This is the fourth in a series of posts by participating writers in Greater Fort Worth Writer’s Published Authors Forum, on Sunday, March 13.
Today’s entry is Kenneth Ingle. Ken has published 12 books in the Sci-Fi genre, his most recent Freedom’s Hammer. Below is a short story he wrote fifteen years ago.
NEVER ON FRIDAY
Six A.M. Friday, the hospital was ready. Everything seemed fast paced yet practiced. These people had done this before. The charge nurse asked me which hip was to be replaced and I said the right one. She nodded her agreement, place a blue mark, on the target and off we went.
The next thing I remembered was in the wake-up room and it was three P.M. I wasn’t groggy although it took a few seconds to realize where I was. A swarm of young attendants surrounded me, and I say without malice or prejudice, there wasn’t a born American in the bunch. Apparently, this is work Americans are unwilling to do. The aides were cheerful and helped me with anything I needed. A young Filipino did everything he could to make the large plastic slab separating my legs comfortable; it keeps everything rigidly in place.
A pleasant but all business nurse stood in the doorway, clipboard tightly clasp. “You have to be out of here by five P.M. Where do you go for rehab? Here or somewhere else? If you stay here, it will cost one thousand dollars each day. We can arrange financing.” There was no sorrow or humor in her voice, in fact, no emotion at all. Hospitals are all business.
Before I could answer, my surgeon (unnamed although he did a great job) entered. By then, my son and daughter were also in the room. My surgeon said, “All that was taken care of over two weeks ago.” Unrelenting, the nurse said, “The insurance company says there were mistakes on the application, and it was returned to the doctor’s office. Your carrier has not given authorization for any rehab.” The surgeon was nonplussed to say the least. My daughter made a call to the insurer and sure enough, no care beyond surgery had been authorized and that the papers would have to be resubmitted for consideration. It shouldn’t take more than two weeks. I later learned that this was an often used tactic. Seems the insurers hope you’ll give up and do your rehab at home where they won’t have to pay or, at the least, fork out less. I live alone so going home wasn’t an option.
Panic in spades. Thank goodness for cell phones. A marathon of calls went out. Finally, I had my daughter call the VA and they offered to provide hospital and rehab with the understanding they would charge my carrier. Not a problem for me. This information was forwarded to my insurance company and amazingly, they immediately found a place for my rehab. At five minutes to five, the same nurse handed me a list of medications to take, as I was loaded into an ambulance.
I must tell you about a young African aide at the hospital. She had a smile and manner that could conquer Troy. During one of our exchanges, I asked how she liked it here in America. Her answer stunned me. “I love being here and taking care of you rich Americans.” Now believe me I’m as far from rich as any person can be and still not be on the dole. Her story deserves telling. A missionary found her in a Uganda refugee camp. I suspect her alert mind, personality, and smile resulted in her being plucked out of that terrible place and schooled at the mission. Then on to the U.S. for nurses training and possibly more. She had left a life without family, without hope, without the means for survival. Misery and death were her constant companions. It’s easy to understand why she would see all Americans as rich. How damned lucky we are.
I arrived at the rehab center around five thirty P.M. There was no one to meet us so the ambulance driver put me in the first room that had an empty bed. By six P.M., as meals were being wheeled around and served, an aide arrived to see to tend my roommate, and she firmly tucked me in. Things started to settle down. My kids left to their own families. I inquired of the attendant about my roommate. She shook her head, came near my bed, and said, “Mr. Smith isn’t doing very well. They doubt he’ll make it.” That did nothing to raise my spirits.
I really thought just my presence, ensconced in a room, would result in some recognition; like another mouth to feed, this guy can’t walk, bedpans needed and what all. Plus, I still had a needle in my arm trickling fluid in and a catheter you know where trickling fluid out.
At seven P.M., I called to an aide and asked about being fed. I hadn’t eaten since noon the preceding day. The young lady said, “You aren’t assigned to me. I’ll see if I can find who’s working your room.”
By eight P.M., I was starving and ready to go to war. With my call light on and being ignored (since no one had been assigned to me), I nailed another aide passing through the hall and demanded to be fed. A cook showed up with a raft of papers, thumbed through them and with a smile, she said, “Man you came in at the worst time possible. The administrative staff went home at five and you got here after they left. You were never checked in. And they won’t be back ’til Monday morning. There isn’t any fixed dinners left over but I’ll put something together for you.” (The day shift personnel are the only true employees of the rehab center. All others, evening and weekend, were contract labor). She added my name to her list, wagged her finger, and said, “I’m going home but that will get you breakfast. Now, you have to tell the morning cook to add your name for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Then the regular staff will be here and you can be fed like everyone else.” At nine P.M., I finally had some food.
Sounds simple. I had to scrap for every meal. The oncoming people never bothered to check for messages. I fought all weekend for every morsel. By Monday, the battle was engaged. For most of the next three weeks, I was the last fed. Gradually, most of the helpers knew about me and saw that I got some food. I still hadn’t made the ‘to be fed’ list. On a number of occasions, I had to get out of bed (after I became ambulatory) and steal a tray from the rack.
Usually, the nurse(s) who dispense the drugs are the last to check in a patient. The accountants are first, the center being able to collect for any service rendered is most important. Anyhow, the medical nurses, being last, always file their paperwork. So, the admitting administrators had no record of my arrival. Someone told the bookkeeper I was there, so the billing stuff was in order and to the bean counters, the world was right. I still wasn’t on the anyone’s list, and I had to daily scrounge for food, gowns, bed linen, wash cloths, toilet paper and wheelchair; broken I might add which I repaired to usefulness.
About Mr. Smith my roommate. Now this guy was something else. As I said earlier, he wasn’t doing well. Acute renal failure, a missed diagnosis by his doctor. Renal poisoning destroys muscle tissue so Smith needed physical therapy.
But Smith had it; whatever it is. He had a manner and way about him that you just had to like. And the women couldn’t keep their hands off him. Combed his hair, straightened pillows, helped him dress, played cards, anything the guy needed, they were there. I would say to him, “Smith, what is it with you and these women?” His wife, a lovely lady, enjoyed the teasing. And I was as relentless as envious. This guy got coffee brought to him in bed, rehab room, recreation room and I couldn’t get a meal.
Twelve thirty one morning Smith wasn’t feeling well. He’d had his call light on for almost an hour. I punched mine, dozed off and on. About four A.M., no one had come in to help as he laid in his own filth. I yelled as loud as I could at a passing aide. That brought him and a nurse from the station. Smith got the care he needed. The guy who was supposed to be working our area had taken off and the charge nurse hadn’t noticed. I was sleeping only about four hours a night so the night staff was used to me roaming around the place in my wheel chair. I used this as scouting time, and checked the call light register at the nurse’s station and could see it was function properly (this will be important later).
When Smith’s wife learned what had happened, she was ready to skin someone. However, neither of the Smith’s wanted to cause a stir. I told her to think about it. If she needed a willing advocate, I was ready. By that afternoon, she had decided something had to be said. Yet, it took two days for Mrs. Smith and me to get an audience.
We presented Smith’s concerns; the administrator apologized and said we needed to supply the names of the offenders. I wanted tell her the complete personnel roster should about cover it. But I didn’t. Instead, Mrs. Smith pointed out all the aides and staff always turn their ID badges over so the names can’t be seen. The lady started to protest then realized she wasn’t wearing her name plate. Mark one down for the good guys! And the nurse call signal board, mark two for the good guys. I made my plight known also. Didn’t help.
Rehab went well. A drill sergeant ran that end of the business and she wouldn’t brook any slothfulness. She’d heard about a new patient but had no papers and came looking on her own. She knew it was vital my rehab start immediately. Blood clots are a major enemy and the only remedy is exercising immediately. And she worked my butt off. It’s a good thing I stay in shape. Go to the gym at least three times a week and this really helped my recovery.
Smith got better and went home two days before my discharge. That day my admission papers arrived and I got my first real bath. I had been washing in the lavatory.
Well, it came time for me to go home. The physical therapist came to my room. She said, “I must tell you, the way you treated Mr. Smith probably had more to do with his recovery than anything we did here.”
Even in my cobbled up wheelchair, I felt good.
Come and meet Ken at the forum!