Monday, August 3, 2009

Lockdown in recovery

So Kaiser would know that they were performing a biopsy on the right guy on Friday, the clerk in the Admitting Department asked me to show my Kaiser enrollment card and my ID, and I had to make a $15 copayment, which I charged to my debit card.

Then I was told that I would not be allowed to carry my Kaiser card, my ID, my debit card or any cash with me into the ward where I would await surgery.

My plan was to slip my wallet into one of my sneakers and stuff my sneakers in the large plastic bag that the hospital provided for my clothing, along with a biography of Woody Allen I brought along to read.

No way, José, Jessica in Admitting told me.

I scribbled a note asking Jessica what options I had. She gave me two: I could hand over the items to a family member or friend, or she would store them for me in Kaiser's safe until I was discharged.

I arrived at the hospital alone Friday morning, and none of the people I saw hanging in the waiting area to the Admitting Department looked trustworthy enough to hold on to my Kaiser card, ID and debit card for the day. So I surrendered everything to Jessica, along with two $5 bills and five singles.

Jessica fished an envelope and a form out of one of the drawers in her desk. One by one, she documented on the form what she was placing in the envelope. She saved the cash for last, and counted the bills at least five times.

I should have sensed that Jessica wasn't the type of gal I could joke around with. But I tried anyhow. After she counted my 15 bucks for the third time, I wrote "Hey, I'm loaded!" in my note pad and held it up for her to see.

Jessica didn't smile. I almost thought that she was going to dig around in her desk for a Breathalyzer.

Then I was led into the hospital to prepare for surgery.

In the early afternoon, I woke up in the recovery room. The procedure had gone well and my vitals were stable, so the nurse said that she would call a friend of mine who offered to come pick me up to take me home.

My friend was at work in Pasadena, so I cracked open my book on Woody Allen to await his arrival. I asked the nurse if she could get my Kaiser card, ID, debit card and cash out of Kaiser's safe so I could leave as soon as my friend arrived.

About 15 minutes later, the nurse returned to my bedside. "Bad news," she said. "We can't get the safe open."

I looked at her blankly.

"We're trying to get it open," she assured me. "We're thinking of calling a locksmith."

The nurse disappeared again. Meanwhile, my friend showed up.

He had already been briefed about the problem with the safe, so he told me he would go downstairs and get a bite to eat and wait for the situation to be resolved.

Some time passed, and the safe was still jammed. My friend decided to head back to his job in Pasadena to wait for Kaiser to summon him back.

I dozed off reading about Woody Allen's growing up on Coney Island. Then I was stirred awake by a woman wearing a business suit and a badge. She appeared to have some authority.

"We're still working on the safe," she explained. "But it may take till Wednesday till a locksmith can open it."

"Wednesday?!," I wrote in my notepad. She nodded. I guess Kaiser's brand-new flagship facility was a $600-million fixer-upper.

More time passed. I tried to relax and read, but I kept thinking about how agitated Woody Allen would be in a situation like this.

Hours went by. The next thing I knew, I looked up and saw a nurse, the supervisor and a locksmith named Larry standing at the foot of my bed. From the beaming expressions on their faces you would have thought that they had jointly discovered the cure for cancer and wanted me to be the first one to know.

"Good news!" the supervisor exclaimed, holding up the envelope with my belongings.

My friend had already been summoned back to the hospital to take me home, making his second trip to Hollywood from Pasadena.

As we sat in rush hour traffic, I wrote a note apologizing for all of the time he spent away from his desk. I asked him what projects he was working on and he said that he was part of a team working on collecting samples from a comet expected to be passing by Earth in 2027.

Some people think that comet may actually collide with Earth. Maybe my friend is working on a mission to save the planet from destruction, and he downplayed the significance of his work to me, figuring that I had enough to worry about as it is.

I hope that the time my friend spent away from that project on Friday doesn't put that project behind. If that comet wipes out Earth, I'm gonna feel personally responsible.

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