Sad Stories Told for Laughs
(Editor’s Note: I recently spoke with my good friend, Jonathan Rogers, for his fun series “Sad Stories Told For Laughs.” Here is an excerpt of that conversation, which centers around my open-heart surgery. The full interview can be found over at The Rabbit Room.)
JR: Surely your hospital stays produced some mortifications of the flesh.
RR: Well, when [my wife] Lisa and I arrived at the hospital for my open heart surgery– which happened to also be our 18th wedding anniversary– we signed in and took our seats. It was maybe 5:30am. A guy in black scrubs appeared, carrying a clipboard. He barked, “Ramsey. Ramsey!” He sounded like he was angry with me. Nervously, I went over to him, and he told me he would take me up to pre-op.
In the elevator, he said, “Well, if you have any modesty issues, now would be the time to get over them.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because they are about to make you strip down naked. Standard procedure.”
He still sounded angry with me. It turned out that what he lacked in bedside manner he made up for in accuracy. Sure enough, a pre-op nurse showed me to my bed and handed me a small hand towel and then said, “Go ahead and strip down. I’ll be here on the other side of the curtain. Just let me know when you’re ready so we can shave you.”
“Um, what?” I said.
My nurse said, “Didn’t someone tell you? We shave heart patients from chin to toes. You can use the towel to cover up when you’re done.”
I was as vulnerable as the day I was born.
JR: Did she shave your back?
RR: Ah Hah! I caught you. My nurse was a dude.
JR: Yes, I guess you did catch me. That being said, I’m still going to picture a female nurse next time I envision this scene. It makes a more memorable image.
RR: Well, that’s all I have to say about that.
There was another time, prior to that, when I had to have some kind of scope or something and I had to go under anesthetics. At the hospital, they have these people called “Transport” and their job is to wheel patients around to their various tests and scopes, and the like. Anyway, this Jamaican woman with a super thick accent came a got me to take me to my test. Along the way, in an effort to comfort me, she said, “You know what’s the truth, mon? Death comes for everybody. Young or old. Doesn’t matter none.”
JR: Did it comfort you?
RR: It made me laugh, and as soon as I came to, I wrote it down in the little journal I kept for moments just like that one. Bedside manner is a funny thing
JR: Comfort is a funny thing too. It’s hard to know what’s going to work.
RR: Yeah, but it’s not that hard to guess when something WON’T work.
Being in the hospital is an upside-down experience. Nothing is normal anymore. You’re there because something is wrong, and everyone else is there because the same is true for them, or they intend to be involved in the process of fixing you. Modesty goes away. Medicine often takes away all our filters. We’re just out there. Tact is gone, inhibitions too.
The day after my surgery, I was still pretty medicated. The nurse wanted me to move back and forth from the bed to a chair every other hour, to keep me moving around. But it was a very painful process, and because of a neurological problem I had which made my left foot go completely numb, I needed two people to help me out of bed. It was usually my wife and a nurse. And early on, whenever I would make that move, I’m told I would erupt in a profanity-laced tirade that would make a comedian blush. I have little recollection of that. The one memory I do have is that after saying a bad word, I would think, “I hope no one heard that.”
I’m not much of a cusser, but apparently I dug deep for some of these tirades. My wife suggested that I might have dusted off some of my old material from when I was a kid.
* * *
JR: As you’ve already suggested, there were plenty of indignities involved in your hospital stays. What did you learn from having to live with those indignities? Or to put it another way, what have you taken back into your “regular” life, where it’s easier to guard your dignity?
RR: I am willing to talk very openly about my mortality now. This has proven to be helpful for others. I’ve sort of lost the sense of discretion when it comes to telling my story.
We just recently celebrated Ash Wednesday, where the priest bends down and whispers into the congregant’s ear, “Remember that you have to die.” I think going through an affliction, or being shaved from chin to toes, reminds us of our mortality, which, for me anyway, helps to shape humility.