When Lapius was a Patient



S.Q. Lapius looked like a beach ball hidden beneath the covers.  Bolstered by pillows, he held an ice pack to his head, moving it occasionally to his neck, with his left hand, while he shoveled ice cream into his mouth with his right hand.  I could have enjoyed his distress had he been in a hospital room with nurses bustling in and out to do his bidding.  But we were at home, and I was the nurse.  He had a pain in the neck and he was a pain in the neck.



It began last Saturday when moving men brought a dental chair and other paraphernalia into the house.  Soon Strathmeyer showed up with packages of sterile instruments wrapped in white sterile packs.  I was converted into an instrument nurse, and Lapius climbed grumpily into the chair, leaned back against the headrest and opened his mouth.  Strathmeyer, after injecting the site, performed a tonsillectomy. I didn’t sleep for the next 24 hours, for even when dozing, Lapius demanded that I plump his pillows and straighten his covers.  For sound effects, he gurgled, grunted and groaned.



Strathmeyer came in daily to see Lapius, as if making hospital rounds, and recovery proceeded according to schedule.  I was becoming exhausted, and one day Strathmeyer peered into my face through his bifocals and said “How come you are so pale, Harry?”



“I’m so pale,” I told him, “because you chose to do this infernal surgery here instead of the hospital, and I’m not used to 24-hour nursing duty for a crotchety old man.”



“Shhh.  He’ll hear you.”



“I couldn’t care less”



“Look here, Harry.  It wasn’t my idea.  It was his.  I had him booked for the hospital, and he actually entered and spent a day there.”



“What happened?  Didn’t he like the food?”



“He didn’t like it particularly, but I think he would have stomached it if we could have gotten the thing over with.  But you know Lapius.  First he insisted that we admit him sort of incognito.  Don’t tell anybody he’s a doctor.  He didn’t want special treatment.”



“Didn’t want special treatment,” I repeated numbly.



“That’s right.  Well, you know how things go in hospitals.  He was booked in advance for a reserved bed.  Unfortunately his number came up on a Thursday.  By Friday morning it became obvious to him that he would have to stay the weekend doing nothing, because I couldn’t get scheduled for the operating room until the following week.  My operating day is Wednesday.  He asked me for a weekend pass.  That sounded reasonable enough, so I wrote a note on the chart for a weekend pass.  Nothing happened.  I called the head of nursing.  She said I would have to talk to the administrator.  I spoke with him and he said that weekend passes were contrary to hospital policy, because Lapius would still legally be a patient, and if he hurt himself at home, the hospital could be held liable.”



“Then Lapius insisted that I discharge him and readmit him.  That sounded okay, but admissions couldn’t promise me a bed for Tuesday.  They referred me back to the administrator.  I asked him for a reserved bed on Tuesday.  He said that there were only so many reserved beds set aside, and he couldn’t add another.”



“I explained to him that I would be releasing a much needed bed for four days, so why not simply take the bed I was releasing and reserve it.  This way the hospital would get an extra bed and get paid for two extra admissions.  Business-wise they’d do okay.  But the administrator explained to me that that, too, was against hospital policy.”



“But you need the beds.  I’m releasing one to you.  Otherwise the patient has to occupy a bed uselessly and needlessly.  It’s ridiculous.”



“’But it is policy.’ he explained’.” 



“So I told Lapius to stick it out.  Just pretend it was a hotel, have his meals in the cafeteria if he wanted, walk around the grounds.  That’s when the real trouble began.  The gendarmes found him sitting on a bench outside the hospital and escorted him back to his room.  When he went to the cafeteria he again was brought back to his room.  He screamed like a stuck pig.  The administrator called me.  ‘Strathmeyer, you’ll have to do something with that crazy patient of yours.  He’s walking all over the place.’”



“Of course he is.’ I told him,  ‘he’s not sick, he’s waiting for surgery.’”



“’But that’s against policy.  He can only walk in his own hallway.  I have to enforce the rules you know’.” 



“That was the last straw.  Lapius demanded out.  But even then they wouldn’t let him walk.  The jammed him into a wheelchair and rolled him out.  He kept bellowing.  ‘I’m not sick, let me walk, you fools.’”



“The administrator came and tried to explain to Lapius that he was being rolled out in a chair because if he walked out and fell the hospital might be liable for damages.”



“’You are going to be sued anyway for damages, for driving a sane man insane with sane rules insanely applied.  Rules become violent when reasonable exceptions can’t be made.  After all, man, you are supposed to be ministering to the needs of the patients, not just blindly administering the rules.’”



“By this time they had reached the front door.  The administrator was becoming impatient.  ‘All right, I’ve heard you, sir, as has everyone within 40 yards.  Now you are at the front door.  You are free to leave, so do so promptly.’”



“’I can’t,’ said Lapius.”



“’Why not?’”



“’I’ve become wedged in this infernal chair.  And I’ll sue you for that, too, since you brought up the subject.’”



Afterwards, Lapius said to me, “Blue Cross is always complaining about over utilization of beds by doctors. Had I stayed, it would have cost them $400, not on sou of which could be blamed on the doctor.  Maybe they should have peer review of hospital administration.”