Dear sweet friends and family,
Here is a story of Seattle, COVID, Clare and I, 3/29-4/1/20, a Battle in Seattle
Alone in going and alone in coming back was my call because I didn’t think it prudent to put anyone in position to go with me into one of the most absolute epicenters of COVID19. I not only was going to Seattle but into a hospital in Seattle. Enough said. But I knew I was going to put someone in that unattractive yet necessary role of being with me after my procedure, to be escorted out of the hospital while still in somewhat of a la-la-land post anesthesia state. Clare was my hopeful choice but it was still up to her whether she would feel safe being with me. Turned out she was ‘100%’ in. I was confident that she would be there for me but still she lived in Bellingham in a mini epicenter herself and was concerned for me that she might be a carrier. A risk I was happy to take.
The chances of me being a carrier were in my opinion very low but I am at very high risk for contracting any virus frankly because not only am I ‘an aged one’ but I am also immuno-compromised and because of my liver lab results were not in a healthy state. She had to be willing to take on that risk. How much risk I was to put her in was my responsibility and I chose to be collaborative with that. I talked with her, Pam Curry (a neighbor and good friend), her mom, and others near and far. With Pam Curry’s help here I got masks, gloves, sanitizer enough for three once I found out Clare was bringing a very dear friend of hers, Eli too, along with his most generous offer to drive her.
I had booked a room at the Collegiana Hospitality House where I typically stay for these things. Upon further reflection I also decided to minimize contact with her even more by not asking them to come until after my procedure which was scheduled for Monday morning at 11. They wouldn’t have to arrive until 1-2PM, and I decided they didn’t need to come up into the hospital to retrieve me as usual but would arrange with Dr. Balmadrid’s staff to wheel me to the curb outside at the appointed time. Then even further still, I booked another room next door to mine for them to stay so that we wouldn’t be sharing the same space for that night while I see if I am going to be okay to travel home the next day. I didn’t expect to have any hugs or much of any interactions closer than 6 feet. This is the pain I most have to endure going there this time believe me.
On the plane to Seattle there were maybe 10 passengers spread out as far away from each other as we could which made conversation virtually impossible. Then there is the mask thingy. Many have masks on like me and even if I did try to talk to someone, it’s a muffled mess and neither party has much of a face to express with anyway leaving human interaction down to almost nothing.
The walk to the light rail station from the terminal is long. It’s late and lonely on the train too, just a handful of passengers mostly comprised of marginally normal citizens and homeless people, several just talking to themselves or ‘an invisible person nearby’. I have an hour long ride to the end of the line and a short LYFT ride to the Collegiana. The hotel is not attended on weekends or evenings and I have to be let off at an office building two blocks away that has a security person there 24 hrs/day so that I can pick up my key then haul myself down to the hotel. I think I got in around 11pm. On the trip there I found out that my procedure had been rescheduled to 9am the next morning instead of 11.
I haven’t eaten much since dinner in Boise before leaving and I have to fast anyway before the procedure in order to not throw up during the procedure. I was thankful it wasn’t very cold that night too because the long walk to and then standing at the rail station outside can be pretty brutal.
The LYFT driver and I had a nice little interaction being a LYFT guy myself that brought a bright spot into the mix. He was a foreign born guy with a guitar in his trunk that he offered to have me play when I said I knew a few cords…not that they could possibly be strung together in any meaningful or recognizable way, so I passed.
There is a university shuttle bus that picks up and runs between the clinics and hospitals that normally runs every 15 minutes but as I passed the pick up zone outside the hotel there was a sign saying it wasn’t running according to the usual schedule and there was no way for me to know exactly what that meant, so I had to prepare to leave and stand outside in the early morning coolness earlier than my usual routine. Since I didn’t plan on being outside very long that day (only that initial wait for the shuttle and later being picked up by Clare and Eli into a warm, dry car) I didn’t put on my sweater, didn’t wear my gloves or hat or umbrella. I’ve learned not to take anything to the hospital that is not absolutely necessary since I have to store whatever I have in a ‘patient belongings’ bag after signing off that I take responsibility to relieve responsibility of anything happening to it while under anesthesia.
Turns out I make it to my procedure check in on time. I’m very pleased with myself. The check in crew has put my hospital wrist band thingy on me and I am waiting for GeeGee (It’s always GeeGee) to come out to get me to take me back to the prep bed, etc. But instead of GeeGee, out comes Dr. Balmadrid himself! Usually we talk after I am prepped with my IV tube installed and dressed so smartly in my wonderful green hospital gown with the tie in the back. I always have questions for him and he always expresses his concerns having reviewed my labs and recent history. But here he is now out in the unusually deserted waiting area sitting knee to knee with me. He without mask and me with mask muffling my eagerness to see him without facial expression or handshake.
He leans well forward in his chair to quietly and carefully tell me that the hospital has begun a new protocol that started that morning without warning that requires all patients to be COVID tested before any procedures. He gives me a paper with an address a few blocks away and a phone number to call to schedule that. He thinks they will be able to test me relatively soon but no promises, and if I’m negative, he is pretty darn sure I can get in for my procedure the next morning.
Gee whiz!…I can think of other ways that I could more accurately express this particular sentiment. The bottomline is however, now what?
He leaves and there I sit on the eighth floor of Harborview hospital looking out a bank of windows overlooking a big portion of Seattle and sky. Ever since arriving the sky has been indecisive but this particular moment dark clouds rule followed quickly to reveal a patch of open blue sky then rolling along again to darker, dark, light, open, rain, a patch of openness, and on. The sky can’t make up it’s sky mind what it should do or wants to do or is forced to do. I know I have no control over it. That I know. All feels very uncertain.
In the days ahead I will have walked a lot down many streets by myself or with Clare. No one seems certain either. The street population is almost nonexistent. Around the hospital there are a few healthcare people scurrying about but they walk past the same homeless population that has been out here through thick and thin, day in and literally day out. They certainly see life through uncertain lenses. No one asks them what they think of it all.
I call Clare right way to tell her that everything, like down feathers in my hands, thrown up in the drafty air. Should she come now? Should she turn back? When should she come? How is this going to play out? She and Eli are bringing food. I haven’t eaten in a good while. She tells that they have just gotten on the road and are not going to turn back. Okay then.
I next call the number Dr. B has given me to schedule my COVID test. It’s for 11am. There is an address a few blocks away. I am hungry. I leave the building not really thinking things through. I can’t just reenter the hospital without going through the ER entrance across the street again. I’m not prepared for the weather. It’s windy and turned much colder. I don’t have my sweater or gloves or hat. I’m shivering trying to find where I can get some food while I wait for my test. I’m asking random people on the street where to get something, at this point anything. Someone points to a place down the street they think is open, a little coffee shop. Whew, it is! I get a coffee and muffin but I’m not allowed to stay inside to eat it. Back into the cold again the only warmth is coming from the coffee cup in my left hand. I literally beg the guards at the ER to let me sit just inside the door away from people going in and out. I still have a good bit of time before heading over for my test and I figure they will have a place to sit and wait inside. When I find the address it turns out it is just a tent on the sidewalk. Two aids ask me if they can help because I am not sure I’m in the right place. They assure me I am and say, I don’t have to wait. I am escorted to a single plastic chair on the street under an awning. I sit there a little while alone while they go inside their tent to get me situfied. (pronounced ‘sitch-you-fied’. This is a word Clare invented when she was a teenager that means something like ‘situation being handled’. I think it is a remarkably good word.)
The aids come out with one or two very, very long (I’m talking twelve inch long) swabs that they proceed to, after having me lean my head back sufficiently, stick up my nasal passage clear back far enough to reach my mid brain. It is not a quick little swabbing either. I am squirming with a good bit of yee-oowee! Then they inform me they will be doing the other nasal passage…just to be sure to harvest enough material. When they finish they inform me that the results will come back in 24-48 hrs. What?! I’m supposed to have my procedure by next morning at 9am.
Still shivering madly, I now have to call Dr. B to let him know that it will be 24 hrs at least before the test result gets back. Thankfully he tells me that it will probably only take half a day. But of course, I don’t know if it’s going to be positive or negative.
I wander down several streets to where the pick up for the shuttle is and just stand shivering until it comes by to take me back to my room. I get there just a few minutes before Clare arrives. When I see her,more than anything I want to do what we always do…hold each other in a long embrace sighing with gladness to be together again…all is right with the world again but it’s not.
After getting the two of them masked and gloved they get situfied in their room. We fall into family mode and I catch them up on what’s happening. I have to cancel my flight home knowing it’s non-refundable and not knowing when the flight feather is going to land. I’m not sure when but I reach out to a small part the network of friends and family to give a little of what is changing.
Clare arranges food delivery and we pick out one of their generation’s favorite movies from the DVD collection at the hotel, School of Rock. It was memorable watching them sing the songs and lip synch the lines of the characters.
I didn’t hear a word from Harborview so we went to bed in our own rooms with a plan for the next day. I haven’t been sleeping too well lately and this night was no exception but I had a lot to look forward to with what I hoped and you, my support system hoped would be the usual outcome…discovery and reprieve.
Tuesday morning I got up quite early because now the check in was at 8am so off I went by myself. I usually bring lots of chocolate for Dr. B and his team. I didn’t let them down. The only problem is I think they might be unconsciously making mistakes so that my procedures don’t last as long because when I come, I think I hear them all cheering back there, “Pat’s back! Yeah! He has chocolate!” It’s a Pavlovian thing.
Dr. B never knows before hand what he’s going to do because he doesn’t know what he will find when he goes in there leaving us both like the Seattle weather outside, uncertain. Without going into the strange lab numbers I have exhibited of late and the completely unexpected downturn so quickly, Dr. Byran was there to greet me as I came out from anesthesia. He is a crazy honest physician I’m gonna say right now. What I’m about to tell you some physicians could cover up easily but he said he was totally surprised to see one of the stents he took out in February had migrated basically upstream and back to block my major duct. Usually the body just flushes it out. He said he has never seen that happen before or heard of such a thing happening ever.
He put new stents in and we are hoping to not see me again for 6 months. I think he was just as relieved to find a good explanation as I to why the lab numbers were telling us a confusing story.
Clare was at the curb to pick me up. Eli had gone to visit his family in Tacoma while I was under and now it was just me and Clare. I moved her into my room for the follow up night. All was well. We always have very stimulating conversations and we did some bodywork on each other.
The next morning we found some coffee and muffins. She took me to the airport 2 hours early so she could get on her way to meet Eli for a little R & R in a cabin on the Olympic peninsula.
I’m back although I feel like Joe Frazier slugged me in the stomach which is what I feel like after some procedures but have nothing to complain about and everything to be grateful about…YOU ALL MOSTLY! From time to time I find myself suddenly taken by the spirit of gratefulness to the point of tears. I am going to call on you, and I’ve said this recently to some, to find something, anything that you truly feel grateful for and STAY IN that feeling for as long as you can! Hopefully you will experience a tremendous feeling of liberation from whatever you might be holding onto stress-wise.
The generosity you showed me and Clare as my beneficiary in the donations raised for us back in 2014 is still providing me with necessary out of pocket means to continue this most amazing ride! I wish I could feel I deserve it. Thank you, my dear friends. God is as good as we let Him/Her to be. I feel blessed to be a servant of my Lord.
Bless you all, each and every one,