Smile. You’re on Candid Camera

There’s a mirror on the back wall of the lift that takes you up to the third floor of the south wing of Cabrini hospital. I sometimes look into it when I’m alone in the lift.

I make faces to check the state of my face or of my teeth, and then check myself all over.

Still here, still the same old me but ever so weary.

Even though I know it’s impossible, it’s not the first time I’ve wondered whether the far wall of the lift in the south wing includes one of those strange two way mirrors they have in police stations through which a group of unseen detectives watch their colleagues interrogate someone and thereby establish the state of mind of the person interrogated.

They have these mirrors in certain therapeutic establishments as well, where a therapist in training or even a more experienced therapist interviews a person, or more likely, an entire family, while the rest of the therapeutic team look on through the two way screen, unseen by the people interviewed, to pass judgement on what is going on.

It gives me the creeps.

The idea of being watched by persons unseen.

This is the feeling I have in the hospital, too, only the medical staff make themselves visible. Still I have a sense they’re not as curious about my husband, the person, though they’re deeply curious about his physical condition, which had been going well until Thursday night when he copped a nose bleed that refused to stop.

For three days earlier, he’d managed to come home for the best part of the day. I brought him back to the hospital at night around 9 pm so that he’d be there first thing in the morning for further tests and infusions of antibiotic.

Thursday night after dinner was no exception.

But then his nose started to bleed after he’d brushed his teeth post dinner and it continued on the drive back to the hospital and for the next half hour. The nurse applied an ice pack to the back of his neck and he tilted forward in is chair.

He nurse told us this was the new way of stopping a nosebleed. But even as I later helped my husband to bed and he lay back on his pillow exhausted and the bleeding appeared to have stopped, I worried that it signified something more serious.

My husband gets nosebleeds from time to time but they stop in no time. This one did not. It bled all night.

The next morning my daughter who visited first thing told me that the caravan had been in to check my husband and they were still happy with his progress as far as the infection goes, but behind closed doors they changed their mind about that morning’s infusion of the third antibiotic, the Vacomycin, because the latest blood tests revealed my husband’s platelets had dropped from 155 ten days earlier – when they first started him on Vancomycin – to 22.

Alarmed, they had thoughts of giving him a transfusion of blood, but by mid afternoon they had changed their minds again.

After they had gathered in a huddle, as my husband described it, they decided if it was true that the Vancomycin had been ‘eating’ his platelets there was no point giving him a transfusion till they could be sure it was out of his system.

Maybe after forty-eight hours, but in the meantime, the platelets might rise of their own accord with a new antibiotic.

So they started my husband on a fourth antibiotic – fifth, if you include the Cephalex they prescribed in the early days before they had established the nature of the infection.

The new antibiotic is called Daptomycin and one of the nurses told me it’s a third generation antibiotic, state of the art, but very expensive.

‘Eight hundred a pop,’ she said – eight hundred dollars a small sachet and so my husband’s getting Rolls Royce treatment.

There are now only seven more days of these antibiotic infusions to go.

So we hope this one will hold till the end of the week. This  coming Friday, 23 March, is day 42 of the targeted treatment, the day they make a decision on whether or not the treatment has worked and what to do next.

In the mirror of the lift on the way down stairs to the café to fetch another latte loaded with sugar, despite the fact everyone treats sugar like it’s a poison these days, I sip off the frothy top and consider my forlorn state.

How many more trips up and down this lift, the lift behind which I imagine stand a group of camera men, perhaps people from the old Candid Camera, a show I used to watch as a child.

A show in which people are introduced to a problem, say in the street, a problem that is really a trick and when they try to solve the problem, say shift a log off a road or some other such difficulty, they can’t because it’s concreted in and we, the audience, laugh at them as they try this way and that to get it free, until eventually something dreadful happens and they topple over flat, face in the mud and the camera reveals itself.

They realise then, this poor soul, her muddy face aghast and the camera team call:

‘Smile, you’re on Candid camera’.

And the muddied person laughs and shakes the cameraman’ s hand and welcome the experience, made famous through their efforts to improve a situation that was contrived to trip them up.

It’s not unlike the way I feel in the hospital and my husband more so.

He talks of the ‘tricks’ the doctors have up their sleeves.

Whenever we think we have a pattern established, a routine. Whenever we think things are going smoothly enough and there is some hopeful conclusion ahead, the doctors drag out a fresh series of hoops through which he and his body must jump before deliverance is possible.

It’s a paranoid position I know, induced through too much helplessness when you’re on the receiving end of the trial and error process that is modern medicine.

We’ll throw this one at him and good if it works but when it stops working and something untoward happens we’ll try to rectify that with something else and they try something new and see how that goes.

It’s a function of iatrogenesis, the negative side effect of treatment, the unwanted, unexpected things that can go wrong on the way either to recovery or death.

8 thoughts on “Smile. You’re on Candid Camera”

  1. Poor Lis, poor Bill. This process is taking such an age and I can see how wearing it is for you both. An older friend has also recently been treated for a blood infection, but obviously responded better than Bill, as she was allowed home and treated by Hospital in the Home for her daily infusions. She is well on the mend now, also after many weeks.
    As for all your husband’s side effects, watching my own husband, I sometimes wondered if patients are nothing more than a source of entertainment for the Dr’s, especially when they decide to use the untried drugs or the ones that have still to prove their efficacy. When your health is on the line, of course you are willing to take anything they can offer, even if it means never ending nose bleeds, or as in my husbands case, total, profound hearing loss. But no one’s really sure about that . . . .
    I do hope this is soon over with a happy ending for you both.

    1. Thanks Karen. It is wearing but when I think of what you went through with your husband, it’s tame by comparison. But comparisons are problematic. Hospitalisations are by their very nature problematic. Your understanding helps.

  2. When my mother had chemo for her leukemia, it ate up her platelets, too. They had to give her something else to stop that. Pregnisol, I think it was called. Something like that.

    Again, hope your husband gets better and soon.

    1. My husband quoted the doctor words from the song White Rabbit: one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small…’ She got it instantly. One pill to do this and another to counter that and after a while you’re so full of pills your poor body doesn’t know itself anymore. When all this is over my husband reckons he’ll take himself off to a pharmacist or someone expert in these ares and ask about the combined effect of all these medications. Thanks Kirk.

  3. I have seen doctors weep when things don’t work out… believe me they are working as hard as they can although it does not seem like it. It’s hard enough being a patient, and even harder being the patient at the centre of so much anxiousness. I hope things mend and stay mended soon.

    1. I understand what you’re saying, Christine, and I really must not ‘doctor bash’. It’s the frustration and helplessness and the endless miscommunications that make me so inclined. Thanks for the reminder. I know these doctors are doing their best and in years to come, I’ll be even more grateful than I am now. Thanks, Christine.

  4. Odd a writer would object to being spied on. All things being equal. Not really, of course; different rules apply to us. We tell ourselves we watch with a higher purpose and not purely for entertainment; that’s justification anyway, our excuse. I vaguely remember Candid Camera from my early childhood (although I’d forgotten Bob Monkhouse was the presenter). Then, of course, came Game for a Laugh in the eighties which I remember being crueller. Big Brother was different when it arrived in 2000. It was marketed (at first at least) as a “social experiment” but at least the housemates knew what was what and had consented beforehand. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed anyone actively watching me. Not sure how I’d feel about it. I think it’d be hypocritical to get all uppity after all the time I’ve spent peering into other people’s windows and mostly being disappointed with what I ended up observing. As a child, no doubt like you, I was brought up to believe I was constantly under God’s watchful (and, supposedly, caring) eye. Rather than being reassured by that I found it intrusive. Being scrutinised by doctors is quite another thing. They’re not interested in me. They don’t care where I went on holiday as a child or who my favourite author is or what type of vinegar I prefer on my chips. I’m a body, nothing more. I really get those doctors who get exciting when they learn someone’s been wheeled into the E.R. impaled on a fence. I’m a gift. I’m a challenge. They can learn from me. They can get to try out all that cool stuff they’ve seen on all the doctor shows. And we can’t really deny them that. I mean who’d want to do their job? Let them wring what joy they can out of it.

  5. I agree, Jim, medicine is not for the faint of heart and there must be some fascination in the workings of the physical body to keep them going. I’m far more interested in the mind ad soul, though bodies also fascinate me, rather like the plumbing underneath that needs attention from time t time. they watch with eyes that are different from mine. Their focus is different and at time necessary. It’s only that after six weeks that focus wears thin. Over soon, though, I hope. thanks, Jim.

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