Monday Night at the ER

The doctor peered at the monitor and made a tsk-tsk noise. “Your blood pressure is definitely up.” I looked past her to the monitor and read the readings. BP was 155 over 110, a mere forty points higher than usual. My pulse was a lethargic 44.  The fingers on my left hand were tingly and pins n’ needle-ish, the last three fingers numb. I had a pressure in my chest but no pain, and I was sweating even though I wasn’t active and I was slightly chilled. All I could say was that I felt off somehow and it was creeping me out big time. “Well, we’ll take an EKG, some blood and do a chest xray. Maybe we can see something. Oh, and let’s do a urine sample.”

I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or the nurse and tech who were standing by, smiling soothingly at me as I lay there in the emergency room. Apparently she was talking to all of us. My wife sat in a chair off to the side, engrossed in her Kindle. They stood me up and had me shuck my shirt so they could slap sensor pads on me for the EKG. They literally festooned me with them, even sticking one on each leg. I don’t much mind the application of these things, but I hate it when they take them off. I’m sure I donate a couple layers of skin to the exercise.

I don’t like going to the ER. I really wish I could get checked out online somehow, but that technology won’t appear until after my ashes have been scattered no doubt. There is no way to go to the ER and escape in less than three hours. That’s the minimum. The first hour is checking in, initial discussion with the nurses and techs, and if it’s slow, a brief appearance by the duty doctor. Then there is the limbo hour; one sits around as the lab deals with the fluids taken during the first hour. Then there is the last hour where the doctor comes and does his or her thing, asking questions and poking and prodding. If there is pain involved, it is this hour where they will give a pain killer, but dosed just slightly too low. If you’re lucky, the discharge order will be handed out in this hour too, usually right at the end. Otherwise, I note that another half hour will pass before escape is possible.

The nurse who inserted my IV was a pro. I didn’t even feel it as she stuck the needle in me and then taped it in place with what looked like mylar packing tape. I was swept up to xray where they took images front on and from the side, and then they shuttled me back down to the ER. So far, things had been going exactly as I expected. Back on the bed it was now the waiting hour and like my wife, I buried my face in my Kindle. I was re-reading a Jonathan Kellerman book called “When the Bough Breaks.”  It was the first of a whole series of novel featuring a child psychologist named Alex Delaware who acts more like a detective than a therapist. The stories are always good though, and well written. At the moment, Alex and his cop friend, Milo Sturgis, were looking into… oh yeah. Never mind. Back to my story.

My oncologist is concerned with my heart because I’d been given Doxorubicin as chemo by my first oncologist. He says that the Dox can raise Hades with the cardiac system, even cropping up suddenly years after the treatment. Oh, great. Doxorubicin was given to me twice, both times sending me to the hospital and resulting in a week of ICU each time.  What a wonderful drug;  it tried to kill me right off the bat, and now I find it can still waylay me all these years later. His worry has been passed to me, and thus here I am in the ER.

A few chapters later the doctor appears. She tells me that my enzymes aren’t elevated and this is good, but there are aspects here she’s not happy about. She says she will let me go home, but I should come back if any of my symptoms persist. She also scheduled me for a cardiac stress test. I’ve had one of these before and consider them perplexing. The whole point is to try and give the patient a heart attack –albeit in controlled conditions. I believe the theory is that they can’t fix a problem they can’t see, so they stress the heart into revealing whatever weakness it might possess, allowing the doctors to see and deal with it, whatever it is.  They can administer the test in two ways. In one, they have you walk a treadmill on a drug that stresses the heart, and the other way is stressing the heart with drugs alone. I will get the second kind this time since I’m not ambulatory.

As the third hour is passing, I am feeling a lot better. I’m not even sweating anymore.  I am handed a sheaf of papers that amount to discharge instructions. They do contain discharge instructions –a single short paragraph at the end of six pages describing the visit, the medications I take, and for all I know a weather report. I’ve never read my discharge instructions because they simply repeat what the doctor just got finished explaining to me. On seeing the pages, my wife jumps up and disappears out the door. She’s off to get the car, knowing I will want to beat a hasty retreat. She knows just how much I dislike hospitals. They’re vile places full of sick and dying people. The fact that I am one of them is irrelevant to me.

The third hour ticks by and I am rolling my way to the door. After three hours, I do kind of want a cigarette, but hey, I just left the ER. Perhaps that might be a little too much like thumbing my nose at the grim reaper. Our silver Taurus swings up and my wife hopped out to load my chair in the trunk. It is at this point I have to ask myself why we didn’t use my brand new van. I could have merely rolled inside with none of the fussing and swearing involved in putting the chair in the trunk. My wife hopped into the driver’s seat and off we go.

I am pleased when we turn out of the parking lot and onto the street. We still don’t know the cause of the symptoms and probably won’t till I have the stress test and maybe some others. But I’ve managed to make it out alive one more time.