Imagine a large room. Dark and windowless. Filled with desperate people, many holding wounded children.
On February 15, 2012 I found myself in a hospital emergency room for the first time. Since I couldn't wait for the week it would take to receive approval from my health insurance company to see a specialist, my regular doctor had sent me there. I thought I had a simple case of constipation but I later found out that what I had was a symptom of an enlarged prostate.
Emergency rooms are for people who need treatment immediately and for people who cannot afford medical insurance. The hospital staff perform a triage to determine who is seen first. Almost everyone was either black or Hispanic. Every seat was filled.
Two stand out in my memory. A two year old boy had been hit in the eye by something. He sat in his mother's lap quietly whimpering, a wet towel over the eye. The family waited two hours before they saw a doctor.
An old woman in a wheelchair, more skeleton than human, sat without moving. Every time an orderly would call out a name she would reply in a high, bird like voice, "That's me!" Her son would wave the orderly away each time. After two hours her name was called. As her son wheeled her past me I could see her eyes. She looked absolutely terrified.
After six hours of considerable discomfort I was given a bed and a number of medications by the nurses. After seven hours I was given a prescription and sent home. I had come in at 4 p.m. and went home at 5 a.m. the following day. After three days things began to move.
We here in America are constantly told that we have the best medical care in the world. Our healthcare system does not need changing because the uninsured can always go to an emergency room if they need treatment. After my experience I will tell you that the next time someone gives me that arguement I just might punch them in the face.
My doctor had submitted a request to my insurance carrier for an ultrasound to see what was going on inside me. It had become increasingly more difficult to pass fluid out of my body. The insurance company kept asking for more and more information, essentially stalling. After two weeks I could no longer sleep on my back due to the pain in my belly. There was also a dull ache in the area of my kidneys. On March 6 I visited my doctor where he took a blood sample from me. The next day he called and sent me straight to a hospital.
A little explanation is in order here. Creatinine is a chemical waste molecule that is generated from muscle metabolism. Normal levels in a healthy male are between 1.0 and 1.2 miligrams/decileter. A creatinine level of 10 mg/dl indicates kidney failure. My level was 11.5. It was fortunate that I went to the hospital when I did. Any longer and I might have damaged my kidneys.
A note of warning: If you are eating or getting ready to eat you may want to come back to this narrative after you are finished.
After I entered the hospital I was given a gown with no back and assigned a bed with a lumpy mattress. By this time pressure from my enlarged prostate had shut down my system and I was unable to pass any fluid from my body. Always looking for the silver lining in any situation I can tell you that I have lost the ability to be embarrassed by anything. You see, when you are approached by two young women you don't know and one holds that part of your body that identifies you as a man in her hands while the other puts a tube in you, well, that's about as embarrassing as it gets. The average human bladder holds between 400 and 600 milliliters. They took seven liters of fluid out of me in twenty-four hours. I spent three days there. While there I was hooked up to a saline drip. Blood samples were taken twice a day. I received three meals a day and, ironically, an ultrasound, the lack of which had put me in the hospital in the first place. On the third day my creatinine level had come down to 2.7. No damage to my kidneys was detected and I was sent home with a catheter (the tube) still in me. The other end of the tube was attached to a drainage bag (well I told you not to read this while eating). The charge for three days in the hospital? Sixty thousand dollars US. Your read that correctly. Twenty thousand dollars per day. Eight hundred and thirty-three dollars per hour. As a final mocking irony, waiting in my mailbox when I came home was the approval from my insurance company for the ultrasound.
On March 27 I entered another hospital for an operation to reduce the size of my prostate and return my system to normal. I was given a spinal anesthetic similar to an epidural. I now have new found respect for any woman who has ever given birth. After a few minutes there was no feeling in my body below the waist. My feet were then put in stirrups. Because I am who I am my reaction to this was to blurt out, "I've always wanted to have a child." The instrument of torture included a fiber optic light and camera and a wire which, when heated, was capable of removing tissue. It was inserted, well let's just say it wasn't inserted from the back. After an hour it was done and I was wheeled back to my room to recover. I went home the next day with the catheter and the bag. My surgeon knew I was a photographer so, as I prepared to leave, he presented me with a set of images from the "inside".
At this point I can't imagine anyone wondering where I have been since March. Most men who have this operation are able to remove the catheter after a few days or a few weeks at the outside. My bladder was so traumatized that it took three months for it to recover and regain its normal function. Some men in my situation never recover and must wear a catheter for the rest of their lives. I guess I should consider myself lucky. Today my creatinine level is normal. The one good thing about wearing a catheter is that you can watch a two hour movie without having to get up and go to the bathroom.
That's most of the story but, since I've probably put you off your dinner, I'll stop now. During my recovery my energy level and motivation were at a low point. After a while I began to get lazy. Now its time to catch up. Tomorrow we'll begin our safari to Kenya.
Aug 4, 2012 12:59:50 amby durleybeachbum Homepage »
Outrageous! What a ghastly and seemingly endless experience , Mark.
I love your pic, too!
We are so lucky to have the National Health Service, and I shall get even more angry when I hear folk putting it down. It has some shortcomings for sure, but compared to the US system it is wonderful.
Aug 4, 2012 12:22:09 pmby blondeblurr Homepage »
I would have giggled, right out loud reading your story, if it wasn't so serious - you certainly have been throught he mill, my friend ... OUCH!
I think the cost is just out of this world, how can anyone put such price on it?I think we are 'The Lucky Country' after all, when reading your missive!
BTW a great B&W portrait, Mark
Aug 4, 2012 6:43:49 pmby auntietk Online Now! Homepage »
Anyone who thinks our medical system in this country is fine the way it is should have to go through what you did. Then they should be a benefits manager for a small American manufacturing company. That gives a whole different slant, and an entirely different set of reasons why change is SO necessary here. Our system is dysfunctional on so many levels. It's my favorite soapbox ... I'm showing great restraint by stopping now!
Your portrait is outstanding. Serious and resolute, and nicely done in b&w.
If I'd known all the details, maybe I would have called it "Around the Bend" instead of "Around the Corner." The corner is so much more positive though, and I wish only good things for you, my friend.
Aug 6, 2012 3:23:18 pmby anahata.c Homepage »
Mark, I'm barely here these days, but your return was a major event as far as I was concerned. Your story is so well told, directly and honestly; and having had a procedure a few years back that was as crazed and harrowing as yours (though in my abdomen, thank god), I can relate to some of your details. It's brave of you to share this so publicly! You have to know that you have, to my mind and I think to your other fans as well, one of the most committed galleries here. I'm not sure how to explain that word except to say that you are 100% 'with' everything you give us here, every word, every post, every work of art. Your photos are wonderfully humane, as is your commentary and your desire to take us everywhere you go---which is a broad swath of the human experience. I adored your Angkor shots w/ amazingly strong commentary, I'm eating up the current batch (even the toothbrushes!), and will look forward to your next journeys to come. Stay well, and I'm very glad you came through your health ordeal as well as all the losses you've had in the recent past (it's huge) with strength and renewed commitment. You'll make us all grateful for the lives we have. Oh...and it's great to see your face! When I return, I'll comment more, but know that I see all your uploads no matter what, I haven't missed one. Stay well, and thanks for such an honest account!
Aug 7, 2012 10:14:27 amby tennesseecowgirl Homepage »
Wow Mark, what an ordeal. Emergency rooms are the worst I have had my share of experiences with them one time I was there so long I made friends with this young couple and a friend of theirs, the poor girl had some odd growths under her armpits and she was fearing she had cancer and was in a panic all day all day we sat together she was finally admitted I continued to sit. She finally came out all smiles the the growths it turned out came from a gel type razor she was using, the company that makes those should be sued. I finally was admitted they sat with me til I was and I swear they hugged me goodbye. I was tested, even given a pregnancy test LOL ( I am a grandma I told them) I was told my blood level was extremely low and I needed to be admitted for a blood transfusion during this time my cell phone had died I hadn't been able to contact anyone my family all day had no clue where I was I told them I need to go home first and somehow let my daughter know and return they basically refused to let me go. LOL I said I sat in this emergency room all day and now you tell me I can't just walk out. I am sure we all have some similar story and it is absurd how things are done and called health care" I am glad to hear you are better or improving. You are going to Africa??? thats is exciting have a wonderful time. Stay out of emergency rooms while your there. :)