Larry Fleming: Six-Day Stay At Memorial Hospital Real Blessing

Sunday, May 12, 2013 - by Larry Fleming

I’ve come to learn – the hard way – that G.I. has more than one meaning to me.

First, there’s the military version(s). The term was used for American servicemen and stemmed from the kit issued to them being stamped with the initials G.I. standing for, you guessed it, government issue.

My late father, Charles E. Fleming, was a G.I., having served in the U.S. Army, although he never fought overseas because of his deployment to Detroit, Mich., while World War II was popping at other global hot spots.

The use of G.I. apparently also dates to World War I when a lot of the equipment to U.S. soldiers was stamped “G.I.”, meaning that it was made from galvanized iron.

Then, there’s another post-World War II variety – the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 – that was known formally as the G.I. Bill.

And, of course, there’s “G.I. Joe,” the highly popular action hero. He’s not real, just a toy.

However, the meaning of G.I that fits me is the one that pertains to bleeding. The month got started with my coverage of the District 5-AAA baseball tournament at Soddy-Daisy High School for

The first of two games went without a hitch. I cut short the second after five innings because of a bleeding episode, something I first dealt with approximately 10 years ago.

Within an hour of arriving at the cozy little Fleming homestead in East Brainerd, I was on a gurney in the back of an ambulance being transported to Memorial Hospital.

After a day and half in the hospital, I was released on a Friday and spent a relaxing Saturday at home.

Sunday, May 5, began innocently enough with a cup of fine Dunkin’ Donut coffee. That’s the way most, if not all, of my days begin. After a sip or two, the bleeding reoccurred, only it was worse.

Much worse.

This time my wife, Donna, who is a certified master at handling pressure situations, didn’t bother calling 911, but put me into her car and hit the gas for a mad dash back downtown to Memorial’s emergency room – hazard lights were flashing and a few traffic lights did not deter her.

On occasion, I swore she was prepared to utilize the “bump” maneuver effectively used for years by NASCAR drivers to get slow-moving traffic out of the way. Racing to the backside of the hospital at the ER entrance, she spotted an ambulance attendant and asked him to assist me inside while she parked the car.

Getting to the ER was the best part of that day.

Gastrointestinal bleeding – there’s my connection to G.I. – was practically bleeding me dead. I couldn’t control it, and it wouldn’t stop.

While ER personnel tried to find a quick remedy to my problem, it was decided a “nuclear” exam was in order. I was gurneyed over to that wing of the hospital and parked in the corridor while the examiner prepared to do her thing.

In just a minute or so, I yelled at the young woman because I felt even worse. She took a quick blood-pressure reading on a portable unit resting on the gurney near my right leg, shut it off and speedily pushed me back to the ER, where a bevy of doctors and nurses piled into a room designed for far fewer people.

As the chaotic minutes continued, the work of the professionals picked up in pace.

Somebody placed a “drape” over me and it covered my face. It was blue.

People were calmly, but unequivocally talking to each other and from what I could tell, because I sure couldn’t see what was going on, it appeared to be a consummate display of teamwork. Being in sports for 60 years, either as a player or sports writer, I know how important teamwork can be to the overall effectiveness of a well-oiled unit knitted together by people with on mission in mind.

While all this was happening my state of consciousness was somewhat clouded, but several words and phrases were clearly distinguishable.

“He’s unstable.”

Those sharp words rolled out of someone’s mouth and sliced through the smell of blood in the room at least twice, possibly three times.

“He’s still unstable.”

There they were again.

“Blood, four bags.”

Seconds later:

"Blood, better make it six bags.”

The tempo quickened, the work was obviously intensifying.

A female – she could have been a doctor or nurse, I’m just not sure – told me I was about to feel a “little poke.”

“Ouch,” I said under my breath. There were three more “pokes,” and I later learned those “pokes” were sutures going in and coming out to secure a “central line” just under my left collarbone for an infusion of blood to replace what I had lost.

I’m thinking: “This is getting serious.”

Then, in the background I clearly heard this little tidbit in a female’s voice come across the intercom:

“Would the chaplain please …” My mind shut her off as I tried to remember the number of the ER room I was in. I prayed the chaplain request was not for me.

At some point, Donna leaned down and said loud enough for me to hear, “It’s going to be OK. They’re going to fix it.”

I whispered, weakly, “Are you sure?”

None of that was funny then, but it struck me as such a day or so later when the fourth-floor chaplain paid a visit to my medical ICU room. He came in smiling, had a bounce in his step, flashed a grin from ear to ear and I laughed.

We had a nice chat.

On Tuesday, May 7, a very talented male MICU nurse, Ariel, got me through another disturbing incident and later wheel-chaired me to a private room.

On Wednesday, May 8, the blood pressure dipped again, but I weathered that as well.

A while later, a personable male nurse, Junior, a lighthearted, uplifting sort of guy who was not only a colleague and good friend to Ariel, brought in two 10-ounce bottles of gosh-awful tasting clear liquid in preparation for a Thursday afternoon visit to the G.I. lab and for a colonoscopy, my second in a week.

I was on a five-year plan until last week.

The look-see, performed by Dr. Munford R. Yates, disclosed no additional problems.

A G.I. lab nurse gave me another wheelchair ride back to my room.

Dr. Yates, who had introduced himself to me as a “belly doctor,” promised me solid food if the procedure confirmed the bleeding had stopped and it was delivered in the form of a turkey sandwich and chicken noodle soup -- gourmet cuisine compared to things on the liquid diet I had been forcing down since Sunday.

A short time later, a supper tray arrived at my bedside: an 0pen faced turkey sandwich (hey, I like turkey), capri blend veggies, whipped potatoes, beef noodle soup, unsweetened tea – that’s a sin in the South, you know – with one packet of sugar, a brownie, margarine, salt and pepper.

Meals at Ye Olde Steak House in Knoxville, one of my most beloved restaurants in this country, never tasted better.

However, a dried out cobb of corn would have tasted pretty darn good, but that turkey sandwich and the fixins were surely sent from culinary heaven.

I’ve gone on enough.

There is a point to this column.

Folks affiliated with the Galen Medical Group and Memorial Hospital that attended me over a traumatic week gained my utmost respect and appreciation. I can’t remember all their names. I assure you of this, everyone from the room custodians to nurses, to lab techs, to hospitalists, to physicians, to the fourth-floor chaplain should be commended for a splendid body of work that helped return me to a much-improved state of health.

I do recall some marvelous physicians like Dr. Colleen M. Schmitt, Dr. Yates and Dr. Charles Portera.

And Dr. J. Lanett Varnell, who performed an arteriogram on me – she inserted a tube in my groin, spotted two “suspicious spots” where the blood could be originating from and placed a couple “coils” that actually stopped the bleeding.

She was assisted by Sabrina, who had a comforting beaming face and personality bursting from underneath an orange and white Tennessee checkerboard scrub cap, capped off with a large white daisy.

Their demeanor calmed my nerves.

And Dr. Chad Charapata – he was extremely helpful to Donna and my son, Dusty in the ER during that hectic Sunday episode, clearly and precisely explaining the options he had in treating my condition.

I even have a shoutout for Roderick, or “Rod” to his friends, a floor tech who stopped what he was doing late one night after I had watched the movie Gettysburg on my computer and talked sports for a few minutes. 

As for Memorial Hospital, the Flemings have nothing but thankful praise for the brilliant care provided me during my six-day stay.

And while Dr. Wayne T. Scott, my primary care doctor, didn’t treat me or see me in the hospital, he did call and talk for several minutes about my predicament. That’s the kind of physician he is – a good, compassionate one and it’s easy for me to put up with his being such an Alabama football junky. He has helped Donna and me through some harrowing medical situations over the years.

Now, come to think of it, I do have one beef with Memorial Hospital administrators.

Do something about those pillows.

With that settled, I plan on doing what I love to do – writing about sports – for on Monday at a high school baseball playoff game at Ooltewah High School.

It’s good to be back.


(E-mail Larry Fleming at


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