Tuesday, July 10, 2007

One Night in the ER (Part 1)

What a week.

A week's worth suffering from nausea and general abdominal discomfort came to a climax Saturday night when the pain decided to centralize its location down near my right hip. Right over my appendix. Where it proceeded to get worse.

By 8 am, the constant, searing pain was doing a Rich Little worthy imitation of having a heated steel tipped spear protruding from my gut, and had become so unbearable I finally conceded I should get it checked out. So off to the ER we went, praying we'd get there during the downtime after all the Saturday night drunken bar fight survivors are cleaned up and released but before people start having heart attacks following a huge Sunday after church dinner laden with rich, fatty food.

The on-island hospital is always overcrowded and understaffed, so even though we'd hoped to get right in it took us three hours just to get through the triage and another hour and a half to be taken back to a room. One of the reasons for the delay in being seen was that the hospital was full, which meant that patients who were already admitted to the hospital had remain in one of the ER's 16 beds until a bed became available upstairs in the main hospital. There were already 21 people stacked up before I was called back, so I was packed onto a gurney and, with the aid of axle grease, a shoehorn and a physicist, wedged into an elevator sized cubicle next to its previous occupant.

I had no idea when I rolled in and saw her puffing deeply on a steaming nebulizer that the older woman, with skin the color of the most expensive finely polished brown leather and eyes that sparkled like 10 carat diamonds, would be one of the most incredible people I've ever met.

As I predicted, the doctor on call -- already quite wary of me as he one of the victims of my previous battle to avoid being admitted and had taken quite a verbal beating when sent to tell me that bad news -- ordered blood work, urine tests and an ultrasound of my abdomen. To my great relief, the sonogram of my appendix was 100% normal, confirmed on the spot by the radiologist who was called in to verify the technician's findings. All possibility of an appendicitis and emergency surgery was eliminated when the blood results came back and revealed that my white blood cell count was also normal.

However, the rest of the blood results and urine tests failed to bring good news: they showed I had yet another urinary tract infection and worse, the sodium and potassium levels in my blood were dangerously low. Because low blood salts can cause brain damage and even death, it was decided that I should be admitted to the hospital to receive IV treatments to boost these levels. I agreed to a compromise of staying overnight in the ER (not that I would have left there to go upstairs if admitted with all of the hospital rooms filled) and see if the IV treatment solved the problems before agreeing to an all-out hospital admission.

So they started my IV, gave me an antibiotic, ordered a culture to see what specific nasty bug had invaded my body, and settled me into my tiny little cubicle with the ugly hospital green walls and hideous green poly-blend draw curtain that was supposed to provide privacy. And there I waited, hoping that both the hours until morning would count down and my blood electrolyte levels would go up quickly.

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