It's really not easy to screw up an X-ray as a patient, other than wiggling around or hiccuping when they tell you to hold your breath. This though, was one for the record books.
The X-Ray Sweater Incident
It never ceases to amaze me that medical professionals continue to fail to understand just how heebie-jeebie inducing IV’s are, especially if I have to walk around and do stuff with that thing in.
So the cannula went in, just inside my elbow – rendering my arm completely useless and my elbow unable to bend for fear of ripping out the needle and gushing blood all over the floor and walls like a scene from a horror film. I was then directed to go for a chest X-ray all the way across the hospital – which was fine, it isn’t like I had anything better to do and a little walk would be nice. So off I went, babying my arm as though any wrong move might cause it to fall off. I couldn’t even look at the cannula.
I made it down to X-ray having had a pretty good time watching other people notice my arm in the elevator. People give you a wide berth when you’ve got those things and are wandering around freely – like they are afraid of a spraying incident as well. The radiologist led me away from the gawking crowd and to an area in the back lined with teeny tiny little yellow cubicles, each with a small bench and a door that doesn’t quite reach the floor or the ceiling. I’ll just say right here that the radiologist was a rather handsome young Australian and I wasn’t the only woman in there blushing. He handed me a gown and gestured to a cubicle. I was to take everything off from the waist up, including my necklace and then wait for him to come get me for my chest X-ray. No biggie, I can do this.
But the cannula was still in. How was I to get my shirt (and necklace) off without bending my arm? My bra I could do. I’ve done the great bra extraction under a sweater before, easy-peasy. But I couldn’t undo the strap in the back with only one hand. No matter, I would figure that out later – as I would have to figure my necklace out later as well. On to step one, getting out of this sweater.
I looked at the IV. I can totally do this.
I pulled on the sleeve of my immovable IV arm, trying to pull the sweater off in an attempt to back out of it slowly and surely, until I bumped into the side of the cubicle. I didn’t have a lot of space to do this and am not a small woman by any measure. Okay, change of plans, other arm first. I used my un-bendable arm to grip the sleeve of my good arm, holding it tight as I began again to back out of the sweater from the other side. It wasn’t budging. I pulled harder, still not gaining much ground. Gritting my teeth and letting loose a deep, guttural growl I gave a final violent tug and slammed myself into the side of the cubicle again. Gasps were heard from the cubicles beside me as well as the seating area across the way. A woman loudly asked me if I was alright and I responded that I was totally fine, nothing to worry about! Thanks!
Clearly I was lying.
I was stood there in my jeans with one arm successfully out of my sweater and the liberated sleeve flapping around my head like a wet noodle, panting heavily from the effort. I heard the radiologist in his beautiful Aussie drawl call in the woman in the cubicle next to me- I was running out of time. I had to keep going. Still I could not bend the IV arm, but I had to get this damn thing off! How hard could it be to just take off a sweater? I made to pull it over my head in a graceful swoop when everything suddenly became very dark and very tight. I had one arm free and the other, the unbendable arm, was pinned straight up in the air, wedged between my head and the sweater that was now stuck around my chest, shoulders and face.
I tugged. I pulled. Did this sweater somehow get smaller?! I realized something was seriously wrong as I grasped frantically with my one free arm at the sweater. I was trying desperately to pull it over my head to release myself from the sweater of death. I was sweating hard and panting like I was doing calisthenics in there. The radiologist returned to knock on my door, asking me if I was alright and did I need any help? I quickly bent my knees so that he couldn’t see my straight unbendable arm stuck up above the space in the door and told him that I just needed a few more minutes.
I was going to die in there. There would be no turning back. The sweater would have to be cut off of my body and I would have to ride the tube home in a hospital gown top. I became frantic, reaching around behind me only to find that the sweater had become hooked on my bra strap – and that I couldn’t unhook it with only one arm. Even if I could bend my IV arm and risk a CSI blood-spray crime scene in an X-ray cubicle there was no way I was getting it away from my ear. I looked at the IV line to see that the tube was quickly filling with dark red blood, was it supposed to do that? I felt woozy now – I needed to sit down. No, I needed to get this sweater off of me, then I could sit down.
I pulled. I tugged. I banged into walls and turned around in circles – all with a gaping audience watching my dancing arm flailing above the cubicle door and hearing my panicked breathing grow quicker and quicker. I was like an anxiety-riddled squirrel in there – at one point I audibly pleaded with the sweater. I was sweating profusely, causing the sweater to stick to my skin and feel even more like I was being eaten by a wooly anaconda.
Alright. I had worked up enough of a sweat. The radiologist has come back and I again declined his offer of help. An X-ray isn’t worth this, abort! Abort! If the sweater wasn’t going to come off I could at least get it back on and leave with a shred of dignity.
I slowly and painstakingly worked my arm back into the flapping sleeve of my sweater, gaining inch by inch until my wrist poked through to cool, breezy freedom with the plan of then spreading my arms and forcing the sweater back down. This plan would have worked had the thing not then caught on my necklace.
Oh, this was so, so much worse. I still had my IV arm stuck up by my ear, my head was still covered in sweater, I had one breast in the sweater and one wedged under it and now my only good arm was caught, elbow bent, also around my ear. I was stuck in every sense of the word and my cannula tube was full of my own blood. There was no turning back.
I gently leaned forward toward the door, rapped it with my elbow and managed to squeak out a humiliated and defeated “help please” to whoever was out there. A moment of silence until a gentle rap was returned on my cubicle door as a sweet voice called out “how can we help you love?”
She fetched the outstandingly hot radiologist for me and brought him to my door. My arms were stuck, they would need someone from maintenance to bring a special key to let me out, could I just sit tight? So I sat down on my little bench with my arms pinned above my head, staring at the only thing in my line of vision – the cannula full of my blood. I started to feel woozy again and called for a nurse as well.
The kind women waiting across from the cubicles chatted to me through the door, as all they could see of me were my feet and my one hand stuck up above the door. They were sweet, but I could hear the giggles. I don’t even know how this kind of thing can happen, it just did. The radiologist returned with a maintenance man and a nurse and the three of them opened my door and burst into laughter, tears pouring down the hot radiologists’ face as he and the nurse attempted to liberate me from my sweater.
The necklace was really caught on the arm of the sweater and it was decided that the only way to get me out of it was to first remove the cannula line, but that couldn’t be done in the cubicle. Together they wrapped me in a gown and guided me, past the gawking waiting room, into the x-ray room so I could lay down on the table to make this easier for everybody. Warning me that she was doing this blind, the nurse reached into the depths of the sweater to remove the cannula without actually being able to see it. For a needle-phobe like me the entire concept of anyone playing with a cannula line in my arm without being able to look at what they are doing is horrifying, but I was so humiliated and desperate to get out of that hot sweater that I didn’t care. I was so grateful to have that thing out that I barely noticed the blood running down my arm and dripping onto the table. I didn’t care, I was nearly free. The hot radiologist and nurse unhooked my sweater from my bra and necklace and with a mighty final heave pulled it off of my head.
I lay there, half naked and panting in the gloriously cool air on the cold, hard X-ray table, freed at last from the sweater of death.
When I got back upstairs, nearly an hour later, my chemotherapy nurse asked me why my cannula had been taken out. I told her that she was bound to hear about it later and just scurried back to my chair, burying my face into my book and gearing up for a second IV to be put in again.
I’m clearly going to have to change hospitals.
The Sweater Incident is an excerpt from Prescription for Disaster: The funny side of falling apart - the perfect book for that special sickly someone always stuck in a hospital this Christmas season!