Category Archives: Seattle

The time a stranger wasn’t my cat

I am a self-proclaimed crazy cat lady. My two cats are my best friends and I love them so much I actually miss them while I’m grocery shopping. Or at work. Or even on a sunny vacation! The last time I had a fuzzy craving I ran over and picked up one of them with such fervor that it took a couple minutes for me to realize I had stepped in wet, slimy, squishy barf. So then I had to choose between setting the cat down again and washing puke off my foot. It wasn’t any easy choice. Then again, I work with bodily fluids on a daily basis so my gross-o-meter wasn’t registering anything amiss.

We have a new intern at work and she has been a wonderful fresh perspective. We were joking around when she asked why someone was on the floor in the hallway. I was half way through telling her people are just quirky from the heat when it dawned on me that I am a medical professional working in a hospital and should probably be concerned. Sure enough, an older woman had parked her arse right in the middle of the hallway. She sat straight up, legs out straight in front of her, and appeared to be eating oatmeal with the grace of a ravenous one-year-old. The bowl was upside down behind her and oatmeal was in her hair, all over her face, and down the front of her pants. If my coworker hadn’t just shot me with a nerf gun I may have figured out sooner that it wasn’t actually oatmeal.

As I approached the woman, the unmistakable putrid smell of vomit finally tickled my nose hairs. It turns out that oatmeal was no in fact in her hair, on her face, and down her pants. There wasn’t even a bowl. That was just a large pile of vomit that looked like a bowl from inside my office. When I kindly asked if she needed any help she told me no and to go away. Something tells me she was a little embarrassed. Too bad it was about to get worse. The door to the elevator located about 10 feet from her opened and a boy somewhere between 6 and 9 years old decided the entire floor needed to know there was “stinky barf” everywhere. One of the doctors who works next door to me came to lend his aid and was swiftly rebuffed as fast as I had been. The sad thing is, she said she wasn’t embarrassed. She just needed go because she was supposed to be translating at a client’s medical appointment in a few minutes and didn’t have time to be sick. She then finished wiping all the vomit off herself, tried to stand up, got dizzy and collapsed backward right into the pile of vomit that I had mistook for a bowl earlier. Thankfully she then reconsidered her plans for the day and accepted our help.

For the record, it turns out she had in fact eaten oatmeal for breakfast. That seemed important to include.

The time I wanted to defend a group with no voice

I have a serious sweet tooth. Ask anyone who knows me. Hell, ask my dentist. You’ll really get the dirt then. I love cakes, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, donuts…the list goes on. As a child, one of my favorite days of the year was Christmas cookie baking day. Because I got to eat raw cookie dough. Then condensed milk. Also lots of frosting. I would be sick half way through the day but I still wanted more. I’m going to talk about something else now, but don’t forget the mental image of me with frosting all over my nauseated face. Unlike the writers of Lost, I will explain this randomness shortly.

I was playing the fish game on my phone while waiting to be called back for a doctor’s appointment when an older woman, carrying a cane instead of using it, sat down next to me. She told me she’d just had hip replacement surgery two weeks before and was already done using her cane. She seemed pretty proud of herself. I figured it was just her feeling good about how quickly she was healing. Well, until she opened her mouth again. “I’m not disabled or anything, don’t worry. I’m healthy and active,” she said. A ripple of irritation spread through my body. Before I could collect my thoughts, she continued by telling me how she only took three of her oxycodone pills after surgery. “Did you know that more people died of opioid overdose last year in the U.S. than in the entire Vietnam War?” she asked. I raised my eyebrows and agreed that it was a tragedy and that opioids can be dangerous. “I just didn’t want to be one of those people,” she said with an air of superiority. If I had thought quickly enough, I would have said, “maybe those people wouldn’t be so numerous if judgmental assholes like you didn’t pretend to care about this issue when in reality you just want to distance yourself from those you deem unworthy.” Instead I seethed internally while she was called back for her check-up. She had hit a nerve.

I decided to see if her information was accurate. According to the CDC, about 130 Americans die daily from opioid overdose. That comes out to about 47,450 Americans per year. The U.S. National Archives list the total death toll for U.S. troops in the Vietnam War at 58,220. Last time I checked, 58,220 is more than 47,450. I was about to shake my head and move on to happier topics when I spotted another statistic. Apparently, the amount of chronic pain patients that misuse their opioid prescriptions is between 21 and 29%. That’s all? Only ¼ of all chronic pain patients misuse their opioids? What about the other ¾ who just want some semblance of a normal life?

After several injuries I consider myself a chronic pain sufferer. I don’t personally use opioids for the type of pain I have, but I’ve met many people who need an opioid medication to have any quality of life. I’m not questioning the seriousness of addiction and overdose, but I think fear of it is creating another epidemic: pain. Imagine lying as still as possible because moving feels like a giant is grinding your bones to make his bread. You get dehydrated because you avoid drinking water because getting up to use the bathroom makes your back spasm uncontrollably. Maybe you don’t eat all day because standing in the kitchen long enough to remove a frozen burrito from the freezer, unwrap it, and microwave it for 2 minutes feels like the Night King is driving his white-walker making stick through your hip. Now imagine arranging your whole life around controlling that pain, from what kind of job you can have (if any at all) to how many episodes of Game of Thrones you can watch before the pain overwhelms your brain and you lose track of the plot. The fight for that iron throne gets pretty complicated, after all. Now imagine being able to take one pill, once or twice per day, and that pain goes from life altering to manageable. I bet that it feels good to have enough of a reprieve to actually go grocery shopping or have coffee with friends. So good, in fact, you might just beg for more relief…and get labeled a drug-seeker. All because ¼ of chronic pain sufferers abuse their pain medicine.

Remember my sweet tooth and lack of control as a child? Well my parents placed limits on sweets and taught me which types of foods I needed to be healthy. I had to eat my veggies and protein multiple times per day and dessert only once. Another juicy tidbit from the CDC: primary care providers prescribe nearly half of all opioids given to chronic pain patients, yet research shows a majority of these physicians feel they don’t have sufficient training in managing opioid prescriptions. Sounds like chronic pain patients don’t have parents to educate them and set appropriate limits. The system is set up to fail. While food is vital to survival, excessive sweets are not. Relief from daily, debilitating pain is just as essential to living. One could argue that an opioid dosage aimed at being a grilled chicken salad is beneficial, so long as the goal isn’t to get the pleasure of dessert with every serving. In order for this to be possible, people like hip-replacement lady would need to broaden their horizons beyond their own reflection and realize the pain patient isn’t to blame. Just some bitter food for thought. Maybe its horseradish. Gross.

 

 

 

 

The time elevators had better health care than U.S. citizens

One recent morning, I arrived at the bottom of the 16-floor medical building I work in to find all four elevators were out of service. Right as my finger was about to press the “up” button, a woman’s voice, dripping with frustration and fatigue, told me the elevators were broken. Right on cue, a nearby man told me that the doors from the stairs require a key card. His heavy breathing told me this fact came right from the source. So I sat on the floor, resigned to the fact that I would be late to work. Building maintenance showed up shortly after to announce the elevators weren’t working (no shit, Sherlock), and the elevator company was on-site working as fast as they could but they didn’t know when the elevators would be restored. With an attitude of accomplishment like they had just solved world hunger, maintenance announced that a staff member would hold each door open so we may all get to our appointments. A young woman with a 3-6 month old baby asleep against her chest looked astonished that maintenance acted as if her 16 floor stair climb were a gift they gave to her. Clucks of disapproval and frustration echoed through the small crowd that had now amassed at the elevators. This irritation escalated when an elderly woman with a cane was told to climb the stairs to her appointment. “Why am I not surprised,” a disgruntled voice mumbled next to me, “It is the American health system.” My smirk of approval broke the Seattle freeze ice and we began to chat.

As it turned out, Eric* recently had a medical emergency in France requiring x-ray’s, blood tests, and an exam at an ER. Even though he wasn’t a French citizen, he was treated better than most appointments he had in the U.S. When it came time for his bill, he braced himself for the damage. The doctor, full of guilt, said she would unfortunately have to bill him $29 USD. After quite a bit of stammering and checking that he heard correctly, a relieved Eric paid his bill and left feeling bewildered.

Toward the end of Eric’s story, elevator car 3 (most creative name ever!), which had been stuck open this whole time, finally closed. I guess it collected enough flies. I’m choosing to believe the subsequent dings it uttered were saying “yum yum.” Then car 3 opened its doors and lit up its lights, signalling it was ready to resume its normal job. Perhaps this snafu had just been a lunch break? The first wave of people, myself included, were packed into the elevator like sardines. Just as my claustrophobia and elevator fear started kicking in, the doors closed. Car 3 then let out a screech like it was attempting to give birth to a baby, stopped, and after what seemed like a year, opened its doors. I shot out of the elevator, as plummeting to my death was not on the agenda.

Once I was safe on the floor of the lobby once again, I decided I should share my experience with medical care abroad with Eric. While scuba diving in Australia, I surfaced in a swarm of jellyfish and was stung at least 6 times in 30 seconds. That was the day I learned I was allergic to that kind of jellyfish venom. The total cost of my emergency treatment was $75. Eric and I agreed that universal healthcare treated people like they matter. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the elevators were getting faster, more thorough care than humans do.

After half an hour of waiting, I decided to climb the stairs to the 8th floor, despite my hip injury and asthma. I had to stop in the middle and take my inhaler. By the time I reached the 8th floor, my hip had seized up and I was limping. But I made it! I did something hard and didn’t quit. I was there to open the office and hold down the fort until everyone else made it up. I was a hero…..until my coworker stepped off the working elevator about 10 minutes after I got to the 8th floor. In retrospect, I probably wasn’t quite hero material anyway.

 

*Name has been changed.

The time I sounded like Darth Vader

I’ve always wondered why Darth Vader sounds like he has emphysema. I realize he was burned in a fire and everything, but with the technology that was available in the world of Star Wars, I don’t understand why he sounds like a scuba diver who can’t conserve their air. After yesterday, when I went to a consult and training to use my new CPAP, I’m convinced Darth Vader must have just had sleep apnea.

My CPAP instructor, Garth*, had some surprising insight. During his college years, he worked part time at a movie theater in Portland, Oregon. This theater just happened to be playing the longest continuous run of Star Wars in North America, so he knew the movie better than the textbooks he studied while monitoring the projector. After all other US theaters had retired their Star Wars run, people began to travel from all over the country just to visit this theater. One evening, Garth noticed a middle-aged, short, slightly pudgy man trying to remain incognito in the back of the theater. Garth approached him and whispered, “You’re George Lucas, aren’t you?” “Yes,” he said, “but don’t tell anyone.” So Garth then balanced his fan boy dreams with keeping his squeaky, star-struck voice to a whisper. As it turns out, Darth Vader’s helmet acted as a respirator for his severely burned lungs. In the 1970s, the idea of a quiet respirator wasn’t really a priority. A device that could prolong life was already fascinating enough. Despite the advanced technology in Star Wars, the audience still needed to understand the severity of Darth Vader’s condition, and a noisy respirator was the best way to convey this message. Who knew that my visit to a sleep medicine clinic would yield such fascinating insight? This is what happens when the Seattle Freeze melts.

May the 4th be with you all…once the day arrives.

*name has been changed

The time pens were phallic

I have a tumultuous relationship with sleep, almost as if my body is holding a grudge. Perhaps long ago, sleep deeply offended my body and now I am involuntarily punishing it. Sleep must jump through hoops to finally find me. The sandman is stopped at the figurative gates around my fatigued fortress until every demand is met: 1) no lights, 2) no noise, 3) no wrinkled sheets, 4) no shoulder pain … 576) no hunger or thirst, 577) an absolutely empty bladder, 578) no crumbs in the bed… I think you get the idea. So when my doctor suggested visiting a sleep clinic, I decided it was worth a shot.

It’s important to note that I am not a morning person, so of course I took an early appointment before work. Apparently the noise I made when my alarm went off sounded a bit like a hippo giving birth. I was slightly more awake, though still sluggish, when my venti vanilla latte and I arrived at the sleep clinic. When I sat down in front of the woman who would be checking me in, I noticed a basket full of pens with fake flowers glued to them. Despite the fact that flower pens are about as plentiful as Starbucks stores in Seattle, the container was still labeled “pens.” Except that it wasn’t. Some cheeky asshole had added an ‘I’ in a very convenient place. Maybe it was my tired state, or maybe the sandman mixed something in with my sleeping dust, but I found this far too funny. Like burst out laughing and snort funny. Then, in a voice far louder than I intended, I blurted, “you know your pen cup says penis, right?” The poor check-in woman starred at me with wide-eyes and proceeded to turn several shades of red. With evident dread, she picked up the pen cup and peeked at the sign. She sat silently for a moment, and then in a squeaky mutter told me she would be right back. She stepped into the back and let out a bellowing laugh. I was pretty impressed that she held it together long enough to retreat into an employee area. I was called back shortly after and didn’t get a chance to say much else. On my way out after the appointment, she held up the cup with the new label she created. It said, “flower pen.” No ‘S’. Perhaps grammatically incorrect but far safer. I gave her a smirk and a thumbs up.

For the record, the sleep doc found a couple things she could treat, so hopefully I can soon lower the drawbridge and welcome sleep without so many barriers. I can just picture myself now, waiting to greet sleep with open arms. As he approaches, I get to say, “Enter Sandman!”

The time I was an 8-year-old

I envy people born on February 29th. I’m not old enough to start lying about my age in the traditional way, but my sense of humor is still in the single digits. I love poop. And farts. And making fart noises. Oh and whoopee cushions too! If I were born on February 29th, I wouldn’t be lying when I said I’ve only had 8 birthdays. I think I must be giving off some sort of smelly, brown aura, because complete strangers like to talk to me about feces. So do my friends, but they already know how well received the subject will be.

I was sitting at my work desk, not actually thinking about butt truffles, when I hear “don’t wipe back to front!” coming from the single-stall bathroom. That was followed by screams of protest and a couple thuds. While my curiosity and concern were battling for my brain’s attention, the younger of the two women emerged. She explained that her dear old mother had dementia and liked saving her dirty toilet paper. Five different soiled clumps of toilet paper had just been removed from various bodily nooks and crannies. My favorite was the armpit. I’m pretty sure that’s the most eventful thing that happened in the bathroom this entire month. That is, until the bathroom door opened again, revealing this pleasantly oblivious mom and her bare ass. Oh, and it turns out she missed a spot, which she announced to the entire waiting room. The bug-eyed, mortified, bright red daughter hastily shooed her mother back into the bathroom. There was silence…and then more yelling. And thuds. When the pair emerged, everyone had all of their clothes on. The daughter explained to the entire room, myself included, that her mother had been throwing a fit because she couldn’t keep her dirty toilet paper wad. “She just wanted a souvenir,” I said. The daughter snorted and relaxed a little bit. In that moment, we were both 8-year-olds.

The time I didn’t jaywalk

I really like it when naughty words come out of unexpected mouths. If I ever had the deafness required to own a macaw, I would teach it every swear word I know because its funny to hear that Polly wants a fucking cracker. However, There should really be a special place in hell for people who yell insults out car windows. Come to think of it, I don’t want to hear about what some pervert thinks of my ass-ets from a car window either. And no, that’s not an invitation to get out of the car!

It was an unusually sunny Seattle day, deep in the concrete jungle of First Hill, when I was the victim of this damning behavior. As I began crossing the street, I stepped approximately 3.67934 feet outside the white paint of the crosswalk. Apparently this act was so offensive to one Seattle driver that he shattered the ice on his Seattle freeze by yelling, “that’s jaywalking, you bitch!” I was tempted to throw my milkshake on the front of his car, but it was really yummy and I wanted to drink it. Instead, I did the unthinkable. I ignored him. Just flat out pretended my ears were considerably older than the rest of my body. Then I saw an elderly woman ambling towards me in the crosswalk. The indignant look she gave that squawking driver proved her ears were younger than mine were pretending to be. “Stupid fucker,” she mumbled, prompting me to giggle so hard I snorted a teeny bit of my milkshake. “Not you dear,” she assured me, and then kept walking. I wonder if she has a bird.