Last Friday I was hospitalized for severe abdominal pain and internal bleeding. It was he worst pain I have ever known. It was so bad, in fact, that I could not stand upright. I was discharged on Sunday morning. Initial tests revealed that I had a bacterial infection in my intestines, but they don’t yet know why. I visit my doctor tomorrow when she’s supposed to confirm the results. Based on the fact that I’ve got no family history of anything like this, and based on my conditions on Friday, I’m guessing it was salmonella poisoning. I had a lot of time to research it over the weekend. But, we shall see.

Anyway, this was the first time since I was a child that I was a patient in a hospital. I’m about 80% better now thanks to the treatment I received there, along with continued rest and medicine, but the trip will stay with me for a long time. Here’s what I learned:

1) Emergency Rooms suck. And not just because it’s full of coughing people and people who smell like liquor and Class A cigarettes. The process is ridiculous. The lighting is terrible. The design is depressing. The seats are plastic. The ventilation is non existent. Terrible, terrible experience, the ER. The only plus was that they had masks available.

2) The hospital is full of really sick people. No, I mean really sick. When I was able to get out of my room, every person in every room that I passed looked like they were dying as they lay there watching the square box hanging from their ceiling. Hopeless souls high on drugs. Sucking air.

3) When you’re in the hospital you’re a science experiment. As amazing as medicine is today, when something’s inside of you doing damage, no one can see it in real time. So they have to try different things in order to identify and treat it. The best advice my father ever gave me was, ‘It’s better to run in on a fly ball than run back on one.’ That’s how doctors treat things they can’t see – wide angle to telephoto. And the only way they can do that is by experimenting. A lot.

4) Television is terrible. I was a patient in the hospital for about 36 hours. The television was on for maybe 6 of those when I watched Turner Classic Movies. Everything else is just trash. We killed cable at our house a few years ago, and except for live sporting events, I don’t miss it. My hospital trip reinforced that broadcast television sucks and that Americans care about some stupid stuff. Thankfully, the hospital had solid wifi.

5) I do not like Jello™. I’ve tried. All my life I’ve tried. But I just don’t. Sorry, Bill Cosby.

6) I do like being wheeled around. I didn’t spend much time on the move during my short stay, but I have to admit, I like being wheeled around in a chair or on a gurney. Especially high on morphine. It’s like transportation without doing any work. Like a ride at a fair. Come on – who doesn’t like a fair ride on morphine?

7) Blood work nurse don’t care. 

This was maybe the worst health experience I have ever had. But like with all things, there is a silver lining. As I lay there motionless Friday night, for fear of ripping out my IV, the fact that I’m no longer a 20-something year-old man in peak physical condition hit me pretty hard. Not that I’m in denial about that, but rather, I take my health for granted. I wasn’t taking anything for granted last weekend. I don’t ever want to be sick like that again – even if I did get sick as the result of tainted food. So on Monday I quit smoking. I’ve tried before, but could never make it past a day and never really believed I’d stay quit. After all, I was young, virile and physically resilient. But now I’m in my late forties and just came through something pretty traumatic. Neither of my children have ever seen me smoke. You didn’t know I smoke. I never smoked around others. And I didn’t smoke much to begin with (another reason it was always easy to justify continuing.) But smoking at all is the one thing I’ve been living with all these years that I completely and utterly regret. Hell, it’s my only regret. Smoking used to be a sign of being a badass. Now it’s just a sign of weakness and ignorance. I fully expected to die from lung cancer one day. And still may. But after my trip to the hospital, I’m resolved to make that bastard work as hard as possible for me. Will I succeed? Who knows. I’ve got plenty of personal experience on how treacherous addiction is – but today I’m winning. And I’m stronger as a result.

Sometimes our epiphanies are thrust upon us.

Note: I wasn’t going to share the smoking thing because I knew that once I shared it, I’m bound to it – or else fall flat on my face in public. I don’t like to fall flat on my face – in public or otherwise. And so that’s why I decided to share. Because now I’m bound to it. Besides, it’s not like I have an untreatable disease. I have control over this. The trick, I’ve learned, is not buying them. 
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Divine Intervention

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.