That 5+ hour trip to the Emergency room last night

Last night around 6:30 I went to the Emergency room at Royal Columbian. I left shortly before midnight. This might sound like the beginning of a horror story, but it’s actually rather mundane.

I have a cold right now. It started with a tickle in my throat Monday afternoon and evolved into full sore throat/stuffed and/or runny sinuses and coughing since then.

The cold is not why I went to the Emergency room, it was jut an added bonus.

Yesterday morning I awoke to a soreness in my mid-back that felt like I’d been kicked by a horse. Not an accidental kick, either, one where the horse was feeling aggrieved and seeking revenge. I took some Tylenol (and DayQuill for the cold), but by late afternoon it was persisting. I should go to the clinic, I thought. But I delayed, had supper and finally decided I couldn’t ignore it, and by then all of the walk-in clinics were closed, so I had to go to Emergency.

It’s convenient. That’s where the happy part of this ends.

Upon seeing that the check-in area was full, I knew I was not exactly going to be in and out.

Just over half an hour after checking in, I was called to the second station, where I answered a few questions and had my temperature and blood pressure taken. I was not told the results, so I figured they were normal or normal-ish. I sat back down.

The two people I remember most clearly were a man likely in his 50s (not me) with a scruffy beard and one of those always-shouting kind of voices, so whenever he said anything, everyone within a hundred meters could hear. This is how I found out he had some kind of steel in his eye and he wanted to get it out. He chatted with several other people and would sometimes wander off for awhile, then come back and chat some more, his jokes and commentary ringing out like machine gun fire.

He seemed defeated, though, by the barfing girl. An older couple brought in a young girl, perhaps three years old. Cute kid. I looked over and whatever she had eaten earlier began burbling out of her mouth. Then it sluiced out. Then I stopped looking over that way. They got a cute little blue barf pouch for her, but I think it was probably too late. They left for awhile, presumably to clean her up. I didn’t find out why she was throwing up because they spoke in normal tones. The girl herself seemed very chill about the whole thing. I’ve never seen anyone so casually vomit.

Another half hour passed–it was now about 7:41 p.m.–when a nurse came along and took me aside to get a blood sample. This was new, but since I’m fine with blood being taken if I don’t fast for 16 hours first, no big deal. She did a remarkably good job of getting the needle in. Today you can barely see the mark. I was sent back to the check-in area with a taped-down piece of gauze on my right arm.About 40 minutes later I am finally moved to triage, which is as full as check-in. I find a seat near the end and fiddle around on the phone, watching the battery slowly diminish. Most of the people here have no immediately identifiable cause for being here, which is a relief. The girl sitting to my right asks if it’s cold or if she’s dying. That’s not exactly what she said, but she spoke very softly. I told her it sure wasn’t warm, which was true. She talked a bit about why she was there. Something about her eye. I nodded and smiled, hopefully in the right places.

At 9:34 p.m.–almost an hour later– I am finally taken to an exam room, where I am told to take off my shirt and put on a gown. This is later revealed to serve no purpose. The nurse asks some questions, takes my temperature an blood pressure again, but this time she notes that my blood pressure is a little high. I have mystery pain in my back, am suffering from a bad cold and have already been here for three hours, so yes, my blood pressure is a little high. She shrugs it off and laves.

Nearly an hour later, the doctor arrives and after a few questions, gives me a bottle to pee in. As it turns out, I really had to go, so this is convenient.

I have to wait for someone who seems to take a very long time in the one available washroom. I don’t want to know why he is taking so long. I go in, provide a generous sample, put it on a napkin on the sample table, then return to triage. It is now 10:46 p.m.

About 45 minutes later the doctor comes by to tell me the blood test looks fine, and there is no sign of infection in the urine. All good! But there is a tiny bit of blood in the urine (the amount is too small to be visible). He says this could be due to being older (he is a young doctor and at least he says “older” and not “old”) or a sign of a kidney stone. I am told to wait (ho ho) for someone to give me a form for an ultrasound, after which I will consult with my doctor over the results.

I get the form and leave. It is 11:37 p.m. I get home a few minutes before midnight and eat a Clif Bar because I’m hungry and in a bad mood.

Today I schedule an ultrasound for 3:15 p.m. tomorrow. I am told to drink three cups of water an hour before and to not pee them out until after the ultrasound. The test is conveniently at Royal Columbian. Less conveniently I will be at work, so I will have to leave early.

What’s funny in retrospect is how I didn’t flip out or go squirrelly with how long it took. I think I just knew going in and accepted it. Also, there was only one crying baby, briefly, in the background.

But the next time I feel compelled to get a health issue checked out ASAP, I am not waiting until the walk-in clinics have closed. That, or I’m taking a laptop next time and writing half a novel while I wait.

The wonder of modern drugs

Yesterday my ex-tooth was causing me no end of misery in the form of a constant sharp pain in my upper jaw. It was the kind of thing where if you thought about it, if you concentrated on it, you could make it worse, get it to really start throbbing. Doing the opposite, focusing on getting into a Zen-like state of calm, would minimize it, but at best it would become a constant background thing, kind of like someone mowing the lawn outside your window, except they inexplicably do it for the entire day without taking breaks.

I was given two things to help with the ex-tooth. Tylenol 3 for the pain–remember, Tylenol 3 is not like the over-the-counter version. It’s a narcotic and enough of it can make you quite silly. The other was the antibiotic to combat the infection. I was given a T3 and an Alleve tablet before leaving the hospital, then took the antibiotics about half an hour later, after getting the prescription made.

Within half an hour of that, the pain was gone. Not just blunted, but essentially gone. The area around the ex-tooth is tender and sore, but the actual pain is gone. Today I’ve been continuing to take the antibiotics, but no T3s, and the pain is still gone.

It’s actually a little unnerving how effective the drugs have been. It makes me wonder how often they are used to similar effect for more nefarious purposes. Mostly I’m just glad we have medicine that can do this kind of stuff, because trying to distract myself from pain is something I can only manage about 50% of the time. I’m like a half-monk. One moment I’m in deep contemplation, the next I’m distracted by my own weird train of thought, like “Don’t think about the pain, you’ll only make it worse. Oh, I’m thinking about it right now, aren’t I? Yes, I told you not to do that. Right, I’ll stop. Okay, I’m thinking about kittens now, not the pain. You know, that constant ticking pain in my jaw. I mean kittens. Adorable kittens. I am not thinking about the pain I just described. I am full of lies.”

Anyway, Tylenol 3 and antibiotics are my new best friends this week.

Next week, back to kittens.

The No Kidding Department: Hospitals are depressing

Earlier this week I accompanied Jeff to the emergency room of Royal Columbia Hospital. His ankle was hurting and swollen up like the proverbial balloon, so we went in to have it checked out. Previous appraisals had made a tentative diagnosis of tendinitis and the recommendation to not do anything that would impact the foot (running, etc.) I figured we’d be there for a good while but the emergency room was actually only sparsely populated. It turned out that didn’t matter, as we were there for three hours, anyway.

The first section — the emergency room proper — had a few people with fairly obvious ailments — a woman with her arm in a cast, a man on a gurney wearing a neck brace, while others were harder to pin down — a fussy baby, a young woman carting an IV drip alongside her. The man on the gurney complained of being bored but had four people other than his wife hunkered around him. The discussion was vague but ominous, with talk of blood and such, though none was apparent from where I sat. They eventually wheeled him off.

As we continued to wait, more people were taken past us, many of them heavyset, all of them looking either ill or bored or both. One gurney would be rolled through slowly, another more urgently. We were eventually moved to the ‘minor condition’ section to wait for an x-ray to be done. While there we heard a woman off in another room repeatedly cry out “Ow!” and “Oh!” It sounded like they were murdering her with pins. I started feeling a little squirmy at this point but she eventually fell silent as they either completed the testing/probing or she fainted/died.

She was later wheeled out into the same section as us, an elderly woman who said she had to keep her feet up and yelled at an intern “Don’t touch my finger!” as he tried to move her from a wheelchair that was sans footrest to one that had one. She apologized to him for the outburst then spent the rest of her time repeatedly asking to use someone’s cellphone, as hers had died. I don’t recall her actually making a call despite being handed a phone several times. She was eventually wheeled off and we heard from her no more. This provided some comfort as she was the only patient there actively screaming.

By this time Jeff was taken for x-rays and I went out to feed the maw of the meter in the emergency parking lot, also known as ‘How we keep the hospital solvent by charging the equivalent of a mortgage payment for 3 hours of parking’. There are handy green arrows on the floor to lead you from one section to another, so I would have no problem making my way back in. This was good as every corridor looked the same and equally depressing to me. As it turned out, the green arrows split at one point and I became utterly confused, finding myself in a room I did not recognize, one that was filled with beds and very sick-looking people and curtains that should have been closed but were not so you could see things you didn’t want to see. I turned around a few times and realized why so hospitals are such a great setting for thrillers and horror movies. I made my way back to Jeff in time to look at the x-ray and see the fractured bone in his ankle. The diagnosis was a plaster cast for the day, an appointment with a specialist the next day and probable replacement with a Fiberglas cast in a few days that would be worn for 5-6 weeks, with the fun bonus possibility of surgery if the healing didn’t proceed as desired. Jeff was understandably less than thrilled.

The diagnosis was later changed to an air cast that could be removed for sleeping/showering, with surgery unlikely, so things ended up looking better than they were originally.

About the only thing I liked at the hospital was the Tim Horton’s apple fritter I bought in the coffee shop. We shared it and it was yummy. Other than that, I can’t say I’m anxious to step in one again any time soon. Those places are enough to make you sick.