City of angels (loogies included)

Signs posted on pariah rooms mean people have to dress in swaddling clothes to enter. Unless you're a pariah who lives there, that is.

By Laura Grimes

To Everyone Who Isn’t Oscar/Dennis:

My son is a champ.

The big, strapping lad was reduced to a wuss, a weakling no match for a kitten. He was so scary sick that he landed in the hospital.

To that, all I got to say is my kid is one tough cookie and the best possible patient. I am so glad I get to write that. I am cautiously optimistic that he’s on the upswing.

Faithful readers might remember this recent post about Oscar/Dennis’s unadventure to the doctor’s office and Mrs. Scatter’s advocating for home visits by doctors. His visit was unfortunately long and bitterly hard on him, and compromised his already weak system. If medical care is meant to serve the patients, the doctor-centric geographic design isn’t always a good one.

Oscar/Dennis neatly solved that. Now that he’s in the hospital, it’s all about him. Everyone and everything come to him.


Hospitals are amazing little cities. No car required. No need to go anywhere (though, if it becomes necessary, the taxi service costs a bundle). They have excellent accommodations with 24/7 room service, valets, bathrooms and showers, state-of-the-art equipment, gift shopping, a florist and security services.

Customers never even have to leave their beds, which are the fancy adjustable kind. However, the beds are not made for two, which makes repopulating the city a tough go (though, curiously, that doesn’t appear to be a problem).

And these amazing little cities? Get this. They even come with medical care. They are prepared for disasters, and they never lose electricity. Considering that these bastions of self-sufficiency come with such great service, you would think it would be highly desirable to patronize them. But — surprise — that’s not usually the case. (I, on the other hand, was hugely relieved Oscar/Dennis was allowed in.)

Perhaps most people don’t want to be there because the places come with a few drawbacks. It’s kinda hard to find a microbrew, for one. The bathroom door knocked against my cot so it couldn’t open all the way. I maneuvered my toiletries around partly full plastic urinals on the counter. My phone plug-in got mixed up with the line to the oxygen meter machine (whoops). I stared way too long at an affirmation quote on the room wall that misspelled Mother Teresa’s name (it’s possible that bugged me the most).

But, hey, everyday speech at the hospital is a Large Smelly Boy’s dream. It’s all about body functions. “Hocking a loogie” is not only an acceptable expression, it’s also expected behavior. In hospital territory, loogies are not just spat into the weeds and forgotten. They are elevated to the highest standard. They are captured in a plastic vial, which is capped and personalized with a name, like an important souvenir or a winning trophy. Nurses and doctors get excited and offer congratulations when they’re produced.

When a nurse explained to Oscar/Dennis what she wanted in the little vial, she was apologetic that it might sound gross. I laughed involuntarily into Mr. Scatter’s shoulder and said in his ear, “She’s worried he might consider something gross.”

A little bit later, Oscar/Dennis had a hacking cough and dutifully made a deposit into the vial. I thought it was just spit and not the more coveted loogie material (apparently there’s a difference). When I pointed to it later and apologized to the nurse that it wasn’t much and probably wasn’t the right stuff (as if I had something to do with it and this was something to be judged), she did a double-take and said, somewhat pleased and surprised, “No, that will do!”

I asked how she could tell it was “the good stuff.”

“One of the beauties of this job: You get well-versed in snot.”


One of the problems of living in a dense city is that it’s always busy with an endless parade of people. Kid patients come with their own well-meaning but sometimes overly helpful characters who glom onto new residents just when, unfortunately, they’re probably weakest and need the most rest. Combine these people with older Large Smelly Boys who’ve been vomiting for several days and just need a quiet break and the scene turns surreal. In each case, I was thankful Oscar/Dennis was mercifully either asleep or distracted, and I was able to staunchly serve as his gatekeeper.

A cheerful “host” from food services eagerly shared a menu and ran through the list of options at a time when Oscar/Dennis was taking in IV fluids only.

“We have cheeseburgers.”

“No, thanks. He’s been vomiting for several days.”

“Oh, then we have soups and salads. We have an Asian noodle salad.”

“No, he can’t keep down anything.”

“Well, it says he is able to have a regular diet.” As if this would suddenly make him hungry, and passing a steak chimichurri past his lips would make everything better.

“He can’t eat a regular diet.”

“Well, then, we have applesauce, ice cream …”

A teacher walked into the room when Oscar/Dennis was finally, thankfully, deep asleep and asked about keeping up with schoolwork, the very last thing on our minds. Don’t get me wrong. I love this idea, but this wasn’t the place for it. Even though I politely whispered that we’ve already inquired about it but it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, I was actually thinking, Gosh, my kid can hardly walk to the bathroom, and how are you at tutoring chemistry?

Soon after, I ducked out briefly to fetch more water. When I came back seconds later, a pleasant matronly looking woman was opening the door to his dark room just ahead of me. She ventured a little way in before I could head her off. She explained she was an activities coordinator and then I gently motioned to her to follow me back out the door, where she sweetly told me about a BINGO game that would be held later in the afternoon. She showed me orange laminated cards with pictures of hospital stuff (surgical tape, bed pans and the like, because, apparently, kids in the hospital can never get away from being reminded that they’re in the hospital). I listened, fascinated, and just as I wondered how a group of contagious and/or immobile kids played together, she explained that the kids who can’t be present play in their rooms, turn the TV to a certain channel and call an extension when they get a BINGO. The kids get prizes. I listened politely, impressed at the cleverness of the logistics even as I thought, There’s no way in hell my 16-year-old is going to go for this. Of course she had no idea my son is the size of a linebacker and crossing off a bedpan on a card just wasn’t going to fly with him. I must have let on somehow what I was thinking, because the sweet-voiced woman felt compelled to explain that I’d be surprised what kids are up for when they’re bored. “I bet,” I replied (and I meant it), smiling nicely as I took a card, even though I was thinking, My kid would rather have another IV stuck in his arm.


Somehow the pleasant matronly looking woman missed the plague sign on the door, which can sometimes be a blessing to deter glommers. Oscar/Dennis’s hospital room is one of the chosen ones. A prominent stop sign announces to all visitors that they must sanitize their hands before entering and leaving the room and wear protective clothing — mask, gloves and gown. The door must remain closed at all times. In other words, we’re pariah, which makes the shared-room arrangement with another patient a little hard to explain (and the HIPAA confidentiality requirement hard to comply with).

Watching Oscar/Dennis so sick is one of the most gut-wrenching of experiences, but I’m thankful he doesn’t have a chronic illness that he has to live with every day. Other patients in his room had asthma and a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics (like I said, HIPAA confidentiality be damned). However, many other patients had a lot more energy and didn’t seem nearly so sick as Oscar/Dennis and I envied them just a bit.

This sickness thing, though, comes with its own strange rewards. Oscar/Dennis might be 16 and he might give me the stink-eye when he sees me coming in a public library, but when he’s lying helpless attached to machines, his dull, unfocused eyes are thrilled to see me. He wants nothing more than for me to stick by his side, fussing over his blankets.

On the other hand, what I really hold dear are the important signs: Please, oh, please, let me see an eye roll or a snippy retort. Please, just one scowl. One fart joke. All I really want to see is that my Oscar/Dennis is almost back to his large smelly self.


PHOTO: Signs posted on pariah rooms mean people have to dress in swaddling clothes to enter. Unless you’re a pariah who lives there, that is.