Well, here I am in Extended Stay America, a motel offering kitchenettes and weekly rates, and whose name aptly represents the situation I am in. I’ve already been here for two weeks and just signed up for another week. The cars and trucks roar past on the Interstate which I am fortunate enough to have right outside my window. Everyone is going somewhere except apparently me.
I’m waiting for my visa from New Zealand. See, what happens is that you mail immigration your visa application and your passport. Yes, that’s right, your real original passport—I can’t even go to Mexico now—and then you wait. I received a letter three weeks ago saying that my application was under review for medical reasons.
Back in November, five months ago, I had minor surgery and went home from the hospital the same day. Over the next week however, I developed increasing shortness of breath. Finally, after another week of worsening breathing, I called my wife from the middle of a morning walk and told her I needed to go to the emergency room. Something was terribly wrong.
Being a retired emergency physician, this is not a decision I made lightly having seen so many people come to the ER for unnecessary reasons. When I got home, my wife, also an ER nurse, reluctantly agreed but seemed suitably unimpressed saying, “Do I have time to do my hair first?”
She finished her hair. Finally after several hours in the hospital, I was diagnosed with having had two large pulmonary emboli, blood clots to my lungs. Specifically, blood had formed a clot in the veins in my pelvis presumably due to the surgery, and then the clots had broken off and traveled up the inferior vena cava, that is the large blood vessel that brings blood back to the heart from the lower extremities. The clots had passed through the right side of my heart and into the pulmonary arteries, the vessels that take deoxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs to get oxygen.
The body is a funny thing. It doesn’t always think things through completely but rather has its own set of rules that have evolved over time for its own reasons. This is how the pulmonologist explained it. Sometimes when a person has surgery, even relatively minor surgery as I had had, the body detects the trauma of even a small amount of blood loss and thinks it is under attack. It is bleeding. It equates this to being mauled by an animal or taking a bad fall and getting cut. Thus, it often initiates a clotting cascade to prevent the body from losing more of its precious blood. This is a good thing but in this case was unnecessary and a bit of an overreaction if I might say so.
Sometimes clots also form just from the body being immobilized for a period of time, for example, when a person is immobilized and forced to stay in bed after breaking a leg, or even on a long airplane ride. But I had been up and around the same day.
So clots had formed in my pelvis and at least two large clots had broken loose and lodged, one in each of the large blood vessels bringing blood to my lungs. Thus, even though I was sucking air and oxygen into my lungs, the blood in the blood vessels were blocked from being able to pick up that oxygen. Thus, I was in a sense suffocating.
Once the diagnosis was made I was given injections of a medication that prevented my blood from clotting and hence forming new or more clots. The clots themselves in my lungs would have to dissolve and resolve over months.
I sat in the hospital bed and starred at the wall. I didn’t watch TV or read anything. I just sat there. But I didn’t feel bored or restless. I just sat. I didn’t call or talk to anyone. Once in awhile a nurse would come and take my vital signs or someone would come to draw blood. I did think though and came to the realization like so many people in hospital beds that life is indeed short and precious and you that you never really know when your time will come. Everything can be going along, and you think things will stay and go on that way forever and suddenly everything changes in an instant. Things could have been worse. At least I didn’t have cancer. But I realized I wasn’t going to live forever.
When you are younger and get sick, it is usually something minor and is easily treated or more often goes away on its own. But after a certain age, when you get sick, it is often more likely to be something big and bad and something that is not going to go away. After several days I was released from the hospital and placed on an oral anti-coagulant (blood thinner) that I was to take for six months.
Anyway, to go back to where this story started . . . When a few weeks later, I went for my physical for my immigration visa, my urine showed a few red blood cells in it under the microscope. This was noted by my physician and explained as being due to the surgery, the subsequent pulmonary emboli related to that, and to the blood thinner I was taking.
But Vishnu, the immigration gatekeeper in Los Angeles, apparently didn’t like this explanation or the fact that I had had the pulmonary emboli at all. After approving Rebecca’s visa and returning her passport (the FedEx guy left it under the mat at the door), I was informed that my application would have to be referred to the medical board in Wellington. It would take up to three weeks to get a response and then possibly 5-8 weeks if more information was needed.
So now I wait in the Extended Stay America motel with various sordid long-term residents, workers and the occasional tourist who makes the mistake of staying here. The coffee maker in the room doesn’t work and I got shocked when I plugged the toaster in and touched the metal sides of it. There are someone’s toenail clippings (not mine) that have remained on the carpet by the bed despite several room cleanings. There was an altercation at the front desk last night between a big, fat (are you allowed to say ‘fat’ anymore?) long-term resident woman carrying one of those giant plastic water jugs and the petite front desk receptionist. The receptionist tried to be nice, but then under the constant berating began to cry. After the belligerent tenant had left, I told the receptionist that I would back her up with her boss and then asked her about my bill. Sasha began to cry again. She fumbled with some numbers on a calculator and then put her head in her hands. She said she was sorry but she had never been good at math and couldn’t really help me.
Rebecca is already in New Zealand. We decided she should go since she had to start her job there, and with the hope that my visa would come through shortly. Days, weeks, months—who knows? As of yet, it hasn’t and if I am not given a visa, I guess Rebecca will have to come back.
“How was it?” I’ll ask her.
“Pretty cool,” she’ll say. Actually she says she can’t really bond with the place, or doesn’t allow herself to bond because she doesn’t know if she is going to remain there.
I know all this isn’t the biggest thing in the world. People everywhere have far bigger problems and things like this happen all the time. And people wait for years for visas to come to the United States. It is the first big hiccup in the entire process for us. Even if I get rejected and don’t go, I guess I feel at least we tried. At least, we took a chance and tried to do something. At least we sold our house and all our stuff in only several weeks time—is that some sort of record? And there were great discounts that final week at the yard sale! All that, in itself, is worth something, I keep telling myself.
And you gotta imagine the Big God up in the sky on his Big Chair has to at least take notice amidst his dealings with wars and whatnot. Has to lean forward a little and perhaps grunt a “humph” sigh and think to himself in his big All-Seeing-God-Head, “Well, I gotta hand it to them, at least they tried something.” And hopefully then He’ll say, “You know, that’s the type of stuff I like people to do. You know most people just sit around on their fat asses and never take any chances or even try to do anything interesting,” and hopefully this is the type of stuff he blesses and condones and will help us with. Oh yeah, babies being sick and stuff like that, but He’s gotta hand it to the wild, crazy risk-takers too.
The problem is I don’t know how to feel. I used to be excited about going to New Zealand, but now I don’t even know if I’m going. Should I try to find another place to stay, perhaps a Longer Extended Stay America motel?