oh,” she laughed. “I thought you’d enjoy it!

I said, Jeanne, I enjoyed it far more than you know and told her why.

“I’m not surprised,” she said. “You know you’re not the first hospital patient to benefit from it. I thought that line about `as Nancy and I are flying over to the London Economic Summit’ was particularly good.”

Bless her. She died a decade later leaving Henry a widower but she will always be the greatest correspondent the White House ever hired. God love her.

1 comment:

  1. elizabeth alexanderJuly 31, 2007 at 2:52 PM

    Giuliani? He and his "wife" have six marriages between them. He brought her (mistress?)into the mansion while his wife and children were still living there. His children and he are estranged because of the way he treated their mother. This person should NOT be president.

    And did he prevent 9/11 or just capitalize on it? Were services in N.Y. coordinated under him so the police and firemen could work together? He is not worthy.