In 2016 I checked into the hospital for a three-day stay that included a huge does of radioactive iodine radiation treatment. Upon check-in, I was asked if I wanted my stay to be public or private — whether or not I wanted my location in the hospital to be public record.
At the time, I didn’t think that was necessary. Honestly, I thought it felt kind of creepy. The thought that anyone could ring up the info desk and ask if Melanie was in the hospital and could get my room number felt odd and unnecessary. The reality was, the people who needed to know where I was, knew where I was.
So I opted for privacy. What difference would it make, anyway, right?
It’s been six years since that stay and one of the long-term side effects is an upper gastro issue that has to be addressed every year. I have a stricture, or scar tissue that formed at the top of my esophagus that’s tight enough for food to sometimes get stuck. Once I thought a bite of angel food cake would literally kill me. Too many peanuts at once will set off a major physiological alarm. Lately, even yogurt gets stuck. Since my goal these days is ‘to not die,’ I scheduled this annual procedure.
We checked in to the hospital at 5:30 in the morning, paid my co-pay, and settled into the waiting room. My gown was haphazardly tied in the back and I huddled under several layers of warm blankets. At some point between meeting with anesthesia and a discussion of whether or not I needed a pregnancy test, we decided it was a good time for Brian to leave to go home and get our youngest up, fed, and off to school. He’d be back before my procedure started.
Later in the morning, a nurse came in and asked if I was here alone. Oh gosh no! I explained how my husband had just left but should be back any minute. Some time after that, my doctor came in to chat. “Are you here alone?” she asked. I laughed, and again explained to her that my husband, whom she sees every year, just left for a few minutes but should be back any time.
More time passed, and honestly I was surprised that Brain wasn’t back yet. It wasn’t like him to just not come back. Surely he’d be back by now. The pre-op nurse came in and again, asked me if I was there alone. I sat straight up.
“You know, it’s weird. I feel like he should be here by now and I’m honestly wondering where he is.”
She decided to call him.
“Hello, this is Brian.”
(He honestly sounded a little aggravated.)
“Hi Brian this is the nurse and I’m here with Melanie…”
I chimed in, “Babe, where are you? Is everything okay?”
“Well, Mel, your status is still set to private. They won’t give me any information about you or where you are. You currently don’t exist in this building.”
O. M. G.
I can clearly picture it — my precious husband standing at the desk, my original Dr. Scholl’s in one hand and my camo joggers in the other while someone at the check-in desk tells him that “No one by that name is in our system.”
He told them that we checked in together earlier that morning. He reminded them that we paid our co-pay at desk #2. He showed them my bags of belongings and that the mustard yellow v-neck sweatshirt was not, in fact, his.
Still. “No one by that name is in our system.”
Let me just say, I give huge kudos to the ladies of the front desk. Despite my husband’s polite, yet persistent, negotiations, they held firm. No amount of logic or persuasion would they give in. They were an iron curtain that no one, not even my husband of 18 years and father of our two children would be allowed to penetrate. I’d argue that in some instances, this system is a lifesaver.
But this time, it was just a pain.
Later in recovery I was laughing with the nurses about what happened. They told me that usually, in most cases, the ‘private’ setting is reserved for really (I mean *really*) important people, like the Governor or First Lady of the state.
Other times? It’s reserved for INMATES and PSYCH PATIENTS.
So maybe this is why every person who came in to speak with me that morning squeezed my ankles.
Hang in there, y’all. xo
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