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UCLA Healthcare

My First Walk Alone

May 2019 can bite me. In the middle of the month, Mr. G found himself in New York City with abdominal pain, shortly thereafter he was in the emergency room with an IV for fluid and for pain relief.

Kidney stones are the most painful thing most people will ever experience.

Of course, shortly after he was discharged from the ER hallway (no beds available) and back in his hotel room, there was a second bout of them. Miraculously he was well enough to come home a day or two later, but I didn’t see him. I was off to Colorado.

I returned Sunday night as Mr. G left again for New York. A bright spot in this family interrupted was that Tuesday morning our daughter would be home for six short but sweet days.

Nothing makes me happier than having the four of us at the dinner table. Nothing.

I wasn’t destined to experience joy in May.

Tuesday morning as I hopped into the shower Junior started gasping for breath.

Don’t die right now Junior. Not today Junior.

Mantras don’t always work.

I picked him up and his body that was all sinew and fluid relaxed for the first time in months. I knew in my heart he was dying and I also knew this was a great day for Junior. He would die with me and not while I was away.

Although he had several years of difficult to medicate heart failure, we managed it in such a manner that he never had pain that we could detect. Yes, he was slowing down, but he was also a 14 year old dog. This was to be expected.

I double parked at the vet’s office and asked a stranger to watch my car as my purse was in it. She looked confused but had her own dogs by her side. My dog was limp and we were both covered in bloody drool. I didn’t want to let go of Junior for something as trivial as my purse and my car. She understood.

The counter at the vet was busy. It’s always busy there, so I came in with Junior and asked for everyone to please move aside, “I really need help right now. My dog is dying. I’m not here for you to fix him. I’m here for you to make sure he doesn’t hurt anymore.”

And that’s what we did. We helped him not hurt because there’s no reason to give a fourteen-year-old dog with two bum heart valves any level of care outside of pain relief.

It was fast.

It was also at the precise moment Jane’s plane was landing and Alexander had to pick her up at the airport, but not the real airport, the little airport for the shuttles. I was convinced he’d do it wrong but that was my error. My kids were together and they were confused a bit but no one was terribly shocked that Junior died. We’d all been waiting for it.

I didn’t even cry very much at all because I loved that little dog enough to want him to not be in pain.

So I sleepwalked through the afternoon and tried to soak up as much of my kids as possible. This terrible day with an odd mixture of sunshine and hope for the future mixed up with the emptiness of a house that used to be a home. I’d never had a home without a dog. I’m still not convinced it’s possible but I’m trying.

The next evening Mr. G would come home. The morning following that I would drive him to the local emergency room where they would find seven kidney stones, one quite large, and admit him to the hospital so they could surgically remove it.

The surgeon was a pompous ass.

After waiting for us to thank him for driving to the hospital in traffic he proceeded to tell us how he could do a surgery that wouldn’t help very much right now or a surgery that would fix everything in two days. He spoke quickly and wanted a decision that moment. We decided to wait and bring Mr. G home with painkillers. He wasn’t unkind (we would experience that later at UCLA) but he seemed miffed that we hadn’t been sympathetic to the fact that, like every other human being in Los Angeles, he had to commute to his high paying job.

The painkillers didn’t work.

After a painful and sleepless night we hopped in the car to drive to another emergency room, someplace larger. I wanted to get him to Cedars but UCLA was so much closer that we mistakenly went there.

There is where Mr. G was medicated in hallways for nearly 24 hours. There is where the urologist in the ER said that if Mr. G was admitted to the hospital, surgery could be scheduled and he would have relief.

UCLA is also where nurses were angels from heaven or robots who looked at time stamps and moved slowly. UCLA is where the most arrogant person I’ve met in decades told us about himself and how talented he is, and then explained that Mr. G could not, in fact, have his stones surgically removed as it’s an outpatient procedure. He would first need to be discharged from the hospital, then he could make an appointment for an exam, and only after that, a surgical appointment could be made.

We were told it is hospital policy. I was incredulous. I asked him what he would do if he were the one laying in the bed and he stared at me blankly. Maybe he cuts well, but that’s a bad doctor.

Meanwhile, my husband is writhing in uncontrollable pain, his system is overloaded with narcotics, and I’m concerned that his kidneys will be damaged. I need him for many more years. This is unacceptable.

After two nights of UCLA we are back where we started. Terrible people practicing bad medicine and no one except the good nurses care about anything other than hospital policy. They start talking to me about in network versus out of network options and I kept repeating, “We have fantastic insurance. Charge us anything, just get him the surgery he needs.”

And we did. But that meant leaving UCLA, walking into Cedars Sinai’s emergency room and (this was long overdue) hiring a concierge physician. We’d long ago maxed out our out of pocket expenses. So basically it was just the concierge fee and we were done.

Hours after arriving at Cedars Mr. G was admitted and surgery was scheduled for him shortly thereafter. We were finally emerging from the rabbit hole and leaving the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts behind.

During all of this, I went home briefly a time or two, spent a few hours with the kids, and looked around my house that used to be a home, noting that there are at least a half dozen dog beds in various rooms.

So I left the house because who even wants to deal with the dead dog’s things? Certainly not me. If I had to muster the strength for adult moments it was going to be where it was needed, with my husband. He had the surgery, it failed. Too much narrowing and swelling. He’d need another in a week or so but the swelling would need to go down first. That second surgery wouldn’t be until early June – the first of the four hospitals was May 10th.

My family and girlfriends, once again, are everything that’s right in the world. They somehow knew to send texts instead of all. To preface everything with, “you don’t need to reply to this”. And I didn’t reply because texting updates of this Orwellian shit-show that UCLA calls healthcare took up all my energy and no one believed us anyhow. I started having the kids’ Grandpa come to the hospital as he’s a physician. I just needed someone to see the craziness. He saw. We were baffled together.

Jane went back to school before her father ever came home from the hospital. It was a ridiculous week. One that I can hardly recall and I just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That fucking shoe dropped alright.

I guess the good news about the bad news is that during all of this someone backed up into Alexander’s car completely smashing the driver’s door, but mercifully not the glass. Since Mr. G is still on painkillers and waiting for a third in-office procedure at the end of this week, Alexander is free to drive his car.

How’s that for polishing a turd?

Mostly though I took a walk tonight. We live in a walking neighborhood and during the day I’ll do many errands by foot. At night the only time I take walks is to spend time alone with a kid, with my husband, or to walk a dog.

I took a walk tonight. Alone.

Jane is back at school in her new apartment. Alexander is at a friends’ beach house and probably really enjoyed driving his father’s sports car there, and Junior… Junior can’t walk with me anymore.

It was my first time walking alone at night for no real reason. I didn’t hold anyone’s hand, I didn’t have anyone to talk with, and I wasn’t holding a leash.

It was awful.

I think my next walk will be less awful and then one after that too. One day this house will feel like a home again and long before that day comes I’ll take an evening walk with Mr. G, we’ll hold hands, and maybe discuss reasons to buy a leash.