Friday Night, ER, NYC
The EMS guys arrived quickly after Howie’s hysterical 911 call. Perhaps they were kind and patient, but i was in no condition to acknowledge that at the time. They did not wear masks, but I didn’t complain. I’d been in pain for hours and extreme pain for over an hour. They lifted me onto a stretcher/chair. I may have screamed. The pain in my abdomen was one long labor contraction with no remission, no time to breathe. I may have screamed again when they “eased” me on to the stretcher. They weren’t allowed to give me anything for the pain until the cause was diagnosed by a doctor. One of them told me it might be my appendix as my lower abdomen was warm to the touch.
Mt. Sinai is only 20 blocks from my house. I’d never been in an ambulance, let alone one with the siren blasting. I couldn’t appreciate it. I could only hope to survive the bumps.
I got nothing to ease the pain from the EMS, nothing in the ER, nothing when I was moved to the annex ER. My Lamaze breathing technics from forty years ago had kicked in but they were no help. I huffed and puffed. I hoped Dr. Lamaze died a painful death. I moaned and willed the pain to stop. I looked forward to losing consciousness. Aren’t you supposed to lose consciousness in such pain? It didn’t happen. I was stuck in a fetal position in the center of a world of pain.
No one paid attention to me in the ER and I could hear snatches of why, as we were packed stretcher to stretcher. Someone pulled their IV out. A nurse asked someone else, “Have you hurt anyone? Do you have an urge to hurt yourself? Another nurse talked frantically on a cell phone, begging someone to let his mother stay in the hospital overnight. “She needs observation and tests.” A woman (not me) screamed. I clung to the bars of the stretcher, trying to blow away the pain, rarely opening my eyes.
After five excruciating hours, I realized I was no longer blowing as hard. I was panting. I opened my eyes to a wall clock that read, seven thirty. Was the pain decreasing? Seven forty-five I stretched one leg out, stretched the other. I sat up carefully. Could I trust that it was gone? Or was this the eye of the storm and my appendix would burst like Fourth of July fireworks.
I had no shoes, no phone, no glasses, only the plastic hospital bracelet for ID (which I couldn’t read without my glasses). The pain had passed and two young female doctors finally arrived. I attempted to describe the agony of the last five hours. Why was I apologetic that it had subsided—I looked around me.
“Sounds like you may have passed a kidney stone,” one of the doctors said. “Have you seen any blood in your urine? Or stool?”
“No, but it’s not like I look…”
She gave me a cup to pee in. She told me some particles might be visible. I tried to see, but without my glasses there was no chance.
I made my way back through the maze of stretchers, clutching the cup of pee, sat on my stretcher and tried to think…there was no way to get ahold of my husband. I had no idea which of several doors in the ER might be an exit, and which might lead me into the maze of hospital corridors where I might wander endlessly. Was escape conceivable without shoes? Surely someone had accomplished it in the long history of Mt. Sinai. But what about my panicked husband waiting…somewhere out there.
I looked about me. On my left was an east Indian woman, barely conscious, swathed in silken sari. She was beautiful. To my right was a Muslim woman, exotic dark face peeking out of a stylish hijab, clothed in meticulous fashion. We nodded and gave each other compassionate smiles. I looked down at myself. I had on a bright red and grey calico shirt, red and grey striped socks. I’d worn jeans in the morning, but when my stomach started to hurt I put on an old pair of faded grey petal pushers. I looked like “Where’s Waldo.” And I remembered that had on my “laundry day” underwear. Oh my god!
A woman came to register me, but I couldn’t read the forms without my glasses. She patiently read me the questions: address, phone, next of kin. Health care? “You have to find my husband,” I told her.
“You have to sign these forms,” she said.
There were several. In the end, I couldn’t make her read them to me…I just signed where she pointed.
I held up the cup of pee clutched in my hand. “Who do I give this to?”
“Someone will come for it.”
A tall hairless young man came to insert an IV. “My name is Sol,” he said. We chatted while he carried out the procedure and I learned it was his first day. Luckily my skin is thin and my veins prominent (I never thought I’d be thankful for this peculiarity). Blood was removed. Nothing was put in but the needle and wires had to remain “in case,” Sol told me. I was no longer a “wireless Waldo.” I held up the pee cup. “Do you take this?”
“Someone will come.”
I watched nurses attend to the agonies of others. I was too embarrassed to complain. Finally my husband appeared. He brought my phone and a bag he’d packed for my hospital stay. I eagerly went through the bag. I found three jackets, a bottle of water, my wallet (with health care cards, thank god) a pair of green shoes that brought my outfit up to the status of “clown-Waldo with wires attached,” and no glasses.
Someone came for the pee.
After a long while, the two female doctors returned. They were young and attractive. like actresses’ on TV medical dramas. I’m sure it hadn’t been long since they’d read “Where’s Waldo.”
They told me they saw no blood in the urine, no particles. All I needed was an x-ray and I could go home. A handsome young man in pink sneakers wheeled me up to x-ray.
Finally a young man took me in for a chest x-ray. “But the pain was in my lower abdomen.”
“The order is for a chest x-ray.” He looked at his papers and seemed concerned. I knew I might be in for a longer wait if he checked, so I said, “Just do it; it’s OK.”
Back in the ER, my son had changed places with my husband. Thank goodness it was Travis that was there for the discharge. He knew what questions to ask, took photos of forms they didn’t give me, carried the heavy bag of jackets. He was calm and capable.
I waved to the Muslim woman, still on her stretcher. The Indian woman was asleep. Neither had anyone with them yet.
Travis and I had a fine time teasing Howie about the three jackets and no glasses. And Travis stayed to entertain us with stories about the grandkids first weeks of school while I ate buttered toast. When he left at midnight, I took a shower and tried to sleep, but that wasn’t happening.
The next morning, I logged into my Mt. Sinai portal (with much effort) and read through my record and test results. It wasn’t conclusively established that it had been a kidney stone. I remembered the glamorous doctors telling me that if it had been a stone, there might be more.