I used to feel persistent pangs of guileless guilt if I allowed myself a smile at the wrong time, wrong moment, or in plain view of the worst of witnesses. True, such dark humor might even evoke a hearty, albeit inappropriate howl. But propriety and sensitivity hold all the trump cards in polite company, whether strangers or intimates.
That credo certainly is true in several hospital situations. Now that I am an insider with 57 days accrued on this tour alone, i can reveal in confidence and without corroboration:
Mere mention of Code Blues is usually discouraged. One doesn’t ask details about this morning’s PA cries of “Code Blue, Outpatient MRI Imaging” or this afternoon’s drama-ridden curiosity, “Code Blue, Dental Clinic”!
I was just dying to ask, but I didn’t. In a dentist’s chair? While getting a semi-annual cleaning? A blog post was circling my iPad, unsure if it was perhaps too soon to land.
Dammit. It’s a tragic waste of good material. Of course, it’s even sicker when one’s writer’s block hovers far from therapeutic on a lonely third floor Cell block.
The Big Warden keeps throwing me bones, apparently those rife with Arthritic Osteoporosis and beyond examination.
And then there was Tuesday, March 15 at approximately 2:13pm. I was listening to my Hospital A-Go-Go playlist. Between tracks 3 and 4, doctors and nurses and bears (“Oh, my!”) starting rushing the Bastille that is my room.
Dazed, a young resident (from a different unit) asked one of those verboten questions. “You’re okay, aren’t you?” He turn to tell the others in relief: “He’s not coding!”
At that point, I heard it. “Code Blue, Anderson 37##. All available personnel, Code Blue, Anderson 37##.”
Holy Heparin! That was my room. If I was indeed “coding”, it was news to me.
The same announcement was repeated twice before it was corrected, but not before the news had traveled across my unit and back.
At that point I had been an impatient patient for over six weeks, and 84 shift changes. The nurses on this floor, for the most part, all know me now by name, med-chart trivia, and specific peccadilloes.
“Mr Sieber! That’s Mr Sieber’s room!” They were caught off guard and startled.
I, of course, was dying to ask.
Perhaps, there’s a better, more genteel phrase that I could use.
I didn’t find one. I never asked about details. At least not until the following day.
Yet another code, but of the mannerly ilk, suggests that I first ascertain the other patient’s condition, assuming his/her survival.
Wednesday afternoon, I could no longer suppress a smile.
The little smile became a guffaw, and at no one’s expense … not even Medicare’s.
I was simply too weak to genuflect.
(Image: “Tunnel of Love” by Henry Koerner, 1947.)