Roy Exum: Drinking In The Hospital

Sunday, February 16, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

When I wrote about my newfound love for every employee of Siskin Hospital on Valentine’s Day, I got a rash of notes from some of the honchos. Not only did it warm my heart, but I had sent in some money for a ticket to this year’s Possibilities Luncheon, which will be on March 3rd. Donna Deweese, who handles special events for the hospital, wrote that I might get to sit with my ageless pal Cindy Sexton and meet this year’s speaker, Heather Abbott, who is also missing a leg like me. Heather was a victim of the terrorist cowards who set off the bombs at the Boston Marathon in 2013, and as I sniffed around and read about her, so help me if I wasn’t genuinely inspired by this gutty gal.

She actually founded a non-profit foundation after the tragedy to help the less fortunate acquire – what! -- prosthetics and if that ain’t enough moxie for you, she’s even got an artificial leg that is custom designed for her 4-inch stiletto high heels … and the accent is on ‘stiletto’.

This year’s luncheon will give me a chance to meet the hospital’s new president, Matt Gibson, who came over from Erlanger to replace the just-retired Carol Sim, who has become one of my favorite people. There is a funny story about Carol and me and she’ll be the first to tell you I didn’t get kicked out of Siskin Hospital for drinking. That rumor is making the rounds and it absolutely is not the truth. As with most rumors, there is a grain of happenstance which gives the lie some legs and the fact I was already scheduled to be released further lends to whoever spreads such giggles.

In the past 18 months I have had 14 surgeries and anybody at the various locations will tell you I am a fun patient when I am not throwing up. You can also not find a soul who has ever seen me partake of any alcohol that wasn’t on a needle swab. Siskin Hospital was a little different – I was in there for three weeks – and the last time I was in the hospital for that long was several times at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Legend has it that I was known to push my IV pole to this little bar across the street, light up my cigar and talk to the fellas over a couple of mugs of golden lager. I could have cared less that it was 25 degrees and spitting snow, or that those of lesser intellect pointed and laughed at some moron wearing a hospital gown, pushing some bags of IVs, and puffing a smoke who was dropping in for a seat with the regulars at Freddie’s.

Face it, I’m 70 years old and have enjoyed my late-afternoon libations for over 50 years, this after a start that was illegal because I was underage but wise beyond my years. I’m not stupid when it comes to drinking in hospitals. I never touch the stuff the day before or after a surgery and, man, anybody who mixes pain drugs and alcohol is certifiable nuts. Further, I have never had the DT’s like some alcoholics do when they go ‘dry.’ Somebody told me the mortality rate for the DTs during a surgical episode is 30 percent and, hey, I am nowhere close.

But, yes, some snitch at Siskin saw some vodka and cranberry juice under my bed and ratted me out. When Carol Sim came down from the president’s throne and asked me if I had vodka in the room, I told her it was a little early for me but I’d be happy to fix her something. But, oh no, I had to listen to her little lecture. Next comes Nurse Rachett with her mournful mug, then the doctor, saying he’d be happy to prescribe two beers if I needed it, but he couldn’t abide non-supervised alcohol. 

About then my patience was wearing a little thin. While I was getting maybe my fourth “visit” from the on-rushing parade of hand-twisters, some little petunia comes running into my room, takes a Sharpie and carefully marks the level of the remaining contents of the spirits within, on the glass outside of the bottle, this I assume so there would be proof if I further imbibed the level would decrease. Stupid chickie … never do anything that dumb when there is a box of alcohol wipes on the same table. Please. What did this girl think – that I was a freshman! 

Listen, because of my marked disregard for other people’s rules, I went to five high schools and my parents never moved – after the third time I cut short the lectures with the plea, “C’mon, man, just get started with the paper work ...” I’ve never been one for rear view mirrors and, while some Siskin people got all antsy because they thought I was mixing hooch with opiates, I’m smarter than that. I told one supervisor I’d bet $100 a blood test wouldn’t find a trace of alcohol in me because not one person had seen me actually drink anything. “C’mon, let’s bet … you can go out to dinner on me … if you win,” I told her and because she had never played cards for sporting purposes, the bluff sent her flying out of the room with an “I don’t think Medicare covers that …”

Finally, I said we can solve this whole thing by my going home today instead of tomorrow. “In your report to the FBI or DEA or CIA or whoever reads such worthless rubbish, you can state: “When the patient was confronted, he left our premises immediately and did not return” but … wait … also add this sentence, “Nobody actually saw the handsome, charming and beautifully-mannered gentleman actually drink any alcohol, which enabled him to receive his “Siskin Can” tee-shirt upon graduation, so kindly accept this report as an allegation, which means this entire incident has no witnesses, no basis, and is therefore idiotic.”

If the truth be told, I’ve smuggled whiskey into hospitals for years for my buddies in need. I was being admitted at Erlanger East several years ago and was in that little waiting area where you sit while the nurses upstairs are coming to fetch you. As I was waiting, this attractive couple came in to wait and the guy was carrying a six-pack of 16-ounce ginger ale. After a pause, I told him I’d bet $20 that I could show him the two bottles that had whiskey in them. This guy gets the ashen look on his face but his wife erupted into peals of uncontrollable laughter.

The way that trick works is ginger ale comes in dark green bottles. You get a six pack and you empty two of the bottles into the grass. Then you refill the twist-tops with 32 ounces of your preferred spirits, making sure to tear enough of each label away on the outside to recognize the cowboys from the Indians. Boom, you are golden, plus ginger ale by itself is great for nausea.

My best ever was for a dear friend in Memphis, whose wife was not just an incessant nagger but a puritan of the starched-lace variety. He was beside himself not having his beloved Maker’s Mark and he was in for a week-to-ten days. I knew just what to do. I drove until I found a Walgreens and purchased a two-quart red enema bag. I then got a quart of Kentucky’s finest, a pack of non-see-through Solo cups, and walked back in the hospital with a sack like I was bringing his lunch. Once in his room, I went into the adjoining bathroom and took the new bag from its cellophane, made sure that little clip was pinched, and poured the entire bottle into the shiny red bag. Please, the bag is brand new, never used, and it doesn’t become an enema until it is actually used as one. All we got here is a red rubber bag and a hose, Horace, that’s all – stay focused. When I presented it to my startled patient, his eyes grew wide.

“Calm down, Horace … this ain’t anywhere near what you think,” and, opening the clip, I shot about three ounces of whiskey into his water glass. “I’m going to hang this in your shower and anytime you need a bracer it will be there. If you use this device as it was intended, you will die very quickly of alcohol poisoning. But the guarantee is that I don’t care if it’s the sheriff’s department, J. Edgar Hoover, makes no different – ain’t a soul that has ever been born gonna’ touch a half-full enema bag in a hospital shower. You, on the other hand, have Maker’s Mark on tap. If anyone inquires, tell him you have a not-serious medical malady and that you have always handled it on your own.” This ploy has never been broken.

Well, leaving Siskin Hospital the day before was better for me – I couldn’t wait to get home, couldn’t dwell another night where there was a ‘snitch’ running loose, and my exit allowed the hand-twisters to sigh and resume tending to their other ridiculous ministrations.

I look back on the whole episode as funny – pure and simple. In the end, the only thing it does is adds to the legend. I regret I couldn’t have poured the remaining vodka in a paper cup or two and put them in the refrigerator’s freezer. The Russians taught us vodka will never freeze and nobody but advanced FBI agents ever looks in the freezer for clues. That way I could have taken the empty but still-marked bottle to the sink and filled it with water – which looks just like vodka – about two or three inches higher than the petunia’s marks. That would have assured all of us that she would have smacked her forehead into every door she opened the rest of the day.

* * *

Siskin’s 17th annual Possibilities Luncheon will be at the Chattanooga Trade and Convention Center of Tuesday, March 3, beginning at 11:30. It is always one of the most inspirational, heart-warming events of the year and individual tickets are $75 each. Corporate and friends tables are still available and those interested should contact my friend Donna Deweese at 423/634-1208 to make arrangements. Tickets can also be purchased on the hospital website For those unable to attend but recognize what Siskin provides for our community, there is a secure link on the website for donations.

* * *

Today’s article, in no way, should detract from the serious circumstances that alcohol has caused in our families, our communities and our nation. I am a strong advocate of any effort that will assist those with substance problems. I will make every attempt to personally arrange for anyone who suspects they are having alcohol-related struggles to meet my many friends in Alcoholics Anonymous. Trust me, each has met the same monster and conquered it with the God-given mercy of others. My late brother founded two AA chapters in Florida. The Chattanooga Intergroup is sensational and would welcome any males and females at absolutely no charge whatsoever. The telephone number is 423-499-6003 and the email address is All correspondence is totally confidential. If you need help, all it takes is your first step. Today the timing happens to be perfect.

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