A good phone call, finally. My doctor called and asked me to come to the hospital to get blood work done. I haven’t been feeling very well and was excited to get out of the house and feel better. He told me to meet him at the lab.
I was surprised he was actually at the lab. Usually doctors don’t do that kind of thing. As the tech was drawing my blood, he brought in a wheelchair. He said he would wheel to an exam room. It was a little strange I thought because I only had blood work done. I never get the results the same day. I got in the wheelchair. I thought it was nice to be getting such good care.
In the exam room, there was an IV stand. I was not excited about getting poked with another needle. My doctor insisted that it would help me feel better post blood work. It felt a little weird again to be getting so much attention. I didn’t think I needed an IV after only giving a few vials of blood. I really wanted to be on my doctor’s good side though. I wanted to know what was wrong with me. My doctor seemed really nice so I rolled up my shirtsleeve again. Luckily he was actually good at it placing an IV and it only burned a little. A couple of nurses came in and one of them hooked up a blood pressure cuff to my other arm. I tried to keep my arms flat and remain comfortable.
My doctor asked if I was getting dizzy. I didn’t really feel dizzy. I was kind of noncommittal to him. I didn’t want to disappoint him. He was here doing all this work and I might feel better. He thought it would be a good idea for me to have some oxygen. He said oxygen in conjunction with the IV would have me feeling in tip top shape. I agreed even though it was feeling weirder. He tapped away at the computer in the exam room and another nurse looking person came in and gave me an oxygen mask.
It did make me feel better. My doctor said I could close my eyes and relax. He said he would go down to the lab and pick up the results of my blood work That made me feel better. I kind of felt with all the blood pressure reading, IV and oxygen administering that why I even came to the hospital was getting a little lost. A nurse came in and gave me a blanket. I pulled it over myself. The IV was making me cold.
Then my IV started to burn. That was really weird. I opened my eyes and there wasn’t anybody in the room. The room started to get really heavy. I couldn’t really get up the gumption to yell for a nurse. It didn’t matter. The same nurse looking person came back in. He had one of those heart monitors with the chest stickies on a cart. He hooked the stickies up to my chest and I snuck a look at his name tag that was hooked to his scrub waistband. It said he was a doctor, an anesthesiologist. I was really confused but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. He asked to me to count backwards from 100. I couldn’t really manage to say anything but a sorry “Wha ?”
When I woke up, I immediately started gagging. I had been intubated. Everything hurt, my chest was burning, and there was wires and tubes everywhere. My IV arm was tied down. I felt really groggy and sick. I used my other arm to find the call button. The nurses came rushing in. They kept trying to get me to relax so they could remove the tube. I kept heaving and ack acking. One of them held down my chest which felt like a ball of fire and the other pulled out the tube. I started hacking and coughing. They brought over one of those kidney bowls and I coughed some blood into it. My throat felt like burned sandpaper. I couldn’t swallow too well. I didn’t even recognize this room. There was a TV on blaring Maury Povich and some sad tale about paternity. My doctor walked in very cheerful.
"Oh good you’re wake! The surgery was a success and you have a brand new - well new to you heart beating in your chest! There will be ample recovery that you have to work through. The nurse will bring in a sample of the medicine you will be taking for a while."
I couldn’t really comprehend what he was saying, I was still so confused. I saw that on the side table there was a folder. My doctor saw I was looking at it and wheeled it over to me.
"This is just the paperwork that you will need. Feel free read over. There is some patient literature inside. Oh and I am so happy that your surgery was a success. I am going to be published. And the little girl who is getting your heart will finally be able to lead a much better life. She never had much luck with her heart. You should be grateful! Your chest is going to be famous!"
I couldn’t really think of anything to say except to ask whose heart I got.
"Oh that’s why it was so important to get you to the hospital! One of my other patients got into a motorcycle accident. It doesn’t seem like you two were the best match but we’re hoping that the drugs can keep that heart ticking!"
My doctor walked out smiling. I started to thumb through the paperwork. There was the consent to surgery. There was a signature on it, but it wasn’t mine. I didn’t sign anything when I came into the hospital. I didn’t see a single form. I came in for blood work.
There is now some dead stranger’s almost my match heart beating my chest. The nurses adjusted my bed a little and dug out all the information on the medication I will have to take. There was just so many and I still felt really dizzy. They adjusted my covers and I shivered. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what happened. They put a button in my hands. For the morphine they said. I croaked out a thank you.
I was in a place I didn’t understand with this cold foreign object beating in my chest. Everything hurt. I felt dirty, stupid, ashamed, confused, and angry. I wanted to run away and get out of the horrible hospital bed. I could barely roll over without feeling agony. There were so many bandages on chest it felt like I could barely breathe. I hit the morphine. I wanted to shower, I wanted to sleep, I wanted to rip that nasty foreign thing out of my chest.
When I woke up again, my sister was there. I felt a little better. She poured me a glass of water that burned down my sore throat. She had brought me a blanket from home. While I sat up, she covered my pithy hospital blanket with my favorite brown blanket. I asked her if anyone called her.
"Yes your doctor called me this morning. I’m glad you’re okay. You’re going to feel so much better." I tried to sit up. I asked her about the form.
"I don’t want to talk about that! You’re here, you’re going to get better. Let’s focus on getting you home. I already picked up your prescriptions. Did you know that your doctor is going to be published? You’re going to be famous. You should be grateful. You’re still alive, you’ve got that new heart." I was really confused. I tried to get her to look at the form, to see my not signature. She brushed me aside.
"Focusing on that won’t help you get better. Now you will get better and so will that little girl. Be happy for yourself! That’s just paperwork anyway." I felt sick in my stomach. I came in here for blood work Why was everyone acting like I wanted a heart transplant? I didn’t even know there was anything wrong with my heart. I felt like it had been stolen so some selfish doctor could publish a paper. I was worried about the little girl too. He had said my heart was almost a match and the medication was supposed to make my body accept the dead motorcycle heart. Had he done the same thing to the little girl? Was my heart an almost match to her too? I mean it might be better than the bum ticker she was born with. Was she burdened with the same medication regime as me? My sister was reading a magazine with a little smile on her face. I rolled over as much as I could and hit the morphine again. I didn’t want to think anymore. I felt too dirty.
When I woke up again, my bandage was different. It was a lot smaller, less smothering. I also didn’t have those horrible stickies on my chest, no blood pressure cuff, and no IV. On my side table was a cup with a lot of pills in it. My sister came out of the bathroom and brought a bag with my clothes in it.
"Good news! You can put on your own clothes today. If you feel up to it, we can get you in the shower. That big band aid on your chest won’t come off in the water." I wanted nothing more than a hot shower and to scrub my skin. I wanted scrub the nasty scar off. I wanted to open my skin and excise the cold heart. I tried to sit up but got too dizzy.
"A little bit at a time. Baby steps. You can eat real food today too! If you feel better you might be able to come home tomorrow." My sister helped me up and got me shuffling into the shower. She held me up while I just let the water hit me. I was so embarrassed. How had this happened? She saw I wasn’t going to wash myself and stepped in to do it for me. I felt bad that she was getting all wet but I was mad at her. She didn’t even acknowledge that I was upset. I didn’t want her to tell me to be happy again so I complied with all her commands. She wrapped me up in the tiny hospital towel. I had never felt so cold, so small, so lost. She pulled clothes on me and shuffled me back to the bed. I pressed the nurse call button. the nurses swooped in. I told them it wasn’t for me, it was for my sister. I wanted her to have some scrubs or something. I felt bad she was wet. She had got me into the shower I had wanted for so long. The nurses effused and clucked over my brave shower sister, reminding her they were there and could do it next time. I quietly seethed in bed. I didn’t want them touching me. They were complicit in this whole nightmare, no matter how caring they might seem. I pulled my table over to myself, poured a cup of water and took all my new pills.
When I got home, there was much congratulations and casseroles, and phone calls. I pasted on a happy face and didn’t talk about the form. I kept it close. I had dreaded seeing my doctor again at the hospital but he had not come back. There was nurses and interns but I hadn’t seen him again. They scheduled me for a follow up appointment and I was filled with dread about it.
When everyone left after seeing that I was not going to keel over and die, I curled up in my bed with my laptop. I googled and searched for an instance of a doctor performing a procedure without consent. I couldn’t find anything really clear. I searched the police website for reporting a crime. Nothing seemed to fit. I took the form out of my bedside drawer. I read it again. It was definitely not even close to my signature. I touched the scar on my chest. This was ridiculous I grabbed the form and got in the car.
I sat in the police station parking lot, weighing the likelihood that I could get someone to pay attention to the form and my not signature. No one at the hospital had cared. I read the form again and an officer tapped on my window.
"You need some help ma’am?" I got out of the car and explained that I wanted to talk to someone about a forged consent form. He led me back through the station to a detective’s desk. The detective seemed very tired. I showed him the form and explained what happened. He sighed.
"Well it is certainly some story. Ma’am, I don’t believe I have ever heard of a doctor doing something so serious without obtaining consent." He looked at the paper again. He asked to see my signature. I signed my name on his notepad a couple of different times.
"Well ma’am, it does look different. The thing is, handwriting analysis is not an exact science. You might sign things different under duress. I would really like to help you but I just don’t see how the hospital could have let this happen without obtaining consent. Especially since you helped that little girl. That was awfully kind of you ma’am." I told him I was worried about her too, that my heart had not been a good enough match. I told what my doctor said about the dead motorcycle heart.
"Well ma’am I’m sure he couldn’t have been serious. There is a whole process to obtain a heart. My great uncle had to go through that program, what’s it called, UNOS? You seem like a nice person. I would be happy to fill out a report for you but I don’t think I can help you. Maybe you just forgot when you signed the form. Try not to worry about it too much ma’am. You’ve got to keep that new heart ticking!" He patted me on the shoulder. I thanked him and wandered out of the maze of the police station.
When I got home, I made the mistake of calling my sister. I told her about the police station. She was sharp with me.
"Well I never! Your doctor helped you and you helped that little girl. I can’t believe you are being so selfish! It is just a form. Put it in your medical folder. Stop looking at it, stop talking about it. You have got to get a positive attitude so you can get better." I felt like screaming. Instead I reassured her I would tuck away the form and get happy. Instead I got into bed with the form. The script in the signature block was swoopy girlish cursive. My doctor must have had a woman sign it. I scribbled my signature. It was forceful gobbledygook, not flowing thoughtful swoops. I went and sat at my desk with the form and blank paper. I tried to recreate the girly swoops. I tried tracing it. It was not natural to my hand.
I decided to call my insurance. I told them I would like to switch doctors.
"Ma’am I can certainly process this request for you. It is not our practice to recommend a particular physician However, given your recent major surgery, I would recommend strongly that you see your current physician for your follow up before switching. I am sure his office would like to follow up after the success of your procedure. I do hope you are feeling better!" I thanked her and hung up. I did not feel better. I decided to just not go to my follow up appointment.
I went for a walk on the day of my appointment. It was sunny and warm. I left my cell phone at home. I walked to the coffee shop. Everyone was watching the news. The little girl that stole my heart was throwing the first pitch at the baseball game. They flashed my picture and everyone in the coffee shop turned to look at me, glowing with smiles. Someone bought me a decaf coffee and muffin. Everyone wanted to touch me, thank me, bless me. I said as little as I could and ducked out.
My sister was waiting for me when I got home.
"Where were you? Your doctor’s office called me! You know you can’t miss your appointments!" She was clearly distraught. I gestured to my coffee and muffin. I told her I forgot, that the medicine makes me foggy.
"Well we will just have to get it adjusted! Come on, get in the car, I am going with you to make sure you see this through correctly!" I obediently got into her car. I was glad she was coming. I wasn’t sure that I could be alone with my doctor. The thought of it was making me sick. I wanted to ask him about the form. Thinking about the form made me feel sicker. I didn’t even have it. It was in the drawer of my nightstand. I thought I should just see him this once, just get it over with, and then move on to a new doctor.
I didn’t really have much to worry about. My sister took charge of the appointment and my doctor seemed grateful. He didn’t even look at me. He talked to her about me in general terms. He was not caring or friendly like he had been at the hospital. I got new prescriptions so I wouldn’t get “foggy” again and my sister led me out like I was her kid.
My sister fussed over me at home, making me tea and soup. Once she was sure I was settled and safe, she left. I abandoned the soup and shuffled back to my bed. I curled up and began tracing my scar with my finger. I wanted to scratch it, tear it, rip it open and get a good look at the cold heart in my chest. I felt like my new heart knew that it had died in the motorcyclist. I wanted to see it. I popped up and went to my desk to google the article that my doctor had published. I couldn’t find it anywhere except on a medical journal. It cost $199. Determined, I clicked over my bank. I looked at my account and weighed the option of buying the paper. It wouldn’t be easy. I decided to just ask my sister to put some money in after. She would not be upset I bought it, thinking I wanted to preserve my good deed or whatever. She would bankroll this.
The article was mostly boring. But it did have the picture of my new heart. I stared at it. I copied to my desktop, to my phone, and printed it out. I got back into bed and pulled out the form. I read the form and stared at the picture again and again. I could not make it make sense. I had gone to the hospital for blood work. Now I have this heart, this cold dead heart, banging away in my chest.
After a couple of days with the article, I was able to decipher my doctor’s justification. Apparently, he thought my heart was undersized. That is why it went to the little girl and I got the motorcycle heart. I didn’t know if such a thing was possible. There was much fanfare at the medical journal about my undersized heart. I just couldn’t accept it. Before I had not been feeling well but it had been a general malaise, not bed ridden sickness like the little girl. I thought maybe my iron was low. Had my body really betrayed me by giving me an undersized heart?