30 years ago…

Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category

By: Christopher Sampson

For: Faye and Deb

30 years ago…

As fall was approaching I had a salad for lunch and afterwards I became ill. Never have I ever felt such pain. I had nothing in my apartment to combat the throbbing pain in my gut.

I don’t remember how I got there, but I managed to make it to a drug store and in the middle of a store aisle downed half a bottle of Kaopectate. This is a remedy my mom would have chosen. She can be cruel. I absolutely despise the taste, but I hurt so much, I had to try. It did nothing to curb the ache in my stomach. I now knew what moment to moment pain is and it was never ending.

I wished I had some grass to smoke. Just the day before I had taken down the grow light and the meager harvest of 2 or 3 marijuana bushes I had grown from seeds. I hung them upside down, way in the back of my clothes closet, to dry out, harvesting what was left. I was somehow compelled to take the grow lights down and vacuum away all the residual evidence. I did all of this because I had an ominous feeling. So, there you have it. I remember now that I was still smoking cigarettes. I might have lit a couple of those, but my head was pounding. It wouldn’t be a good idea to be smoking anything at the moment. It was getting harder to breathe.

Lying on my bed, the pain would come in waves; I took deep breaths between the spasms. I was hoping this was all going to pass, but as evening came, I was still having bad pain. I was suppose to go out with friends that evening to see “Apocalypse Now” at the Cinerama Dome. I don’t remember the girl’s name I was going with. We used to wait tables together, and she was really nice, from the south. She and told me to get better, when I called to cancel our movie date.

The next call I made was to the paramedics. When they came into my apartment, I wasn’t bloody and I was walking fine, so they were suspicious that I might be a drug addict. Their advice to me was to call a friend to take me to the ER and they packed up and left. I was truly baffled that they acted this way, because I was really hurting. It takes a lot of nerve to dial that number; to know in the depth of your being that you warrant their services.

So, I called my friend back and asked if she could take me to the emergency room. I tried to convey that it felt like the “ Alien” was tearing up through my stomach and about to emerge through the skin of my belly. She came by and drove me to Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. She and her friends stayed until I was released. I remember her name, Renee.

I recall getting x-rays and getting pain meds. The doctors in the ER told me if I didn’t feel better in 3 days to come back. For one day I waited to feel better. The medication soothed the continual stabbing pain, but I was sweaty, feverish and had a relentless dull ache that permeated my very soul. I didn’t wait for the second or third day, I called home the next morning. I was not getting better.

My mom answered and the first thing she said to me was “You’re sick, aren’t you. “ I said “yes”. She told me that my dad dreamt that I was real sick . I was. She could tell from the sound of my voice. She said he’ll pick you up in an hour. When he arrived at my apartment, I was looking pretty bad and he had to help me to the car. I could hardly walk on my own. My mom made arrangements for me to see Dr. Rivo, our family doctor. We went directly to his office instead of going home first. Dr. Rivo saw me, looked at me, and shaking his head said he was sorry. I had seen him a month before. I had complained about a dull ache in my stomach that didn‘t feel right. He brushed me off. He wasn’t mean, but he didn’t care enough to go any further, even though I had similar problems in my medical history.

From the doctor’s office my dad drove me directly to South Bay Hospital in Redondo Beach. I would be there for some time. I was immediately put in ICU and all hooked up. It would take almost 3 weeks to curb the infection in my body.

I remember one of my new doctors wanted to get a liver biopsy and misdirected the spear, hitting the vega nerve. I started hyperventilating uncontrollably. A nurse who was sort of sweet on me begged me to calm down, but I couldn’t stop. They all looked kind of worried. I didn’t know what to think. I was worried about the size of the needle he was going to pierce me with. Afterwards, they did an EKG to make sure my heart was ok. They had to sedate me. It was frightening to see them so scared.

Most of the nurses were wonderful. At night one of the nurses came in with lotion and rubbed my back. Yet, other nurses would command me to do something and I would refuse to obey them. Sometimes they weren’t checking their charts carefully. For example; one nurse ordered me lunch when I knew the doctor wanted me to fast before a very important series of x -rays. Lucky for me my mom was there and she watched over me. She wasn’t afraid to cause a stir. At night I felt very vulnerable. I was awakened at odd hours when they had to take my blood or give me a pill, or a shot in the butt.

After I was stabilized and not critical anymore, I had my own room for awhile. But now that I was becoming a steady customer I had to share a room some of the time. I had two roommates that I remember. One of them would or could not stop talking, the other was an older gentleman whose wife would come and visit. They liked watching the nature shows and the kids dance on TV. They were very nice.

The kind lady who swept the floor in the morning bought me a little stuffed animal.

My butt became purple with all the shots I received. To put a new IV in, they had to find a vein. As I got sicker my veins disappeared; I was at their mercy. There was a nurse who was relentlessly stabbing me for a good twenty minutes. I can remember her crying as she missed a vein again. I recall washing up in the bathroom and looking at myself in the mirror. I didn’t look like me anymore. I looked more like the Golem from “The Hobbit,” with a yellow face, thinning hair and pasty complexion. I was like some unfamiliar sci-fi creature. It was amazing that I could look like that at 29years old. I just stared into the mirror.

And then came the dreaded fever cycles. They were having no luck treating the infection so I would spend hours shivering, trying to get warm and then I would be too hot, wanting to cool off. They could not operate on me until the infection was gone, so they had me sleep on an ice blanket which felt like a swimming pool. It was soothing when I was hot, but I hated it when I got the chills again.

Eventually, I had a team of doctors. My parents fired Dr. Rivo and gave Dr. Lindquist, (who was trying hard to find the right combination of antibiotics to take care of the infection in my body), our family business. Lucky him.

They decided to operate on me with the infection still raging in my body. Dr. Lindquist came in to tell me that Dr. Hoffman was a great surgeon, to tell me I was a big boy now, that I probably wouldn’t survive this. My chances weren’t good.

I prayed after he left, bargaining with God. I promised not to be homosexual if I was allowed to live. I knew I was gay but never admitted it to anyone. I would think about it, but I never had sex with another man.

My parents came in to visit me the night before the surgery. We watched “All in the Family” while I was going through another fever spike. Our family was not a huggy, kissy type and for the first time I can remember we actually said out loud that we loved one another.

Later that evening my friend Debbie Lee came to visit, during which time I was prepping, having to be on the toilet during most of her visit. Little did I know that before I had surgery the next day, it would turn out kind of wacky wild.

My mom was freaking out and wanted to argue and fight with me. My friend George bribed the nurses with flowers and chocolates to take better care of me. He arrived with Larry, who wanted to steal my body and scare the shit out of George, propping me up in a chair in the dark, like they did to scare the shit out of Errol Flynn. Sherry and Kelly were stoned and Sherry slipped in the hall and hit the back of her head. They had to admit her and she ended up in the room next to mine. My mom was amused at the zany irony.

Then Eileen and Debra came in all crazy. I loved Eileen. Before I got sick we had a disagreement, (I don’t remember what it was about), and we were giving each other the silent treatment. She never came to see me here during my first three weeks and I stayed awake at nights giving her a piece of my mind. We were alone for a few minutes and I looked into her eyes and we forgave each other without saying a word. I think the act of forgiveness saved my life.

During the surgery, which was an insurmountable mess, they discovered stones everywhere. They were all clustered in and around my liver and that is where the infection was, in the ducts blocking the bile from entering the small intestine. They were so dense that normal x-rays couldn’t show what was going on. The bile was leaking into other parts of my abdomen, giving me that massive illness. Wouldn’t you know, they couldn’t get all the stones out, some of them were out of reach. They spent hours trying to get them all, and they operated with me on the ice blanket. I never knew about that damn blanket. Lucky them. Boy, I hated that thing.

For the next 3 weeks, I was better, but I had a low grade fever, so they wouldn’t release me till my temperature was normal. I wanted out. I did what I was told. I did laps up and down the hallway with my pole on wheels, I ate every snack and every meal. The staff invited me to office parties. I was a permanent fixture in the hospital society. I still had this low grade fever I couldn’t seem to beat. I had a lot of friends call me wishing me well and even my drama teacher from South High came by to visit. He gave me a copy of the play he was directing, “A History of the American Film”, by Christopher Durang. I became so bored lying in bed all day I never finished reading it. I just wanted to leave the place.

My surgeon, Dr. Hoffman, was checking the stitches one morning, and all of a sudden he took his forefinger and ripped the stitches out; With his hands! Blood and pus went everywhere. We were soaked in blood. It was on the sheets, my gown and all over the front of his white shirt. He found the source of the low grade fever. An infection was now in the wound And then finally, my temp was back to normal. I was going home. To Mom and Dad’s.

The hospital actually let me go home with the wound open. Twice a day, I had to irrigate it with a solution and stuff it with gauze until it healed from the inside out. My sister-in-law Carol saw the wound. It really grossed her out. She thought it looked like a shark bite, just hanging red flesh.

I will spare you the retrieval of the residual stones for another time.

I have been thinking of the odyssey of pain that Faye has been through these last few years. This time it spurred me to recollect my own experiences. I don’t think anyone can truly know how much pain can be endured or measured during episodes of trauma and disease. Our pain is our own. It is all different and yet it is all the same. It is incomparable.

I really think that the burden of feeling is experienced by loved ones who have to deal with day to day misery, watching the day to day decline of someone so close to them. The crisis is all focused on the patient. The care giver gets all the worry. The love and trust that parents and lovers experience are dashed in the face of dying. Their grief is seemingly endless. I think it is harder to be the watcher in this dilemma.

I was lucky. I had a great network of support. I thank all of them for helping me through it. I am so very grateful for my life!!!

Deb and Faye, I hope you get a 30 year break like I did.

Jeff and I wish you our very best thoughts.

Christopher Sampson
November 4, 2011


2 thoughts on “30 years ago…

  1. Christopher Sampson has captured the sense of a grueling, unmerciful hospital stay with enough clarity to leave you smelling the smells and hearing the sounds of a busy hospital floor. This is a gripping, involving piece of writing!

  2. Delving deeper, I think Sampson’s elusive, real-life infection, works as a metaphor for the secrets he was hiding. The infection healed when it was opened. In the same way, once his secret was no longer a secret, the healing began.

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