In May of 2009, I had just turned 40. I also had the first real health scare of my life. I felt chest pain and it scared the heck out of me. What follows is the story of my very first personal visit to the emergency room.
I sat here waiting for my oldest daughter’s softball practice to be over…my mind kept telling me or rather was trying to find a way for me to punk out…I really didn’t want to go. Who does I guess?
Softball practice ended my wife came home; my mother in law came to watch the kids. “Where are you going Daddy?” my two youngest ask in unison. “Daddy’s going to the doctor”, my Wife says. Fortunately the answer is sufficient for their young curiosity.
I was all dressed and ready to go. I still didn’t want to make the journey. This body of mine was invincible I told myself. All my life, I have functioned on the premise that it would just need time for any injury to heal. It was my view that if I let a doctor interfere, they would jam up the works and then I would be in their trap forever. Well at least that’s how my mind works anyway. As if in answer my arm decides to ache.
Off to the hospital we go. The conversation in the van is light. Neither of us wants to entertain any scenario that involves blades shimmering in the bright lights of an operating theater, or long stays in rooms with uncomfortable beds and assorted tubing running over my body. We talk of our business and of future things like normal.
The drive to the hospital is a long one. I always have wondered why all of the hospitals in our fine city seem to be on the south side of town. The thought of additional travel time to be cured of my ills just makes me want to turn around and go home.
Finally we reach our destination. It is a sprawling complex of metal and glass and concrete that is the pinnacle of the health industry in Lincoln Nebraska. It is BryanLGH medical center. I have been here many times over the years, mostly for the joyous occasion of child birth. Of course our first child’s birth was not so joyous, but I push that out of my mind because the outcome in the end was a healthy wife, and our first child safe and happy.
The massive facility lay before us. We parked the van and walked up to the entrance. My deep sense of foreboding was growing as we got closer to the doors. “You wanna know what’s funny?” I utter looking at the doors getting closer. My wife just looks at me waiting for my response. “I feel normal for the first time in days.” my wife just grins with that ‘you are still doing this’ look.
Fortunately the route to the emergency room is easy to determine. Signs are plastered everywhere. Of course there are also signs plastered everywhere telling people to avoid coming to the hospital if they exhibit any flu-like symptoms. I smirk on the inside at the thought of a hospital instructing would be sick people to stay away. We reach the elevator and I press the up button.
The Emergency room is on the second floor. We take the elevator up one floor and then walk through a rat maze of corridors to reach our destination. “Well it’s lucky I’m not dying”, I utter sarcastically to my wife. She just rolls her eyes.
We reach the reception desk of the E.R. and as luck would have it run into someone that my wife knows. My wife’s acquaintance is there with her husband. He had broken his nose at a softball game. He is holding a towel to his face. Our gaze meets briefly. His expression is that of someone embarrassed by his current situation. I give a nod of knowing exactly how that feels. I feel like turning around and running away at that moment.
A nurse comes to the desk and asks what we are there for. I give her a brief run down of my affliction, which has decided to bail out on me at that time. As soon as I say the word “chest” her expression changes from one of quiet calm to one of instant action. She moves quickly from the desk to a bank of wheel chairs in an area behind us. She ushers me into a chair. I begin to mutter something about how far I had walked just to get here, but she retorted the usual line of hospital policy. There was no escaping it now.
The nurse wheeled me into a room full of technology and gadgets. The nerd in me was appraising all of this equipment. The scared kid in me wondered if this was going to hurt at all. It appeared to be a quiet night. I was there, the husband with a broken nose, and an elderly woman in the bay across from me who would later be admitted to the hospital with pneumonia that she had been battling since March 17th.
I was instructed to get up on the bed of the exam bay and remove my shirt. At this point 4 nurses descend on me to get all of the monitoring equipment on me. All I could think about at that moment was that four women had to gaze upon my pale fat exposed flesh. In reality they were simply doing a procedure that they had done a hundred times or more. I was no more than a piece of equipment to connect to their monitors.
My wife found a chair in the corner facing me. Her visage was calm and she was just taking it all in. If she had any fears her face did not reveal them. That was just one of the multitude of things that I loved about her, that calm ‘we can handle whatever comes’ attitude she always has.
While getting hooked up a multitude of questions were asked. Was I allergic to anything ‘NO’…taking any medications ‘NO’…smoke? ‘NO’, and so on. Medically speaking, I was very bland. The nurse asking me the questions filled in the information on her computer. Another nurse in the room inserted an I.V. line in my right hand. This intense flurry of activity lasted for about 10 minutes and then they were gone.
My wife and I made some small talk in the silence that followed. She was visibly tired. We had worked concessions at our local softball field the night before. It went late into the night, and this morning she had risen at 4am to go to work. I hoped for her sake that this wouldn’t be another terribly long night for her.
My attending nurse came in and introduced herself. Her name was Lori. She was a pleasant woman in her mid 30’s. Of course since she wasn’t present during the first volley of questioning she wanted me to tell the story again. I did, and she asked how I was feeling now, and I told her that actually I felt completely normal right now. She looked at me with her eyes looking through stylish glasses with an interested gaze. She got the TV remote and nurse call button and put them within reach and left the room at that point.
More waiting. My wife was now slouching in her chair. I apologized for making her night a long one again. She just smiled and said “It’s better to know for sure.”
The doctor came in, a chipper man, and asked me to retell the story of my pain. I did, and he listened attentively. He listened to my heart, and had me sit up so he could hear my breathing. He decided that it would be prudent to get some x-rays, and some blood work done. With that he was a blur of brown and yellow as he left the room. I found that combination of brown scrubs with a bright yellow t-shirt a very stark contrast to the drab colors of the room.
Next to arrive was the woman who would take my blood. She was a very nice girl in her mid to late 20’s. Her conversation was light and pleasant. She took four vials of the dark crimson liquid. I made a joke about her enjoying the blood. She gave a fake giggle of acknowledgment. No doubt she had heard a ton of vampire inspired humor.
Next up was the x-ray tech. Another younger person, this time a man. He escorts me to the room where they will hit me with radiation to understand my current malady. I joke that this is my first x-ray. The group of techs seems very surprised by this revelation. They take two shots. The first is with my back to the machine. The second was from the side. Each time I am amused to see them start the machine only to scurry away like mice.
I am ushered back to my room for more waiting. I regale my wife with the experience I just had. I tell her how funny it was to see the tech run away. She seems mildly amused, and tells me that making a living doing that and getting exposed to such radiation regularly probably wasn’t healthy.
Finally the doctor returns, and tells me that everything looks really good. All the tests reveal that my heart is healthy and that no heart attack seemed likely at this time. As if agreeing with the doctor my body feels completely normal now…other than some aches and pains from the various pokes I have received on this night. The doctor wishes me well and in another swift move is gone to work on another person. It is pretty late now, and activity has picked up in the emergency room.
A couple of nurses come in now. There is more paperwork to fill out, and instructions are given. I put my shirt back on now, and get up off the table. I feel great at this point. My wife looks very relieved, but at the same time quite tired.
We are released back to the world at large. The drive home is a quiet one. I am simply happy to have my status of invincibility returned to me. My wife is happy that she is getting ever closer to our bed where she finally find rest. After all another early morning is coming.