01 February 2009

I can see by your eyes friend your almost gone . . .

Yesterday, as I sat in the ER waiting for some pain medication to take hold, I made what I considered a cogent observation. Or it could have just been the drugs.

When I was younger one of my most important pain management techniques was reading. For reasons I never fully understood the hospital's administration had ruled that patients with hemophilia were not to be given any narcotics for pain relief. Ever. This ruling lasted until I was in college. As a result you did whatever you could to deal with what was politely called "the discomfort." Ice was a major player, as was building models, talking, imagining how that condescendingly smug intern would cope with this "discomfort," or anything else that would keep your mind occupied. For me that meant reading.

I read everything. I read the full copy of the advertisements for army men in comic books. I read the thirty page articles, all three of them, about the history of storm drain gratings in Northeast Brooklyn in 'The New Yorker.' I read whatever novels had been left within twenty yards of my bed. I read the instructions on the IV kits. (Step Three was my favorite: Remove cover from needle.) I even read my text books. (The House Committee on UnAmerican Activities found nothing technically unAmerican in the last one, but they let me know they were keeping an eye on me.)

By the time the hospital had made TV available to each bed they were allowing us, by that I mean bleeders, to be given narcotics, so I never really tested television's worthiness as a pain management technique. For the last several years whenever I had to hospitalized I always took a stack of books and magazines, but I noticed I wasn't really reading them. I would try to read but I would find myself rereading the same paragraph or sentence over and over and over and still not know what it said. So I would watch the TV. I wouldn't know what was going on there either, but it didn't seem to matter. Given enough morphine even the hospital's diabetes care channel became fascinating.

Yesterday I had, out of habit, taken a book with me when I went to the ER. In the waiting room, and exam room I read my book and pretty much ignored the televisions. After the doctor had seen me and ordered some pain medication, I found myself losing interest in the book and being drawn to the television. All of life I had thought it was just the increase in availability that had caused the decline in my hospital reading, but no. It was the drugs.

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