Peter’s Friday Night Grand Emergency Room Adventure

We had an exciting Friday night, with the best ER experience I’ve ever had. To put it into context, Peter’s a tough guy; and I do mean that. Just recently, he’s plowed through physical projects even with a hand injury and through agonizing pain, but no amount of cajoling or pleading could get me to get him to see a doctor. I did get to help out though, which made me feel really buff, and that working out with Jillian Michaels, Jeri Love, and The Firm is useful for more than just getting ripped and chiseled.

More recently, he was having bad stomach aches, bad enough for him to take to bed. These typically faded after an hour or two, but on Friday afternoon, I was slightly surprised to find him even more uncomfortable. I tried to cheer him up, but he was feeling too ill. I brewed him up my favorite holistic concoction for intestinal distress, a mixture of apple cider vinegar, honey and hot water I called “hippie juice.” He couldn’t drink that; he was so distressed he couldn’t even down water. So I left him to try to shake it off on his own (still calling out to him to sip my hippie juice when he was up to it.)

Shortly afterwards, while Neil was on a Skype call with his grandparents about his flight to see them the next day, Peter staggered to the top of the stairs and called for me to take him to a doctor. For it to be bad enough for him to want that meant it was really really bad. I found him back in the bathroom, moaning and shaking, and it took some effort for me to get him up and out to the car so I could take him to the hospital. And even so, he couldn’t sit up; he lay on the back seat in a fetal position, moaning in pain.

Miraculously, I found a parking spot near the emergency entrance, so I didn’t have to park in a red “you will be towed now” spot. And even so, it was agony for Peter to make it the few feet into the emergency room, and when we arrived, it was all he could do to hold on to a chair and shake.

And here is where my expectations were first surpassed. I can recall at least four weekend nights in an emergency room during my lifetime. So my expectation is that you can, say, walk in holding your exposed guts in your hand, and they’ll give you a form to fill out, and tell you to take a seat. Several hours later, you’ll get called over for something called “triage” during which you may or may not get an aspirin. Several hours after that, if you’re still there, a doctor will see you, diagnose your problem, send you to someone like the gut doctor to fix it  hours later, whereupon you have to wonder if you might not have been better off suffering all night and seeing someone in the morning. The more upset you are, the less they care. So I was saving my energy for a long night trying to help Peter through his pain with Frasier re-runs as the only distraction , and kind of wishing I hadn’t rushed out without the hippie juice.

Indeed, as I calmly told the nurse at the desk that my husband was having abdominal and/or chest pains, she gave me a form to fill out, and to time stamp. But uncharacteristically, she said she’d see him in triage as soon as she was done with the current patient, a boy with a splint on his arm.

So in we went, and I swear, it’s the first time I’ve seen a nurse look kind of worried. She tried to get what vitals she could from Peter, who was barely breathing between moans, soaked in perspiration, and shaking in pain. And lo and behold, instead of being sent back to the waiting room  next thing I knew he was in a chair being wheeled over to a gurney, getting an EKG test! It confirmed that Peter was not having a heart attack, which was good to know. In the meantime, he also a bunch of needles stuck in his arm, with an IV drip and a quick dose of pain medication, but not the narcotic kind.

After it was clear that it was (probably) abdominal, not cardiac, it was back to being a waiting game, albeit this time inside rather than outside on uncomfortable plastic chairs. An emergency doctor came in, asked several pertinent questions, had some blood drawn, and told Peter to expect an abdominal scan.

We passed the time looking up symptoms for all sorts of abdominal problems, and guessing what he had. Food poisoning? Naw, the rest of the family ate the same things that Peter did within the last 20 or so hours, and none of us are curled up in pain. Besides, I know food poisoning personally, and, in short, this wasn’t it. Appendicitis? Wrong side, and pressing down on the pain didn’t make it any worse than it already was. Kidney stones? Our neighbor just had that a few months ago, so, er, maybe. Is it contagious? Gallbladder or spleen? What are those anyway? Like the appendix, other non-vital organs which only come to light when they get infected for no clear reason and have to be removed.

Well, if you’re going to go to all this drama, it should be for something sexy, I thought. The sexiest abdominal ailment would be appendicitis, because all the sexy people get their appendices removed. The least sexy ailment would be really, really bad gas. I would also be embarrassing and conclude our emergency room visit in a way I’m accustomed to.

Peter got wheeled from one double room to another double room, one which may not have had the EKG machine, but which did have a roommate who kept calling out for more pain medication. It looked like many more hours could pass before any tests were done, much less results returned, and Peter was looking like he would survive this as long as his meds lasted. So I asked him what he would want to pass the night, as well as what he needed (like shoes, which we’d left behind, given that he was in no shape to put them on at the time), and went home to comfort the children, who were worried. Kelly asked me to bring Peter a teddy bear to comfort him because as I told her a hospital is an unhappy place to be.

When I returned, Peter was gone, and the lady was still crying out for more pain medication. I tried to teach her the Bradley Method of relaxation and visualization, but she was having none of it. Sadly, she also had no one to bring her a teddy bear, either. I don’t know if she ever got her pain medication, because Peter had just gotten a CT scan of his abdomen. He was in a much better mood than when he’d arrived and was chatting with his Fijian gurney driver about our trips to Fiji and Australia. He got a private room for his little gurney, and I gave Peter the teddy bear and his new toys. Awaiting the latest set of test results, we set to work figuring out the root words for tomography, and discovered the word is related to atom, anatomy, and lobotomy. The doctor came in to give us the diagnosis, which was (if I remember correctly) an inflamed gallbladder, which would have to be removed. Oh, little gallbladder! So unknown, unmentioned, and yet so very cruel when you want to act up.

Unfortunately, it also meant Peter couldn’t come home. He’d actually have to spend some nights in the hospital. Peter was lucid enough to realize he also wanted power for his electronics, a different book than the one I’d initially brought, and some toiletries before he got wheeled over. I went home again, and told Neil, who was still awake and worried, about the diagnosis.

When I returned, Peter had gotten another test, this one an ultrasound. In one night, he got every cool medical diagnostic test I know of, all at once! It revealed he had a HUGE gallstone. Massive! Unfortunately, this is still not sexy. He was getting some antibiotics pumped into him now, too. I sat with him until a room was found for him in the hospital, and an orderly arrived to wheel him (still on the bed) over to another wing. As we approached a set of doors which looked exactly like the ones gurneys fly through in the midst of a movie or TV gun battle, I asked the orderly  if he’d ever run with a gurney, but. no, our hospital is more the quiet suburban type with only one gun fight he could ever remember, and it was a really lame one at that. Indeed, it was eerily quiet through the halls, with nary a gurney race to be found.

Peter ended up in the poshest hospital room I have ever seen in my life. It was the four-star hotel room of hospital rooms. It only had one bed, a flat-screen TV, a white board on which he could express his thoughts and ideas, and an easy chair. And it had its very own private bathroom! When I was in a hospital in Germany, it was in a medieval ward with 20 other women, and the “bathroom” consisted of a bedpan you could empty yourself when you left. Even more recently, at an American HMO, the bathroom was a shared one, so we could all enjoy wading through each other’s blegh. It’s only one of my many reasons to hate being in a hospital, but I digress. To add to the poshness of it all, Peter could even turn off the light in his room, all the way, as well as close the room of his door, even though there was no noise to block out. And no, I don’t want to know how very much such luxurious accommodation costs, though I’m sure I’ll know in a few days when we get presented with a shocking bill.

I left Peter for the night in his fancy hospital room, and headed home, because it was now up to me to get Neil (and Kelly) up at 3 am for an early flight out of SFO. And that was how Psycho Saturday began.

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