3. CHARITY HOSPITAL part II

“Mr. Wilkstrom?” Said a voice as the sheet drape was pulled aside. “I have an order for an X-ray?” He was tall and lanky, a white guy in a blue lab coat. One of his front teeth was missing. He checked my chart at the foot of the bed. “The spelling on your name doesn’t match exactly, but it must be you” he said without looking at me. He glanced around at all my IV drips, tongs and ventilator tubes and hesitated. “Uh, I’m gonna need some help here”.  It was pretty quiet in the ICU for a change with only my machine’s hissing and ventilator’s thwee tucka noise going. A tiny bell was clanging softly at the very end of the room.

“I’ll be right back” said the X-ray technician and pulled the covers back over. I looked at the slow monotonous dripping of saline solution entering my system by way of an injection into my arm. The drip and my breathing were synchronized and I felt like I was plugged into some vast organism.

My level of sensation stopped just above my nipples and I was feeling only in patches on my arm I didn’t know how my body was still functioning. A bright yellow bottle was inverted on a pole and another IV delivered the hypo alimentation into my other arm. I had no idea what it was but I didn’t feel hungry and I hadn’t eaten in days. The nurses had rolled me on my side enough times to clean up a mess I’d made and then to replace the pads, but I wasn’t eating anything. I had only a vague notion where fluid was expelling from my body.

The tech came back with a burley black orderly. ”This is Josh,” said the X-ray tech as he pulled the sheets all the way off of the frame and started moving the IV poles away from the bed. “We’ll need to get the film cartridge under you to get our shot. Here, Josh, you hold him on his side and I’ll slip it under and bring the machine over”. Josh said “Are you sure this’s ok? He’s got screws in his head and I don’t want to rip ‘em out or nothing”. “It’s alright,” said the tech, who never did identify himself. “Just rock him up on his side enough for me to get the plate under and we’ll be good”. Josh grabbed me across the bed and rolled me towards him. My back was arched and the tech slid the hard, cold metal tray under my chest. “Ok, that’s it. Hold him right there”

In a flash, the tech wheeled the portable x-ray machine over and swung the lens over my chest. “Try and stay very still” he said and I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or Josh. “Shouldn’t I be wearing a lead apron or something” said Josh with a hint of alarm. “Naw, this is a low dosage. We’re just checking to see if any pneumonia is developing,” said the tech as he re-checked his readings. “All right, here we go, hold it right there”. A mild beep came from the machine as I was zapped with x-rays. Naturally, they couldn’t develop the film right there and I shuddered through my shoulders as he pulled the hard cartridge from under my back. Josh laid me gingerly back against the cushions and repositioned the sheets and pillows until I was more or less in the position that I had been in. I was quickly re-shrouded and they vanished without another word.

 I looked over at the IV drip. Its regularity was comforting but like an hourglass it was destined to run out and if there was no one around to change it a piercing alarm would sound and my anxiety would escalate right along with it.

The new head nurse was coming on to her shift and came by my bed to check my vital signs. She was pretty and young and I thought way too inexperienced looking to be running the Intensive Care Unit. “I’m Terri, I’ll be looking after you this evening,” she said with a voice like tinkling glass. “The doctor’s night rounds will start in an hour or so”. Thankfully, my ventilator was working perfectly and didn’t need any attention so she made a note of my saline level and told me she’d be back in a few minutes to start a new bag.

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