Wednesday, April 16, 2008

ER < Fun

Before anyone gets worried, everybody here at Steingruebl World Enterprises is just fine. What follows here is a bit of a rant, probably colored a bit by the colors of the bruises on my arms and sleep deprivation.

As loyal readers are aware, I've had some abdominal issues in my time. When I started feeling funky this weekend, I pretty well ignored it until things started feeling alarmingly like my previous hernia experiences. The plan was to mail my doctor first thing Tuesday morning, and see what she recommended. Then, I came down with the flu. Not even a bad version, but enough to send me looking for blankets and a hot water bottle. Mailed the doctor when I finally roused myself to pick Elise up from preschool that afternoon.

Anybody spot the mistake yet? Crawl out from under those blankets and stifle that nausea long enough to write early in the day, not later!

Because, as veteran hernia sufferers know, fever and nausea can be the flu or they can be an incarcerated hernia that could kill you pretty quickly. I was pretty convinced I had the flu, so I didn't give it a second thought until I read the mail back from my doctor that requested I be seen immediately if I had any sort of a fever or nausea. The main problem here is that I read this at around 6:30pm, and was therefore beyond hope of getting in to the after-hours clinic.

After being chastised by the advice nurse for not seeking medical care over the weekend, we called a friend to come stay with Elise and Andy took me to the ER. I was advised to not eat or drink before going, which is pretty crummy for someone with the flu if you think about it. We got there at a little after 9pm.

Several hours into our little visit, I met the doc who promptly demanded several vials of blood and a CT scan, just to make sure that there would be no liability issues if I were to walk out of the door. Because clearly I was more dehydrated and exhausted than anything else at this point.

I have little veins. Itty bitty ones that go deep underground when I've been feverish and without water for 5 hours. One nurse tried twice. The next nurse tried twice and threatened to send in a doctor to run a central line if I didn't stop crying and produce a decent vein. The next nurse tried another two times, and happily by the second time she struck pay-dirt. The nice thing about the painful punctures on my hands is that they don't seem to have bruised. I'm going to be wearing long sleeves for the next few weeks to avoid scaring people, though.

By now, it was 2:30am and Andy was exhausted. He headed for home to relieve our friend and to get a few hours of sleep before Elise woke. (She got up early this morning, the little darling.) I got to drink some foul stuff to help with the impending CT scan, and was in danger of having to drink more of it because there was some sort of lunch-break related delay. The tech was a fantastically nice (and funny!) guy, though I wasn't very good at keeping up my end of the conversation by 6:30am. I was told that I should hear from the doctor in about an hour.

At about 7:30am, the new shift was in evidence and my new nurse introduced herself by offering me all of the food, water and painkillers that I was told all night long I couldn't have. When I explained that I'd been told I wasn't allowed until test results were back, her response was, "Oh, probably not then. Okay-call me if you need anything."

At about a quarter to 8, the new doctor assigned to me came in to tell me that everything looked completely normal, and they'd ruled out any life-threatening reasons for the pain, swelling etc. I'd been experiencing. That was good to hear. Of course, they didn't have any answers as to what was going on but apparently that sort of diagnosis is beyond the scope of the ER's duties so I can't complain too much. The thing that made me so mad that all I could do was let the tears stream down my face was that this guy then proceeded to speculate that a fluid-filled cyst they found on an ovary might be my problem. He then went on to describe how ovaries work, because clearly there was no way I'd have any idea about that. Especially after I'd just told him that I get these regularly, they go away, and they've never ever caused even remotely similar symptoms previously. It felt to this tired, bruised, hungry woman like the biggest cop-out in the world. "No idea, ma'am. Probably related to your girly-parts though. If you weren't so dumb, you wouldn't have had to spend the night here. Try to get it right next time."

Two minutes later, the discharge nurse came in to take out my IV and instruct me to call my GYN in the next few days. I wobbled outside at a little after 8am to wait on a bench in the sun for Andy and Elise to pick me up.

So, I'm a little grouchy about this whole experience. I've learned a few things, though, so maybe it wasn't a complete loss.

4. Medical professionals are trained to respond to key words when they assess you for ER admittance. Once you're there, they kinda treat everyone like a two-bit hypochondriac so don't take it personally. The way the place has to be run from an administration (and liability) standpoint just makes that part of the experience.

3. For people with small veins, being a good doobie and following the standard instructions about not drinking water is dangerous. Chances are that unless you're in acute distress and passed out, you're not going into surgery for several hours. Make the blood-draw and IV insertion less traumatic for everyone by staying hydrated.

2. Bring a book, blanket, pillow. You will wait. Heck, the heart patient with a BP that indicated he should be dead already, who was puking and looked about to lose consciousness was in the waiting room for at least 3 hours that I saw.

1. The ER is absolutely the last place anyone should ever go looking for medical care. It's triage only, "care" is not part of the equation. When you realize that millions of Americans use emergency rooms as their only available medical treatment, it becomes glaringly obvious that our nation's current "health care system" is a human rights problem. We have got to quit punishing people for some imagined failure of character that prevents them from having affordable basic care. And, it's not just "poor people" either-private insurance premiums just keep getting higher. I ended up at the ER by choice and with good insurance, and that was bad enough.


Anonymous said...

I once got stuck in the ER for over 18 hours--yikes. Between that and my job in a hospital, I am never going to get sick ever again.

Hope you're feeling better, and sending lots of happy thoughts.

Niki Naeve said...

I got nauseous just hearing about hte vein issue. How did you keep from passing out? Thet's certainly what i would have done.