April 26th, 2008

My right leg was swollen twice the size of the left. I was hooked up to a machine called the Wound-Vac — a boombox sized high-tech drainage vacuum. Two rubber tubes were attached to the fasciotomy incisions on my calf. I was sitting in my room talking with Stella, my nurse, when Mitt Romney rushed by in the hallway wearing only a towel and flip-flops. He was followed by semi-nude lackeys.

I knew only that it had to do with the revolutionary council meeting taking place in the sauna. Romney was the new Robespierre. I had to get there. Now.

I stood up and deliberately pissed myself. It made sense. Then I headed after them, pulling out one of the Wound-Vac tubes in the process.

Stella brought me around. I don’t know how, she just did. I’d been getting three oxycodones every four hours as well as patient-controlled morphine infusions from the IV. I simply pushed a button every six minutes.

This was the first of numerous drug-induced hallucinations in my four-and-a-half months here at the VA hospital. Some people say, “wow, cool.” But not me.

The worst one was while I was in the Transitional Care Unit, a few days after my amputation. The set-up of the room was four beds, two on either side of a wide aisle. Only one other man occupied a bed — he was across the aisle.

At a certain point, on one of the vital-sign monitors across the room, I could make out two lines of helvetica type. They were from one of the songs my son had written for his band, Shanghai Surprise. They were being pirated by an English producer. The man in the bed opposite had sold them. I watched as he haggled over incredible sums with a man and a beautiful woman. They argued the value of the U.S. dollar in some wretched regional British dialect. It made me sick.

I don’t know what I said to the man, but apparently it was offensive. I came to, sitting up in bed. The clock said five, which I took to be p.m., although turned out to be a.m. A young female doctor was saying, “do you know where you are, Mr. Wickham.” She looked like the woman in the music-pirating meeting — only not as beautiful.

I won’t subject you to more of these fantasies. Like dreams, they are interesting mostly to the dreamer. I will say only that at least two others featured pissing myself.

I wanted this stuff to end, but I was in terrible pain. That night, family members took turns sitting with me. After that, the hospital provided sitters. I was utterly afraid to go to sleep without one in the room.

I’m an alcoholic — been off drinking for nearly thirty years — but this was the first time I got into painkillers for more than a day or two in a row. I was desperately afraid I’d get hooked. Fortunately, as the pain subsided over the past two months (the amputation was of February 20th), the need for painkillers went away.

I’ve had nothing for a week. And I don’t feel the need.

It always strikes me as corny at AA meetings when the topic of gratitude comes up. But the gratitude is real. I know it. I feel it.

And about that first hallucination. There was no revolutionary council. Or any sauna. And Mitt Romney’s gone.


3 Responses to “Pharmaphobia.”

  1. Bob Gilbert Says:

    All Fred. No meds.
    —good work, Wickham.
    we expect even more piss and vinegar now.

  2. Scott Keck Says:

    Hey Fred – it’s been awhile since I chatted with you on the phone. Glad to hear you’re off the pain meds. Oxy-anything makes me nervous. (insert parody of OxyClean shouting pitchman touting the benefits of Oxycontin in an infomercial setting here). Geez louise, hope they quit giving you staph infections in that fershlunkin’ place! Ring me up if you need anything, want some company, or just want to talk.
    Scott Keck

  3. fred wickham Says:

    Scott — I love the oxychem/oxycontin pitchman idea. The first thing that flashed thorough my mind was to use Rush Limbaugh in some fashion for the infomercial. Although that seems a bit obvious. (Maybe show a slimmed down Rush — “I used oxycontin to flatten my tummy. It’s truly the wonder drug”).

    Alas, I had to take a percoset last night. Had a bit of a setback this weekend. Walked on my training prosthesis a bit too much and produced a blister which, in turn, produced a ton of pus — most likely drug-resistant staph (my bete-noir for the entire time). Anyhow, I was supposed to be fitted for my actual prosthesis this week, but that will be put off until this mess heals up entirely.

    – Fred –

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