Editor's Column: ‘13’ will make your hospital stay more comfortable


That’s the secret of surviving comfortably in a hospital, a place in which I had avoided confinement since the day I was born.

Unfortunately, I recently ended up in the same Everett hospital in which I was born because the malady came to a head on the mainland. I had felt poorly for weeks, but it came and went. Finally, it came and didn’t go when I was taking photographs to publicize the then-upcoming Oak Harbor Garden Tour. The ladies were showing me splendid flower beds alive with color, and all I could think of was what a fine final resting place this would be. Bury me over there under the gladiolas with a view of Puget Sound. I never got the full story written, but hopefully a picture or two ran with the pertinent information. I don’t know, because I was in the hospital.

My mistake was trusting the doctor, an extremely young but supremely confident physician named Dr. Colton Harris-Moore. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s a routine operation. Only one chance in a thousand that something will go wrong.”

A few hours later I awoke to a hazy-looking Dr. Harris-Moore, looking quite haggard. “I made a mistake,” he said. “I guess I should have been a pilot. Good luck in the hospital. I’m heading out to the airport to borrow a plane.”

When I was wheeled into the hospital room, the patient across the curtain consisted only of a gruff voice, bellowing out “13!” whenever a nurse or doctor asked what his pain level was. They always reacted with disbelief because their pain scale was ranked from one through 10. They didn’t believe the man’s pain was off the charts, but they apparently gave him what he wanted. After a few minutes his shouts of “13!” subsided, as he entered a blissful world free of pain.

As for me, I was tough. Boys in my day were raised to shrug off pain and get back to work or play. We couldn’t have played World Cup soccer because it was uncool to act like you were hurt. Acting hurt seems to be the key to winning modern soccer games, due perhaps to the influence of whiny Europeans.

When first asked about my pain, I bravely replied, “two, maybe three.” The medical staff was proud of my response because they could give me Tylenol instead of something that really worked. Somewhere, I knew, the feds were going over their narcotics orders, and they didn’t want to answer any questions. With one guy in the room at a steady 13, they were happy to have another guy at 2 or 3.

But as the days progressed, I recognized the reason behind my roommate’s madness. He’d been there a long time and was tired of playing the pain game. He’d learned that 13 would get him what he needed without a lot of argument.

I let my pain level creep up to 5, then 6, and eventually 7. I didn’t have the chutzpah to claim 13, but my higher numbers paid off to the point where I couldn’t feel anything. What was I doing in the hospital, anyway? I thought I could wait on the golf course for young Dr. Harris-Moore’s mistake to heal.

Now I’m out of the hospital and supposedly on the road to recovery, using nothing but Tylenol to relieve the remaining pain. But next time I go to the hospital, I’m taking my unseen roommate’s advice. When they ask how I feel, the answer will be a resounding 13. Just wake me up when it’s over.

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