It's been a pretty rough month. Monday morning I started to feel a little funny. Not "ha ha" funny. More "Hmm, maybe I'm gonna die" funny. I'll spare you the gory details except to say that around 1:00PM I was in a tremendous amount of pain, feeling dizzy, dehydrated and unable to swallow so much as a teaspoon of water without feeling extremely nauseated.
As I crouched on the floor in agony I started to toy with the idea that this may not work itself out and that I may need to go to the emergency room. I was not crazy about this idea because I'd been to the local emergency room once before when Jen had gotten very sick and it was not a wonderful experience. It became clear very quickly that I did not have the tools to make myself better and that I would need to seek help at the hospital.
At this point I had become so weakened that Jen actually had to help me to my feet and get me to the street corner to catch a cab. I had to take a cab four blocks to the hospital. On the plus side, $3.30 was quite easily the cheapest cab ride I have ever taken.
Our local emergency room is horrific. No emergency room could be called fun, but ours is certainly in the lower percentile of overall goodness. It is a tiny emergency room designed for 40 patients that regularly serves over 100. I know this because this is the line nurses repeatedly gave complaining patients who'd been waiting or over six hours to be seen. The result of this poor system: a surly staff, a tremendously angry waiting room filled with sick patients, and barely enough sitting room for all the sick people, let alone the family members who have accompanied them there.
Jen was kind enough to wait in line for me to put my name in for triage while I sat and writhed. It was much like getting a seat in a busy restaurant, except that when you get called and "seated" you have to wait about an hour before someone brings you your bread and about three hours before a waiter takes your order. I would find out later that it was very much like a restaurant in that it was nearly impossible to get your water refilled.
After about 15-20 minutes in line we were able to get my name in and then take a seat in what is certainly the most uncomfortable chair I've ever sat in in my life. That is where I remained seated for the next four hours.
Over the next four hours I had periodic flashbacks to my last multi-hour visit to this wonderful establishment. I can remember, distinctly, on that last visit (almost three years before, to the day) the man sitting near us began to have a stroke after waiting by us for several hours. When his wife began to react by trying to get the attention of a nurse or doctor she was promptly told by a guard to, "Sit down and relax." Apparently her normal human reaction to possibly losing her husband of 50 years was ruining the delicate balance of the waiting room.
One thing that struck me about the waiting room was that everyone there seemed to be leaving and coming back with disgusting, greasy food. This is understandable considering that people are asked to wait there for so many hours. The unfortunate thing for me is that this meant I was always sitting next to someone who was eating a smelly, disgusting food that made my stomach turn upon smelling it. People were coming in with buffalo wings, Wendy's burgers, fried chicken, and all manner of foul, unhealthy foods that can easily and cheaply be purchased within a quarter-mile radius of the hospital.
At one point the man sitting next to me returned with what, at the time, smelled like a disgusting fish stew. It made me feel so sick to see him slurp up this soup and smell the nasty fish aroma that I had to block my nose and breath exclusively through my mouth. Jen would later tell me that this was in fact a chicken soup. I still don't believe her. This man also routinely shifted his weight in his seat, which was attached to mine. This continually pitched me forward or slammed me backwards. I occupied about an hour of my time in the waiting room fantasizing about punching this guy in the face and shattering every last one of his teeth. I delighted in the image of scattering some chicklets across the waiting room floor.
Eventually, after a long, excruciating wait I was allowed to go in and see the triage nurse. There my vital signs were taken and I was asked a series of questions about my symptoms. By then the four hour wait had allowed my symptoms to lessen slightly in severity such that I could drink a mouthful of water without wanting to die. However, I was still feeling awful. They asked the standard question about ranking your pain from 1 to 10 and you get to match it up with the smiling/frowning face chart on the wall. I turned over the Brian Regan emergency room bit in my mind before delivering my answer. I estimated my pain at the worst to be an eight and at the best to be a six or seven.
After assessing me they assigned me a color-coded priority bracelet. Mine was green which ranked me as a three on a five-point scale. Points four and five were red and blue respectively. I got a glimpse of a yellow (which I think was a two) and I'm not sure what one was.
My bed was in a bright, noisy hallway right by the entrance where the paramedics entered and exited and apparently where all the staff took their smoke breaks. This ensured that a cold, smoky draft constantly whipped past me as I suffered on my cot. My bed was also directly by a supply closet. It was just about wide enough to accommodate me. I am, some would say, a tiny little man so I shuddered to think of how anyone larger than me could survive on this cot. My feet dangled over the edge and I could barely move onto my side without falling off. All that being said, I remember this being the most comfortable bed I'd ever been on in my life. Certainly this was due to the stark contrast between that bed and the waiting room chairs which seemed to have been made from some sort of butt-torturing material originally used during the Spanish Inquisition.
Eventually someone came by and hooked me up to an IV after drawing what I estimated to be about six liters of blood. After the first bag of IV I was feeling a bit better. The agonizing pain in my back had subsided a bit and the only thing I had to do now was to somehow get another IV bag. I went through five bags during my stay but I didn't get any of them without asking. Sometimes it took more than an hour to get my IV bag replaced. The problem with the IV bag is that they give it to you attached to a ten-foot long tube and hang it from a pole by your bed. If you need to use the bathroom your only option is to carry the bag with you, doing your best to hold it up above your arm. This isn't so hard on the trip to the bathroom but it becomes markedly more complicated as you try to use the bathroom. You can try to hold the bag above your head with one hand or rest it on the toilet paper dispenser. You cannot, however, hang it on a $0.99 hook purchased from home depot because there is not one installed. You can step on the tube and yank the IV causing a weird blood pressure drop that makes you nearly pass out. I'm just guessing, of course.
My IV bag spent most of the time empty, as it was nearly impossible to get the nurses to devote the twenty seconds necessary to replacing it. So the method I developed was to loop the plastic tube loosely around my neck and tuck the empty IV bag into my pants. At the time I was glad to get to the bathroom without being hassled by anyone. Now I'm a little worried that I walked past twelve nurses and eight doctors with a tube seemingly tied around my neck and no one seemed bothered at all.
The hours rolled on and on. As my bead was near the supply closet (read: blocking the door to the closet) my bed got bumped around a bit. At first when the nurses needed to get in the closet they simply wheeled my bed aside and did their business. That only lasted for the first hour or so. After that they they just slammed the door of the closet into my bed, several times waking me from an extremely tentative sleep. Just for the record, this inconvenience was seldom accompanied by any apology or acknowledgment that it had even happened.
The sad thing about being so sick that you have to go to the emergency room is that there are probably a lot of people there in a lot worse shape than you. I was in as much pain as I can remember but there was always someone more in need than myself. So this perpetuated my pain and made me feel guilty simultaneously for needing help with my insignificant, level 3, code green problems. Aw man, I thought. I'm so jealous of that guy with the severe nosebleed.
There was a guy behind me who had woken up one morning to discover that he'd lost his eyesight in one of his eyes. He had extremely high blood pressure and partial kidney failure. He'd been sitting in a chair for two days and about 12 hours had passed since anyone had last checked in with him.
There was a guy who'd severely cut his hand and was just walking around keeping his hand elevated, waiting to be stitched up and go home.
There was a man who may have been homeless who looked like he'd had his head beaten in with a baseball bat. I passed him on his cot several times on my way to the bathroom. He was just shaking his head back and forth leaving huge blood stains on his pillow. I have never seen anyone with facial injuries that bad in real life. I've only ever seen anyone that banged up on a television show.
There was a woman suffering from dementia who was repeatedly crying: "Baby! Baby! Mommy! Mommy!" She eventually fell asleep for several hours but woke up again and immediately launched into the cried where she'd left off.
My nurse for most of the evening had pretty much lost interest in me after she'd had an altercation with a coworker who had apparently touched her or bumped into her or something else completely trivial. This caused an unnecessary amount of drama that would mean my IV bag would hang empty for a good amount of the night. Being tucked away in a hallway didn't increase my visibility so Jen hovered by the nurse's station and gave the nurses and doctors the hairy eyeball until someone eventually saw to me. Even with that pressure it still took two hours to get my IV bag replaced. The only point in the evening where the nurse actually took any interest in me was right at the end of our shift. She came over to me and Jen (without being asked) and asked us if we'd witnessed the argument that took place between her and the other nurse earlier in the evening. So, after a night of neglect and lackluster care she wanted us to help her settle and argument with a coworker. Nice.
Our nurse at the end of my stay was a woman named Ernestina who was amazing. The second she came in she told my previous nurse to replace my IV then she took my vital signs about six times over the next three or our hours, the whole time replacing my IV bags as they ran out and monitoring me. My blood pressure was low (about 90 over forty-something) so she wanted to get that back up before she told the doctors I was okay to leave. When the doctors saw how low my blood pressure was they couldn't believe that I had been walking to the bathroom without passing out.
After a few hours with Ernestina my fever miraculously broke and my blood pressure rose to an acceptable level such that the doctors let me go, albeit reluctantly. I think it's pretty fair to say that she had some sort of magical powers. Not the kind that allow you to pull a rabbit out of a hat, more like the kind that allow you to heal your entire party in Final Fantasy and is the only spell really worth developing.
So that was it. I returned home Tuesday morning, exhausted beyond anything I'd ever experienced, and slept on and off for most of the morning and afternoon. I drank endless glasses of juice and water and it wasn't until this morning that I had anything resembling and appetite return. This afternoon I had my first solid food since Sunday. (Does soup count as solid food?) As of this morning I had lost ten pounds (7.4% of my body weight) dropping to the lowest my weight has been since eighth grade.
I spoke to my doctor on the phone this morning. Her advice: go to the store and buy a mess of cookies and eat as many of them as you can. Normally this would strike me as the best prescription I could ever have gotten and I would relish spending several days eating cookies. However, in my state I have only managed to have one cookie today so far. I'm shooting for a grand total of three.
I am hoping that tomorrow I wake up and spend about fifteen hours devouring an endless mound of fudge-covered sandwich cremes and home-baked chocolate chip cookies.
Wish me luck.