© 2004 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved.
So Jeanne and I arrive in Calgary on Thursday for ConVersion XXI, a day earlier than usual because we're both really really excited that we're going to see and finally get to hang out a lot again with George R. R. Martin and Parris McBride, two of our favorite people on earth, in a city famous for its good food and congenial fans. The concom wants us to come to a Meet'n'Greet dinner first thing, in fact, and that's fine with us, but boy I'm tired and just a bit queasy from the trip, and from the usual shifting of my sleepcycle back to human-normal; could we maybe lie down at the Westin for an hour or so, first? Hey sure, no problem. We'll catch up with you by dessert.
Somehow, with no segue that I can recall, I'm in Foothills Medical Centre, vomiting uncontrollably, very violently, for no apparent reason, and without pause.
You know how, after you vomit, you always feel better? Not this time. After each episode, quite impossibly but equally undeniably, I feel worse.
This continues, for over 48 hours, without a second of even comparative relief. They bomb me with gravol, with something that sounds like "stemitol," and with half a dozen other antinausea nostrums at max doses, to no effect whatsoever. They can barely keep me hydrated with two IVs running flat out. I keep relentlessly dry heaving, until I give myself what is called a Mallory-Weiss tear, a small rip at the base of my throat that starts to bleed into my stomach. This can make a person nauseous…
They start wondering aloud about a perforated ulcer. How do you check for that? Why, of course you do! You ram a camera tube down the sucker's choking throat and look to see if all you can see is blood down there. (Except there isn't any in the dry heaving and there isn't any missing from my bloodwork and my hemoglobin isn't up near that much—but hey, why pass up a chance to ram a periscope down the throat of a helplessly gagging man?) I resist, Dr. Jamieson gently presses…
Finally, thank Christ, I'm in such distress that when asked by a divine nurse named Audrey with a voice like Bennie Goodman's clarinet, "are you in pain?" I lose patience and simply answer "Yes," instead of explaining pedagogically one more time that it's not pain, exactly, it's nausea. "Fine," she says, and cures me. By adding, to the 30 mg of gravol in my IV, another 5 mg of morphine…
End of problem.
Nausea ended instantly. From there on it was simply a matter of waiting for some semblance of strength to return. At one point I distinctly recalling weeping with elation when I was told that I could have a piece of toast any time I wanted one, without consulting anyone first. I ate, you will not believe this but I swear to God it's true, I ate hospital meatloaf, not merely with pleasure, but with actual ecstasy, shivering with joy, cackling at my triumph. Five days from day one, I got back home to Bowen Island, BC last night, having accomplished nothing but survival. Didn't see one minute of the convention: saw exactly one person associated with it, our wrangler and godsend Kim Greyson, who was a rock for Jeanne while I was in gaol and she was in limbo. Spent a total of maybe fifteen minutes with George and Parris, in which I was the only one medicated. It was a successful trip: I lived to return.
What did I have?
I dunno. Dr. Jamieson never said.
What he said was, You can go home tomorrow, and what I said was, I will. It seemed a perfectly satisfactory and complete conversation at the time.
He did give me a word to take home with me as a talisman, to tell people when the obvious question comes up at this point in the anecdote: what I had, he says to say, was "gastroenteritis." This is a technical medical term. It means, "Him throw up plenty much; me not know jack."
Got home last night, to find out that amazon.ca currently lists my forthcoming nonfiction book THE CRAZY YEARS as being written by Lawrence Block. (Larry wrote only the Intro, fellas!)
If, however, you go to the American version, amazon.com, you find out that in fact it was written by Lawrence Block and Spider Robinson. Nice I get a share of the credit--if not in Canada, where I published all those columns.
You also find out on amazon.ca, by the way, that Spider's forthcoming novel from Baen, VERY BAD DEATHS, is titled VERY BAD THINGS.
Sigh. I suppose I should be grateful they don't have my current novel from Tor listed as CALLAHAN'S COON.
Anyway, if I ever get any surplus money to invest, I'll put it into companies that sell morphine. Without it, I'd still be dry heaving in Calgary. They let me have as much as I wanted, any time I asked—hopped to get it for me. Hospitals have changed on this issue in my lifetime. I remember thirty years ago being weaned off morphine, most unwillingly, three days after major thoracic surgery, fobbed off with percodan and darvon for the next hideous month. Now, just ask and you can have all the morphine you need. How civilized. Thank you so much, Audrey: you were a true Florence Nightingale.
And by the way, if one ever has to be in total misery, Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary is an excellent choice of venue. I've done time in way way too many hospitals, and they were one of the best I've ever seen. Physical plant only fair: adequate. The food was sanitary. The equipment usually worked. But they have SUPERB staff. Genuine Callahan's Place morale and character. Inexhaustible patience and limitless compassion. And teamwork like the old Brooklyn Dodgers used to have: effortless telepathic ballet. Only a single evil vampire nurse, in Emerge, and everyone else knew about her and watched to limit the damage she did. (At one point she tried to set a second IV, and I shrieked, "HURTS! Shoulder to three fingertips!" and she grimaced and said, I swear to God, "It does not." Another nurse hipped her aside and fixed me up on the other hand without a twinge. In addition to Audrey, Cathy and Pam were both outstanding nurses, too: you should have seen them and Rita the temp working together to get 89-year old Siggy on and off the john: it was like watching them horse the Space Shuttle around down at the KSC. Fun times…)
I'm sure those reading my Online Diary will be relieved at this break in the relentless flow of good news and cheer lately. Apparently it started to nauseate even me.
(Try some morphine. It works great.)
Sorry I missed you, ConVersion XXI. I did miss you folks… Sorry, Calgary; I missed your barbeque sauce.
Sorry, Parris! Sorry, George! Next time. Damn it, Mad magazine was correct: we ought to put the whole world on a conveyor belt. That way, sooner or later everyone you love just comes by.
Sorry, Jeanne! You got more than twice the work, and almost none of the fun. If there is anything worse than listening to a loved one suffer, loudly and implacably, I cannot imagine it. Suffering, itself, isn't even on the same chart.
[By the way, if you return to this page in another week, we hope to have some color jpegs posted…of some of the stuff that came up during those 60 straight hours of dry heaves. I'm planning to enter them in a few art exhibits. And they'll come in handy every time some hopeful stranger sends me his unsolicited novel manuscript for comment.]
So how was your weekend, my friend?