Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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My horrible Superbowl weekend, in perspective

February 3, 2014General

Friday evening I flew from Phoenix to Newark with a planeload of football fans from Denver and Seattle. They were heading to the Superbowl. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had thrombosis in my left calf and would be spending most of the weekend in a hospital. On balance, I would say, I had a better weekend than many of those fans I was sitting with.

A little background. I had fallen the previous Sunday. (lesson: Don’t walk down stairs in your socks reading something on your tablet.) Two days later, when walking up a hill in Scottsdale, I noticed a tightness in my left calf. Bruising, I thought. A day later, I had a few free hours and the weather was nice. So I put on shorts and hiked up Camelback Mountain. The calf was still tight, and I saw for the first time that it was swollen. At this point, I think it’s safe to say I was guilty of self medical malpractice…

So, let’s compare my weekend experience to that of my fellow travelers from Denver. Friday night, I drive home from the airport and have a drink with my wife and listen to music, and then go to bed. It is at that point that she sees my swollen leg and orders me to go to the doctor the next day. The Denver fan I’m picturing takes public transport to a midtown hotel and spends the evening partying around Times Square. While I wouldn’t trade my evening for his, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday, I wake up and go to the doctor’s office. He takes one glance at my calf and says I probably have deep vein thrombosis--a blood clot. If the blood clot works its way loose, it could travel to my lungs, leading to an embolism and a very serious situation. He sends me to the hospital.

The Denver fan is probably waking up at about that time, perhaps with a hangover. Still, he faces a full day in New York. The weather’s nice. I’d say his Saturday is shaping up better than mine.

I check into the emergency room. They give me tests, ascertain that I have a blood clot. They clamp on my first of several identity bracelets, drill a medicine port into my left arm, and then I wait a number of hours to be wheeled up into a room.

Needles bring out the chicken in me
I’m not a big fan of the food scene around Times Square. There are loads of overpriced chains, a Hard Rock Cafe, a Bubba Gump shrimp place, an Applebees. But whatever they find, it’s infinitely better than the hospital dinner I eat, an institutional meal with slabs of tasteless turkey, mashed potatoes made from powder, and string beans that have been boiled for hours, or perhaps days, on end. At this point, strong advantage for the Denver fan.

And things get worse for me. Because while the Denver fan is carousing, my roommate and I are trying to get some shut-eye. It’s probably easier, on balance, to get sleep in a train station than a hospital. Nurses and medics shout up and down the halls. They barge into the room and turn on the light, waking you up to take blood pressure or stick a thermometer in your mouth.

What’s worse, my roommate, who came in a day earlier with chest pains, has a lot of monitors attached to him. And when they fall off or become detached, which they tend to do when he rolls over, alarms go off. At around two in the morning, an alarm rings. He hits his nurse button, I hit mine. But nothing happens. I finally climb out of bed (risking pulmonary embolism) and go out into the corridor in my skimpy nighty to call for help. He bellows NURSE! from his bed. Someone finally comes. Later, a few people spend what seems like a half hour setting him up with an IV. An hour later, he yanks it out, climbs out of bed, and spends a long and noisy time in the bathroom. The nurse, in as civil a tone as she can muster, later gives him hell for that.

Sunday morning, I think it’s safe to say, the Denver fan is having a much better weekend than I am. But this is where things begin to turn in my favor.

Morning in the hospital is the best time. Light streams in through the windows. Breakfast is much better than dinner. I'm not facing the dark and disturbing emptiness of a hospital night, at least for a while. I have music (to blot out my roomie’s TV), a Kindle, all the services of a smart phone. I master the bed controls to lift my legs and my head, turning it into a sheeted barca-lounger. Best of all, they tell me I’ll soon be getting released.

Compare that to the Denver fan. To be fair, maybe he’s not waking up with a hangover. But he probably is. He staggers over to Times Square, where the breakfast scene is bleak. Security and logistics dictate, he has been told, that he has to get to Giants Stadium a full three hours before kickoff. (It’s as if he’s flying to Israel!) And he’d better give himself some extra time, because the New Jersey Transit connections are bound to be crowded and slow.

As he and hordes of football fans march toward Penn Station, I’m out of the hospital and getting my blood-thinning meds at a pharmacy. It's not fun yet, but I’m facing a free afternoon, followed by dinner and an evening watching football on the tube.

From what I’ve since seen, the commute to Giants Stadium is a nightmarish ordeal for the football fans. Thousands of them are jammed on the platforms of the Frank Lautenberg transit station in Secaucas. Some take four hours to get to the game. Walking would be quicker (though I’m sure a stream of pedestrians marching up Route 3 would  attract the attention of eagle-eyed snipers guarding the stadium).

Long story short. I’m free. The Denver fan is being shuttled from one confinement to the next. And in the biggest confinement center, Giants Stadium, after all the waiting and lines and security procedures, after all the questionable food around Times Square, and probably too much to drink, he has to sit there for four hours and watch his beloved team get absolutely clobbered. He has nothing to cheer about.

I put the cats in the basement and walk up to bed after the game, happy to be home. The Denver fan has another hellish commute back to Manhattan. He’s surrounded by delirious Seattle fans. Some of the trains didn’t leave until 12:30.

The next day, we wake up to about four inches of snow, and it snows most of the day. Plane flights are cancelled. I’m writing this on Tuesday evening. That Denver fan might be getting home about now. I hope so, because more snow is coming in a few hours.

                                                   Fans in the Secaucas station (AP photo)


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