Scrambled Leggs: Bed Pan
Back in Ward Misery, the feeling of dry wood splinters,
hangnails and paper cuts with a dousing of lemon juice reverberated
from my ribs to my toenails. Forlorn and haggard, I waited for more
test results. However, unlike the TV show “House,” my test results
could not be spun around in a science lab designated for me alone and
shot back before the commercial.
Does misery have no bounds?
Why do I ask questions I already know the answer to?
A nurse arrived with a large ‘paper package tied up with
string.’ She ripped off all of the paper and handed me an item.
“What is this?” I said holding up what appeared to be a
plastic gelatin mold.
“It is a bedpan.”
“And I sit on this, how?”
“Just hop up and slide it under you.”
Someone alert the Surgeon General: there is an epidemic of
stupid going around the hospitals of America, maybe the world, for all
“I can’t actually hold up my entire body with my one wrist
while sliding a Harriet Homemaker brownie pan under my nether
“Why don’t you try.”
And before I could say, ‘why don’t I try to put this where
the sun don’t shine for diddly squat,’ she was gone.
What I held in my hand was an aqua blue plastic dish 3
inches deep, 4 inches wide and 7 inches long. It was kidney shaped for
no anatomical reason (male or female) that I could ever determine. The
top edges were square, not round…think about that. Without a doubt,
someone with less brain matter than a single
cell amoeba, down in accounting, had decided that
disposable plastic bedpans were better than disinfecting the lovely old
contoured, sculpted metal ones that actually worked and seldom spilled.
Either that or ‘Brian Bookkeeper’ was bribed with a game of
golf and a hooker. Having been in purchasing for a spell, not to
mention now being a product user (and at that, no doubt, as an ‘early
adopter’ of a still-in-progress prototype) I knew this model bedpan was
not chosen because it was a stellar product. And may I point out that
all the current users were not in a ‘position’ to complain. If I had
known what the ‘new-improved’ bedpans were like I would have brought my
Not only was getting on top of the new model bedpan a feat
worthy of the Flying Wolenskis, I was soon to discover that square
edges were… have you been thinking of the answer?
Here’s how it went down. I had finally worked onto my side
in a mere fifteen minutes. Next I grabbed the bars of my bed, then
pushing I rolled back to straddle this so-called bedpan. The pain
registered a 7 on the Richter Scale. It turned out that while I could
not move my extremities, my skin surface was sensitive enough to detect
pain from the air disturbance caused by a moth’s sneeze in Timbuktu.
Howling like an animal caught in a snap trap I wrangled the
bedpan from my ample fanny and threw it against the wall. My only
regret being that it was still empty.
The next shift nurse came in six hours later and retrieved
“I can’t use that thing,” tears welled in my eyes from the
memory of it.
“Just relax and let nature take its course.”
Holy cow, I am having a hard time lifting my entire body
with my arms over a custard cup area without tipping it over, or
actually touching it. And then, while I look like I am auditioning for
Circ Du Soleil, I am also supposed to relax?
And as far as ‘nature taking its course’, can you say
mountain lion and baby rabbit? Nature devours those who are weak and
feeble. That would be me. Try Alaska, if you want a pan full of liquid
“That’s not working for me. What if you just catheterize me
and we get back to the discussion about more pain meds.”
“Okay, but I have to scan your bladder first.”
“Please do that, now!” She was young enough that my voice
actually stimulated a smidgeon of fear in her. She returned with a
stainless-steel machine on a wobbly cart. She then coated my abdomen
with a substance that can only be described as cold snot. She passed
some metal do-hickey around and looked up at a monitor. She adjusted a
few knobs and repeated the process. (This is never a good sign.)
Then without thinking she blurted out, “Oh, sh#%! You have
2,500 CCs in your bladder. Why didn’t anyone check you before? You
could’ve had kidney failure!” (I was to learn later, that amount was
about four times too much.) Then turning from the machine to me, she
“Why didn’t you tell someone you felt bloated?”
That’s right, blame the patient for the problem. It
wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact I can’t f-e-e-l anything
from the waist down?
Yes, and I can see how appreciative you and your staff
would be if I started ordering you to do this test and that. I’ll make
another note to myself: monitor your own urinary and bowel tract and
your fluid intake. And what the hey, I’ve got nothing but time, how
about I monitor your stock portfolio and send in suggestions to your
Mutual Fund Director.
Not wanting to be the nurse of record on duty when yet
another patient died, she ordered a catheter and had it in place in
record time. And since, my bowels weren’t budging I had no reason to
get back on that Pandora’s box of bedpan pain. Halleluiah! I was
exhausted, surely it was nap time.
That at least must have been the way the authorities saw it
because the next thing you know I was also issued a grade-A, first
edition morphine pump. Now you must understand, to get one of these you
have to be in major pain, (or as previously indicated, be a major pain
in someone’s neck or both). I’ve always prided myself on multi-tasking.
Scrambled Leggs: Morphine Magic
Here’s the scientific way they surmise how much pain you
are in. They ask you on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst, how
much pain are you in. Yep, that’s it. Now remember, pain killers are
addictive and yet, you, the patient, decide how much you need. This was
especially scholarly since I had already been ‘using’—as they say in
the AA program—for several days.
It’s a dance with the devil for sure. I am not at a 10,
that was childbirth and having Thanksgiving with family-in-laws. I’m
not at a 1 that would be breaking a nail near the quick or showing up
to a party in the same outfit as the hostess (a score of 5 if she looks
thinner in it). I know…I could keep screaming until I have enough drugs
to shut me up. And so my pain mitigation strategy was born.
“It’s an 8.” I figured 8 was just shy of the need for
I only knew one person who had been through shock therapy.
The best she could describe it was that you have emotional pain, but
then they zap that part of your brain that remembers it. So poof, it
wasn’t painful (except of course for those reoccurring zany nightmares
of a dragon chasing you through a cave and cornering you and scalding
you alive and then clawing you to death).
So an 8 it was and before you could say nighty-nite, I had
morphine drip, drip, dripping on down the IV line AND a pump. That
means I was feeling drowsy from the inside out. And when I felt the
slightest friction on my skin, even as slight as a cloud’s shadow
thinking of hovering over me, I reached up and squeezed the pump which
resembled a suction bulb, the kind you use to get snot out of a baby’s
nose. In this case the baby was getting the snot pushed into her veins,
I was in one of my stupefied drugged twilight states when a
nurse arrived with a syringe. She grabbed my IV tube and thrust the
needle in and jammed the plunger down as if she was taking the bad guys
out in a game of Nintendo. The substance hit my vein as fast as a comet
burning through the atmosphere. Immediately I felt my throat swelling
up, along with my nostril and ears. It was like getting bitten by a
two-step viper (or so they tell me).
I lurched forward from my half upright pillow-propped
position and grabbed as many ice chips as I could find swimming in the
bottom of my aqua plastic cup (yes their stemware matches their
bedpans). I started banging the tray table like a two year old being
told it’s bedtime.
“What’s the matter with you?”
If looks could kill, let alone if I could kill…
“I can’t breath,” I choked out through a thin crevice in my
throat which was closing back up.
“What did you say?”
What did you do?”
“Settle down. That’s a common reaction to steroids.”
I grabbed the ice water and chugged it.
The nurse wrote down on my chart: moody and irritable.
Where in the, blankety, blank, blank is the chart where I
get to write down staff behavior? Rude, dismissive, patronizing, and
did I mention…murderous? AND THIS IS A COUNTRY THAT BOASTS THE BEST
HOSPITALS IN THE WORLD, SCARY!
I settled down to think.
So, Grasshopper, the game is afoot. How many drugs can you
take intravenously and still keep a watchful eye on your personhood
against the evil white knights? When do you think you can fly away from
your pain on the mystical magic carpet, and when do you bite the bullet
and keep a watchful (if not wincing) eye on the menace?
I decided to try to stay awake for each shift change and if
they didn’t kill me in the first fifteen minutes I was probably safe to
squeeze the devil’s hand (AKA the morphine pump which I had named
From talking to friends of mine who are nurses, the
hospital bean counters have decided to staff their floors with
Traveling Nurses. These are temporary positions which require more
salary and benefits but there are no messy hire and fire problems for
personnel, especially if you use them for busy times and not year
round. The advantage to the hospital is lower costs. The advantage to
the patient being cared for by someone who is not invested in the
community, may or may not have been honest on their résumé and are not
particularly supervised, at least not for annual reviews, is—is what?
Wait, I am working on this: My costs have gone up, I am
cared for by an itinerant caregiver who is here for the surf, sun and
interns, and I get…? Then suddenly a beam of sunlight entered my room
and danced across the green vinyl floor. Ah, yes, it all became clear.
I get the shaft.
Scrambled Leggs Excerpt: Wheeling and Dealing, Sally
What the hospital side of my stay lacked in congeniality
and freedom was made up fourfold by the young-hearted, fun loving
physical therapy team. No matter what high-tech machine I was racked
onto they were helpful, encouraging and so full of hope it was
contagious. First I was introduced to the bike patterning machines;
they would strap my hands and feet to the machine and then I’d make the
contraption spin by using my hands at first and concentrating on
eventually using my legs to push.
Somewhere there was a place in heaven with a roomful of
hamsters I’d owned jeering about Karma and getting even with me. “Make
the wheel go.” “Faster, faster.” “Look at her, round and round, she
must really like it, she does it all day long.” “Oh, look she’s going
over to the water dripping thing, she must be thirsty. Let’s put
Kool-aide in it”
Forty-five miles down the hall was the (off)balance room.
It included standing in front of a giant board with little lights all
over it. The lights would randomly flash and I had to slap that area
with my hand, while trying to stand without falling. Easy to do before
January, now it was (to quote Elmer Fudd)“vow-e, vow-e, twicky. ”
Fortunately whoever had taken me in there had to stand behind me to
catch me, it was a part of their job description: cowcatcher.
This must be what an acid trip was like. Whoa, dude.
Flashing colorful lights, a real sense of falling through time and
space. No wait, I am falling and that’s acid reflux.
Next was the giant roly-poly work-out ball. The game here
was to be crumbled down on the floor and back yourself up onto a large
circus type ball. I never quite got this one. I did manage to scoot the
ball across the room and lose my britches. How the hey do slimy seals
stay up on those balls? The next game was more fun (for
the instructor). You were perched on the large ball and had
to try and stay on it. If you could do that, the risk factor increased,
“lift your left foot, now your right, now both.” No doubt, this was the
human form of pick-up sticks. How many support points could you remove
until the little lady keeled over on her keister? Look ma, no hands!
The one regular class I remember with great fondness was my
afternoon upper-body class. I had an advantage over the stroke patients
because both of my arms worked, give or take an infected IV wound. We
were given hand weights and asked to move them in various directions.
‘Out to the side and back, breathe, good.” In between the breathing and
the swinging, our leader, Cherry, had a contest to see who could tell
the worst joke or pun. People who seemed three sheets to the wind and
waterlogged perked up. It was absolutely hysterical. I know Cherry had
us working the full hour, but no one ever complained once the puns
started flying. Diversion…clever therapy!
At the end of the room with the punsters was a young man
about twenty years old, easily younger by thirty years than any of the
rest of us. Leno had been in a serious car accident and had broken his
legs, hip and pelvis. He was a bit shy, but the aged pun gang cajoled
him into interaction.
One afternoon when I was grabbing onto a bar in the hallway
attempting my first side-step, Leno came walking down the aisle with a
cane. I stopped and cheered his progress. He looked at me and said,
“This will be you in a few weeks.” Yeah, right,’ I thought. ‘I can’t
stand by myself for more than ten seconds and he was at least
35 years younger than I was.
Having helped out at Special Olympics, I had watched
wheelchair basketball and seen paraplegics in those low streamlined
recumbent hand-pedal bikes. I can tell you I never had the slightest
urge to sit in a wheelchair. In rehab it was mandatory. In fact, as I
mentioned, I was forbidden to get in or out of bed by myself. Once
seated, I was only reprieved to use the bathroom, for which I also had
to wait for an aide to help me (usually during a commercial break of
In rehab almost everyone was in a wheelchair.
Outside was a whole different matter.
They took me outside and around the neighborhood to
familiarize me with what it would be like to be in a wheelchair in the
real world. As a result of this experience I am personally sponsoring a
bond to fix the sidewalks in our town. The next time you walk down a
sidewalk, think about doing it on wheels and notice those roots pushing
up the cracks. Here’s a hot tip, kids on skateboards may like ramps,
but not so many wheel chairbound people do.
Why? It’s hard to get up speed to ‘get air’ and falling out
is not an option. (Boy, oh boy, making fun of that TV commercial, “Help
I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” has come back to ‘bite me’ in spades.)
Madge picked me up for my ramp lesson. In the back of the
building was a nice sloped ramp for wheelchairs. We’ve all seen them.
We’ve all heard the moaning about how expensive it is to put in
wheelchair ramps for a few people to use, blah, blah, blah.
Speaking now as one of those few, and might I add quality,
persons who has used a wheelchair, even a gradual ramp is no great
shakes. Excuse me for being ungrateful. A ramp makes a lot of sense, it
beats stairs for sure. But here’s the problem I ran into (so to speak).
You can’t make a ramp gradual enough (which means long enough) to
actually get up it with minimal effort, say with your big toe or nose.
Why, you may ask, is it so hard, especially if you have
your arms to push with?
The answer: NO BRAKES!
That’s right, on your run-of-the-mill, hospital issued
standard hand-powered wheelchair, you push-push-push yourself along.
And you push-push-push yourself up that ramp. And woe be to the poor
schmoe who runs out of steam halfway up the ramp. I found this out of
course…half way up the ramp.
No anti-rollback braking system and no hand brakes on the
chair arms, like on a bicycle. What they do have is an ‘emergency type’
lock to keep the wheels in place once you are parked somewhere,
anywhere, that is close to level or half-a-bubble-off- plumb! These
‘hold’ brakes consist of flat metal rods looking much like butter
knives which are perpendicular to the inch wide threadbare rubber on
One can just imagine the fun of trying to let go of the
sides of your wheels where you have been pumping away, while
simultaneously grabbing both emergency breaks and trying to assert
equal pressure so as to stop evenly.
This, of course, would pit your arm and hand strength
against your own weight and the weight of the metal chair plus gravity
on an incline while testing the level of the break system metal fatigue
(and your own). I’m no physics wiz, but I can tell you from field
experiments, this is ‘No Contest’. It is akin to breaking a ten-sped
bike on a hill with only one hand break with your fat cousin on the
Here’s a quick question, can you bench-press your own
weight plus a wheelchair? Can you do it after being flat on your back
in a hospital for three weeks? Can you do it on an angle with your back
to the lower gravity side? In a box? With a fox?
If all this gripping were to coincide as planned, I am
still not sure what would keep me from being propelled backwards out of
my chair, no doubt into oncoming traffic. These and so many other
possibilities helped me get up the ramp in one ‘swell foop!’ I did have
a back-up plan, the same one I used when rollerblading years before.
Just run into the side rails and hope my years in gymnastics would kick
in and I would remember how to do a forward roll over the banister.
On the bright side, I managed the chair like a pro on flat
ground because turning the wheels in a chair is a lot like canoe
paddling. You pull one wheel back while you push the other one forward.
Simple enough, thank the good Lord for summer camp…
Sally Franz 2007