This month, I have visited two different emergency rooms. One of them, I visited twice. The other? Once was more than enough, thank you very much.
Earlier this month, I drove down to South Carolina to visit my mama. Very soon after arriving, I started to feel sicker than had been the usual for a number of weeks. By late afternoon of my second day in South Carolina, my heart was racing to the point that I knew the tachycardia wasn't going away without some assistance.
It became very clear to me that, by pushing myself through acute illness for weeks, I had worn myself out. Also, I had not been eating well. Or drinking very much clear fluid. Or taking my beta blocker. And now I was going to the hospital.
I alerted mama, who said that I looked bad (in mama-speak, "bad" = you're probably going to expire soon) and we were on our way. Mama drove.
When we arrived at the emergency room, it was empty, and the mechanical doors whooshed us into a calm, pleasantly decorated area. There were large, flat screen TV's. There were plants. There was a triage area, where I was immediately invited to SIT DOWN (this will be important later). After hooking me up to a blood pressure cuff and clamping my finger with a heart rate monitor device, a young woman turned to a computer, and started to collect my information. She quickly printed out a ID bracelet, tagged me, and began to record basic information about my body - that my blood pressure was low (as always), that my temperature was low (as always), and that my heart rate was Sky High.
This bought me a one-way ticket straight back to holding.
A male nurse pushed me (did I mention I was in a wheelchair?) through a few sets of mechanically opened doors and into a much smaller, private, emergency room room. There was a bed and all sorts of medical equipment and drawers and shelves and, again, a television. The bed had a remote control for both the television and the nurse. There was a folded set of pajamas waiting on the bed for me. The bed was tilted up slightly, for my comfort.
I was asked to change into the pajamas, and a few minutes later, more nurses came by to collect blood and to hook me up to an EKG. Mama sat in a chair that was there for visitors.
Here's a funny part.
I was watching the nurse hook me up to the EKG, and I saw his eyes suddenly go wide. He asked, still bending closely over me, "Do you have any allergies?" He sounded kind of panicked. It took me one second, but then I realized what had happened.
"No. I have dermagraphia."
"What?" He was still leaning over me, his eyes still wide.
I looked him in the eye, and dead-panned again,
"I have dermagraphia."
He stood straight up and smiled.
"Looky." I said.
Then I drew a smiley face on my belly with my fingernail. It flared up red almost immediately.
The nurse smiled real big.
"Oh, we're going to have fun with this..."
Later, he sent in his nurse buddy to come check me out. The poor guy didn't know what to do. He walked in, went to a drawer, pulled it open like he was looking for something.
I said, "Are you here for the message?"
He said, very unsure, "I guess?" and stepped toward me.
I lifted up my shirt and showed him.
About twenty minutes later, my nurse's buddy was back with a new friend, who also looked, and pronounced himself "thoroughly entertained."
All of the nurses and staff were jovial, and concerned and personable. They joked with my mom, put me at ease, yet took my symptoms seriously. They checked on me often. I never felt like I was alone or ignored. The nurse who collected blood was patient with my tiny, moving veins and, rather than hurt me, took out the needle and tried for another vein. She was very soothing, for a blood sucker. All around, I felt, in a phrase, cared for.
My heart rate was in the 160's, I was a bit scared and entirely miserable, but despite that, the experience - with the notable exception of walking into a Wall o' Stink left behind in the bathroom by what looked to be a prison inmate on medical leave from whom I think I caught the case o' shits I suffered immediately after leaving the hospital - was pleasant.
Which is good, because about nine hours later, around one in the morning, I had to go back.
That experience was, again, as pleasant as a wee-hour trip to the emergency room can be. Entirely different staff, different personalities, but still very pleasant - a place you wouldn't mind going if you were in an emergency kind of way.
Now. On the other hand...
This past Thursday, back in North Carolina, alone in my apartment, after a tasty evening snack, I started to feel that odd sort of anxiety mixed with fatigue that means my heart rate is up. I ignored it, thinking maybe I was just sleepy and feeling bad. I kept on ignoring it until I could ignore it no longer. I put my fingers to my neck and, sure enough, my heart was doing double time.
In case you can't imagine, let me inform you that, even if you have a chronic illness that means this happens all the time, it's still not fun when it happens. It makes you very anxious, your heart going that fast, especially when you are alone, as I was.
For about twenty minutes, I went through the debate with myself that is should-I-or-shouldn't-I go to the ER? Should I drive myself? I have to drive myself. Can I drive myself? Am I going to pass out? Am I going to die? Are my pets going to eat me? Will they dial 9-1-1?
So, around 11pm, I drove myself to the ER up here in North Carolina.
And walked into an entirely different experience than what I had had down with my mom.
First of all, I had to walk through a metal detector.
I was greeted by two security officers, one of whom shoved a small plastic container toward me, the purpose of which I intuited was to put into it any metal objects I might have on my person. I threw in my keys, handed my pocket book over, and when I asked if I needed to take off my coat, it was affirmed that they would need to perform as close as they could get to a strip search before letting me into the building proper.
Finally, after my coat got a thorough pat down and I was given my things, I walked toward the registration area.
I was not invited to sit down. In fact, I was not greeted in any formal fashion. I was looked at, blankly.
I told the women - I wasn't sure to which to address myself as, again, neither had greeted me - that I have a condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, and that my heart rate had gone up that evening, and that I had been unable to get it down.
The woman behind the desk seemed, at best, bored, if not irritated.
AS I STOOD THERE, she began to collect contact information. She made no attempt to collect any further medical information other than what I had just given her. She started gathering papers for me to sign. I answered her questions as best I could for a few seconds, then I announced that I was lightheaded, and must sit down.
The other woman came from behind the desk, very slowly, and walked around casually looking for a wheelchair.
I say wheelchair, but what she rolled up to me looked like some kind of contraption from a 1930's mental hospital. It was something you'd expect to ride on your way to electro-convulsive shock therapy.
In any case, I was in it, and then I was WHEELED BACK UP TO THE DESK TO CONTINUE ANSWERING QUESTIONS ABOUT WHERE I LIVE AND TO SIGN PAPERS.
Even after stooping over, near passing out, no attempt was made to immediately collect vital information, such as my blood pressure, or heart rate.
Finally, after signing my name a few times to papers that, in my vision at the time, were blurry, I was wheeled to a triage area, where I was finally hooked up to a heart rate monitor and a blood pressure cuff. Upon those readings, I was hooked up to an EKG. The woman who performed these tasks had an air of giving exactly less than two shits about my health. She might as well have been basting a chicken.
After that, I was wheeled over to another room for the interview portion of the evening. This nurse was a bit more pleasant. I started to feel a bit more at ease. I looked at the computer screen, which prompts the questions the nurse was asking, and read one of the questions: "Is the patient dying?" He didn't ask me. He clicked "No."
But in any case, I wasn't with him long because he wheeled me back over to the two-shits triage woman. He wheeled me right up next to another patient in order to wait to have blood work done. I said a bashful "Hi," because I was literally two inches away from being in this man's lap. He was there waiting on someone, a woman who was in with the two-shits triage woman.
Next, it was my turn, and again I was handled like a chicken being tied for the oven.
She remarked that my veins were tiny, then she shoved a needle in and held it there and held it there and held it there, for several minutes, while my terrified life force leaked out with all the cooperation of a toddler that isn't getting its way. She got two vials, then said she'd have to try again, unless I wanted to wait until I got "back there."
Um, back there. Please.
So she wheeled me "back there."
"Back there" turned out to be a room, in a circle of other rooms that surrounded a den of nurses, doctors, chaos. The room I was wheeled into smelled heavily of window cleaner. Not necessarily disinfectant, but of window cleaner. Like ammonia. Which is disconcerting. I don't exactly want pansy-fresh, but this smell was noxious. And fresh. Noxious-fresh. Like someone had quick cleaned up after a murder.
I was asked to change into The Pajamas and about to be hooked up to a monitor when I realized that I was going to have to use the bathroom. I asked Two-Shits about it, and she got me a cup. I went off to the bathroom, and when I came back, she was gone. I never saw her again.
I sat down on the bed in my regular clothes, with my cup of pee, and waited.
Soon, a doctor came in, and I explained my symptoms. He seemed friendly, pleasant.
Next, a nurse came in and took my blood. Expertly. She said I had a big vein in my wrist. It was no problem.
Then, a woman came in and said she was taking me down to get a chest x-ray. She asked if there were any possible way I could be pregnant. I said no, but I had a shocked or scared or worried look on my face on account of Why were they doing a chest x-ray?, so I don't think she believed me.
She wheeled me back to get the chest x-ray, where again I got lightheaded. A tiny, tiny youth of an x-ray technician got behind me and informed me that she had me. If I hadn't been so lightheaded, I would've informed her that the only thing she was going to have was my ass laying on top of her because there was no way she was going to be able to catch me or hold me up with her tiny, tiny self. Still, both x-ray techs were entirely pleasant.
When I got back to my room, I was closed up in it. Alone. With the door closed. All I could see was the four walls of the small, smelly room. The gurney they were using for a bed was uncomfortable. I was in my regular clothes. I'd had blood drawn. The bandages were pulling my skin. I was scared. I could tell that I was going to end up going crazy pants if left alone, locked up in this tiny room by myself and a heart condition much longer. I wasn't hooked up to a monitor. How would they know if I were crashing, or dying, or had collapsed, or was going through all the drawers collecting cotton swabs and tongue depressors to take home with me?
So I got up, opened the door, and walked out into the area where all the nurses and doctors are. A nurse saw me, the nurse who had expertly drawn my blood, and approached. I told her that I knew it sounded crazy, but that I was alone, in a hospital, alone, and that I was scared, and could I please just open the door so that I could see people?
She didn't have a problem with that.
So, she opened the door, and I continued to sit on the gurney in my regular clothes, unattached to any monitor, and wait.
About an hour after producing the specimen, someone came and took my cup of pee from the counter and took it to be tested.
The result of the whole thing was that my heart rate went down on its own, I wasn't pregnant, and that I could leave. They'd give me fluids if I wanted them, but I could just go home and drink water.
I got the hell out of there.
Two states, two cities, two ER's, two drastically different experiences.
I've got to get the hell out of here.