Doing time in the Intensive Care Unit

I recently spent most of a week in a local hospital, and I can’t help but feel that I just did a short stretch in prison. I can honestly say that I’ve never been so happy to leave a place in my life, and I’ve been to Bakersfield … the horror!

As I lay awake in the hospital, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between being in the hospital and being in prison. Keep in mind that I was cooking a pretty high fever when I thought of this so it might have been funnier then than it is now.

First of all, like prison, hospitals are rarely a vacation destination. Few of us ever decide we want to spend time in a hospital — we end up staying there either as a consequence of something we’ve done or as the result of an unfortunate injustice that happened to us. Ooccasionally it’s a little of both.

My own prison-like experience started the day before I was admitted to the hospital. I had a prostate biopsy done at my urologist’s office. For those of you who are unfamiliar with a prostate biopsy, I’ll just say it involves many of the same elements of prison initiation except they subdue your natural resistance with tranquilizers instead of a brutal beating. Once tranquilized, I went to my happy place and will never speak of what happened next.

After the biopsy, the doctor explained to my wife that adverse reactions happened in less than 2 percent of such cases, including high fever and other unpleasant stuff. He explained it to her because I was still tranquilized, sucking my thumb and rocking myself in the fetal position in the corner.

I’ve always been a lucky guy. Seriously, I have stumbled through a great life with no real skills or talent and managed to do well and have some incredible adventures along the way. Through no fault of my own, I have a great family, a rewarding career and a pretty satisfying life. If anyone could hit those long odds and be among the two percent it would be me … and it was.

When we arrived at the Emergency Room my temperature was very high and I was shaking uncontrollably. I was met at the door by a uniformed security guard who escorted me to a metal folding chair where they took my name and before I knew it I was being led down a maze of institutional corridors to a room where I was told to disrobe and don the hospital gown/prison uniform. I was tagged with a wrist band bearing a number and barcode that would become my identity for the duration of my stay. Yikes!

In that little room I was inspected, injected and eventually, my ailment was detected. A nurse came in and told me that there was bad news and there was more bad news. I had a septic blood infection, and I was going to be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as soon as the doctor inserted an IV into my neck. No one asked me if I wanted an IV in my neck —they simply explained it was “protocol” for inmates/patients going to ICU to get the neck IV.

I soon learned that ICU is much like the maximum-security wing of a hospital. You are held in solitary confinement with very restrictive visiting; they scrub you down upon arrival, interrogate you at length and then leave you alone for hours to try to figure out what the heck just happened to your life!

The psychological torture was relentless. They pumped me full of drugs I cannot pronounce through the IV in my neck and woke me up randomly throughout the night to take my blood and ask me if I needed a sleeping pill … I wish I was making that up.

Eventually I became an institutional man (forgive me Stephen King) and just did as I was told. I ate the tasteless gruel they gave me, relieved myself only with permission and did my time.

Finally they told me the drugs had worked and I was well enough to go home. I suspect that my insurance company threatened to stop paying if they didn’t release me soon; the truth is that I didn’t care why they were sending me home.

I’m not sure being in the hospital saved my life, but I know for sure that it made me appreciate it more! Freedom never felt so good!

Rick Seley is an award-winning columnist, and he may be reached at


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