Last Monday I qualified at an AA meeting in the East Village. A twenty-minute qualification.
I skipped the drugs and drinking part of the story and talked exclusively about how I got sober and how I stay sober.
Since returning to NYC I had thrown myself back into AA. 90 meetings in 90 days. A new sponsor and a new sponsee. I quickly realized that there was no place for me in the gay meetings and opted for the straight/mixed meetings in far-flung places.
I could blast gay AA if I could be bothered… but I can’t. Needless to say, it’s just not for me.
Monday morning, during the qualification, I nearly burst into tears. In fact, I nearly burst into tears three times.
Once describing seeing the word God in the written steps of Alcoholics Anonymous at my first meeting, the second when describing how humbling it was spending time with the tranny hookers I met in jail and thirdly when I remembered the final moments of my using.
I have never ever cried when qualifying. I knew by the end of my share that something was seriously wrong with me.
I had a fun weekend with a young Texan. We visited the New Museum, had various lunches and dinners with friends but all the while I felt listless, irritable, prone to bad temper.
We had HIV tests, we explored Williamsburg. We looked at art, we bought action figures.
Tyler left on Sunday.
Within hours of his leaving my pee had turned a dark umber.
I felt the return of the pain in my chest that I often commented, when ever I had it, on Facebook.
Helpful people told me it was acid reflux, they told me to go to the doctor. They told me to touch my toes.
I told them:
Is this flu or depression or anxiety or kidney failure? Guess what folks… the terrible chest and back cramps have returned with a fever…
The terrible chest and stomach pains that I learned to dread, that had plagued me for the past two years were getting progressively worse.
Now, added to everything else… the pale brown pee. I knew things were… serious. But I remained optimistic that by the morning the pee would return to normal.
On Tuesday morning, despite my optimism, my pee had turned the colour of coca cola.
I called a doctor friend at Cornell who made an appointment to see me immediately.
In huge pain I made my way to his office on the upper east side.
He prodded and poked then had me take a sonogram which revealed the cause of the problem: gall stones… lots of them.
One of them, he suggested, may have lodged in the bile duct and the bile was now backing up into my blood.
By Tuesday afternoon my eyes were bright yellow.
I told my doctor friend that my mother had her gallbladder removed and my father had died of pancreatic cancer. He baulked. He couldn’t be sure that this wasn’t cancer until they had probed a little more.
He took blood and sent me home, making an appointment to see his urologist friend this week.
When I got home I went directly to bed. The pain worsened. I was in difficulty. I called my doctor. He told me to go to the ER.
I called my landlady and she kindly drove me to the NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
The doctor called ahead so I was quickly admitted and given a massive dose of morphine.
In a painful daze, during the next day, I had the blockage removed.
The young gay man who removed the stone was incredibly chipper, explained what he was going to do and soon I was asleep.
They shoved something down my throat and into my tummy. They cut into the bile duct and removed the obstruction. They checked my pancreas.
It was ironic: the gall bladder and the pancreas irritating each other. My mother and father at war in my tummy.
I woke up.
Thank GOD it wasn’t cancer. It was a gall stone. But my pancreas was angry. The doctors urged me to have the gallbladder removed.
The following day I was wheeled into surgery and had my Laparoscopic Gallbladder Removal.
I woke up with a dull thud in my belly and four small incisions.
The surgeon described my gallbladder as ‘severely traumatized’.
The bladder had been suffering for many, many years and within hours of surgery I knew that I was waking up without just the physical bladder but without a huge emotional burden.
I felt free. I feel free.
A day longer in the hospital recuperating and they sent me home.
Dear Cristina sent a car to fetch me and Stephen and Roy filled the fridge with wonderful things to eat.
My time in the hospital was made so much better by everyone who works there.
The doctors, surgeons, specialists, nurses and orderlies.
Every one of them treated me with respect, kindness and the level of care I received was without comparison.
Each doctor looked me in the eye, introduced themselves and shook my hand. They described in detail what was going on and gave me options.
The surgeon bantered and made one feel at ease.
The nurses said goodbye to each patient when they left their shift.
Every person I met wished me a speedy recovery and good luck.
Even though the hospital remains over crowded (since hurricane Sandy) and we were housed in former waiting areas and reopened buildings the staff were sublimely professional.
The other patients, however, were terrible. They complained about everything. The staff remained, in the face of this rank ingratitude, resilient.
I saw drug addicts in the ER demand morphine. I heard men rudely tell nurses that they ‘didn’t do’ wards. I heard cantankerous men demand their diapers changed. The nurses were treated like care slaves. Like servants.
The lack of any kind of humility from most patients was stunning.
I apologized whenever I could for the behavior of my fellow patients.
I’m sure that fear and pain determine the behaviors of most people in hospital.
I’m sure that the entitled rich expect so much more because of the high insurance premiums they pay and the poor… well, they never get to treat anybody as they are treated.
Still, it’s no excuse. Bad manners prevail.
It was another peculiarly American experience, one I will never forget.
The dogs were happy to see me but I was less happy to see them. I couldn’t deal with how much attention they demanded.
I lay in my bed watching the Oscars. A long way away from that terrible, cruel world.