The Yellow Badge of Cowardice

The IV in the back of my hand was uncomfortable. What sadist thought of sticking a needle there? It’s hard to imagine a part of my corpulent body that has less meat than the back of my hand, or a part of my body that moves more than my hand.

But that wasn’t the worst part of this hospital visit. The worst part was the instructions not to eat or drink anything after 6 a.m. the morning of the test. Since, like most people, I don’t get up in the middle of the night to carboload, what that really means is don’t eat anything after 8 p.m. the night before.

By the time of the scheduled 10:30 a.m. test, I was hungry. Ten-thirty came and went with no test.

I understand that on a discomfort level of one to 10, one being a pampered purse dog and 10 being a starving Sudanese refugee who has just walked 200 miles across a barren desert with everything he owns on his back, I was somewhere around a 0.00001. Did I mention that I wasn’t even allowed a morning cup of coffee?

ˇAround noon, there started to be some activity in my wing of the hospital. It seems it was lunchtime. Around 3, my team started asking the usual questions.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“Yes. To lose half my body weight.”

“And what is your date of birth?”

“You’re the 10th person to ask me that.”

“And what did you tell them?”

The staff was just as cranky I was, but they were used to the routine. It’s not the surprise to them that it was to me that people who were sicker than me would be moved to the head of the line. “I was here first” doesn’t really hold up well against, “We can probably reattach that.”

Still, I am starving, and Sue is tapping her foot. She wasn’t planning to spend the whole day here, either. But I wouldn’t be able to drive for a day after this test, and she was my ride.

“At least you have the pleasure of my company,” I said. She gave me the fish eye and left. She came back with a toasted bagel and a steaming cup of coffee and slowly ate them just out of my reach. That’s all right. She has a test for something next week, and I have a memory like a – oh, what do you call those things?

Finally, there was some action. There was a flurry of form signing. Most of the forms were in the nature of “the doctor explained that there are slight risks to this, as with any procedure, and that his insurance company wants you to sign this form in case you take him to court.” Who can read all that stuff? Just sign by the X.

The doctor also explained that I had a better chance of getting hit by a meteor on my way to the parking lot than being hurt by this test. That was very reassuring. Until he asked me which leg he was removing. What a kidder. I told him I was just here to donate eggs.

I think it was around then that I realized they had given me something to relax my nerves. I had a strange dream in which my 12 hands were grabbing things from a buffet table, but no matter how much food I put on my plate, it all slipped off. I wonder what that means?

Twenty minutes later I was back in my room, the test over, as unrelaxed as ever. “They’ll let you go in an hour, as soon as you can keep down some Jell-O and walk steady,” said the nurse. I had missed breakfast and lunch. The day was shot, over and gone.

I’d been walking steady for 10 minutes when they brought in the smallest portion of Jell-O I had ever seen. And it was cubed for easy eating. They wondered if I could keep it down. Keep it down? They had to stop me from eating the spoon and the plastic cup it came in.

It turns out I don’t have whatever they were testing for. “But if you’d ever like to volunteer for another study ...”

“What? I volunteered for that?”

“Yes, I have the signed form right here.”

Jim Mullen’s latest book “Now in Paperback!” is now in paperback. You can reach him at

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