How I met Nurse Jackie at the Princeton ER, or the story of why the root of “bionic” is “bio.”

Bionic man 2.13.  Cinco de Mayo, (Dos Mille) Diez y Seis.  Last night just as I was getting ready to settle down after all my travels to watch the next episode of “The Americans” with Toto on my lap, I pulled up my pants leg to find out why my knee seemed to be getting stiffer instead of more flexible after all my PT.  The scar from the operation seemed to be healing nicely, but the knee was more swollen than last week and hot to touch.  I immediately thought of infection, and of the tooth that’s been bothering me more and more over the last week.  I had been planning to ask my surgeon at our appointment next week for his ok to go to the dentist.  With all that’s been going on I just hadn’t thought about the flip side of the danger of infection to joint prostheses from dental work, i.e., that my need to see the dentist was caused by an infection in/around the tooth.  Duh!  Who said that getting older makes you wiser?  In this case I fell prey to the fallibility of experience.  I’ve had a hip replacement for more than 20 years, with multiple cavities and abscesses during that time.  Even though I sometimes had to wait to get the infection worked on, none of them ever made their way to my hip the way this one may have.  If it turns out that the knee is infected and that the tooth is the culprit, the difference may be that the knee is still healing.  But I was just operating on what’s worked for the last 20 years.

I debated with myself about waiting until the next morning to call the surgeon’s office, but decided I wanted someone who knew what they were seeing to look at the knee.  I left Toto sleeping peacefully on the couch, hopefully down for the night.  Made sure she had food.  Prepared her medicine for the next morning and took my phone in case I had to get someone to come in to take care of her if I ended up being admitted.  And drove off to the ER at the Princeton University Medical Center.

Many years ago Laura and I had to take Anne Mei to the ER after a groundhog ran in front of her bicycle causing her to crash, and knocking her unconscious on our driveway.  We had the misfortune of arriving in the early evening just after a softball team showed up with multiple scrapes and contusions.  Even though the ER was much calmer at 11 pm on a weekday night, it still took a while before I was seen by a nurse practitioner, who did confirm that the knee was suspiciously hot and swollen.  She ordered blood work and an ultrasound to check for clots.  There were many intervals of waiting between procedures.

Luckily I had brought Alan Furst’s Midnight in Europe to read.  (Really weak plot transitions, but engaging enough to fill the time.  And definitely not taxing my brain.)  I’ve noticed that if people see you reading a book or if you talk about what you’re reading, people will tell you about what they’re reading or recommend a recent good read.  The nurse who came to take my vitals and draw blood started talking to me about how much she liked All the Light We Cannot See.  She was a good nurse, who engaged me in conversation as she went about her business.  She told me that her name was “Jackie.”  Luckily my mind was so much on my knee that I did not make the connection to the TV show until I was driving home two hours later.  Probably for the best, since this Nurse Jackie must hear about her fictional counterpart many times a night.

Unlike the nurse who had trouble starting a line when I was admitted for the knee operation, Nurse Jackie hit a gusher when she was drawing blood for the cultures, etc.  When I looked over to see her working on controlling the blood running down my arm, she said that I wouldn’t believe her when she said that a big, young football player fainted on her last week when she was doing the same thing.  She then segued into a theme she probably uses on most of her old men patients—how today’s young men, including her husband, just aren’t as tough as her father’s generation.  I bought it.  I mean, it’s taken me decades to overcome shyness to urinate in a public urinal with men standing on either side of me, and now they’re installing privacy screens for wimpy millennials.  C’mon.

Later, when filling out a form, she noted that the date had turned over to May 5, Cinco de Mayo.  That led to my having lived in San Antonio, to her sister living in San Antonio, and how she may stop and visit on her way down to a vacation in Mexico.  I commented that I’d found that most Americans have no idea what Cinco de Mayo celebrates.  “What do you mean the French invaded Mexico?”  Much less how it differs from September 16, Diez y seis.  The real equivalent to July 4.

As to the reason I was there.  Ultrasound found no clots.  Blood work did not find generalized infection.  The nurse practitioner called my surgeon’s office, which said that I should come in this morning.  When I did, Dr. Bezwada drew a large amount of fluid off my knee and sent it out to be cultured.  Still waiting on results.  Hopefully they won’t find infection, and the surgeon can pursue my brother Patrick’s question whether the problem could really just be gout.  Otherwise Dr. Bezwada said he may have to bring me back into the OR to clean out the knee.

Taking Augmentin in the meantime.  Seeing an infectious disease specialist tomorrow morning.  And the dentist ASAP.

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