Friday, September 18, 2009

Over Thirteen Hours in Emergency, or The ER Symphony

I had radiating chest pains early Thursday afternoon, after a two-day bout of what I thought was indigestion (it felt like food was coming up my esophagus, or was stuck partway down---might have been the popcorn I'd eaten 12 hours before). I was walking to the grocery to get some lunch when the pains started increasing. I stopped by my doctor's office on the way home (she had finished office hours but she checked my pulse and suggested I go to the emergency room). Of course my pulse was elevated, and I felt my BP was going up (probably due to stress). I've had numerous heart tests in the past year (, to look at atypical heart rhythms so I'm at risk for heart problems.

So I took a cab to the local hospital, arriving about 1:20 pm (busy-busy place, lots of EMS personnel and cops coming in with elderly passengers in crisis, and quite a few under- or over-medicated people). I was registered and through triage fairly quickly, but had to wait a couple of hours for blood taking and the EKG. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. During this time I did some yogic breathing and visualization, and that helped with my rapid pulse and even the chest pains. After over nine hours, I was at the top of the list---for the cardio doc, which still meant that other patients were seen before me. I said I wanted to leave, but the nurse told me if I did my file would be closed and I'd have to start over the next day. I wandered away, had a bit of a sniffle, got hold of myself, and went back to pacing.

Finally, after over 10 hours, I was called and put in an exam room. But by that time eight hours had passed since the blood was taken and the EKG was done. So they had to be done over again. The doctor also ordered a chest x-ray, though that only took about 20 minutes. Of course I had to wait again for the blood to be assayed and the radiologist to review the x-rays---another two hours. I was out of there by 2 am, with a copy of my EKG results and blood tests (random glucose and A1C: yuck results; but I had missed both my lunch and supper meds).

An emergency room is an unsettling place. A gurney was rushed in ("code blue, pediatric resuscitation") with a vanishingly small patient; a few minutes later I was pacing near the entrance when a very distressed woman staggered in with an EMT who was helping her into a wheelchair; she could barely breathe through her tears, let alone walk ("Is that the mother? Yes, she's the mother").

Somewhat later five burly cops (four men, one woman) hauled in a screaming woman in handcuffs and shoved her up against the wall. The woman, who I estimated to be about 30, was around my size, but she needed five cops to subdue her?? What happened to talking, mediation, and calming techniques? Not these cretins.

But the patients in the increasingly-crowded ER were generally helpful with each other (and mostly patient with the process). And I had some friendly conversations with several of them.

I paid my cab home in loonies and quarters, arriving at about 2:45 am. But I'd had only one (bummed) cigarette in all that time, so I had plenty when I got home. It's too bad I got up at 4:30 am on Thursday---after nearly 24 hours awake and severely stressed, I can't imagine falling asleep any time sooZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...

UPDATE: My blood tests and EKG did NOT indicate any heart problems, real or imagined, though the cardio doc (a rather handsome and brisk man, as was the nurse) made an appointment for me, due to that lump in my chest that kicked off this whole ordeal, with the same gastroenterologist who supervised my colon exams last year. And a nice person from the hospital called me today to confirm the date of the gastro appointment and to ask how my experience was (and I TOLD her), and she apologized for all the delays. Apparently it was a busy-busy day in the TEGH ER. Now I have a sore throat: probably an infection I caught from one of the hundreds of sick people I encountered.

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