Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Emergency Room

A couple of weeks ago, for the first time in I have no idea how long, I decided to get on my stationary exercise bike. I won't go into all the reasons I hadn't been on it for so long, but if you've read some of the things I've written here, like this post, you can probably guess that they were illness-related.

But I've been feeling pretty good lately, so I thought I'd spend an easy half hour on the bike -- nothing intense, just some leisurely pedaling in front of a television. I was a little achy when I was through, but that didn't worry me. After not doing any kind of exercise for so long, I figured anyone would be a little achy and that I'd feel better in the morning.

I actually felt a little worse in the morning, but not so bad that I couldn't go to work. But just to be on the safe side, I brought my cane in case I needed it later.

I don't know what it was -- maybe all the long stretches of sitting -- but each time I stood up, I felt a little worse until I was in so much pain that I couldn't think, which is basically what I get paid to do. So I decided to go home, but I could barely walk either, and when I finally got to my car, I found that it was sort of hard to drive as well. I could move my foot back and forth between the gas pedal and the brake pedal, but since the brake pedal is just a tiny bit closer to the foot than the gas pedal, I had to lift my foot a little each time I needed to brake, and that was sort of painful.

If I were a wiser man, I probably would've had someone drive me home, but I managed to get home in one piece, and my car managed to get home in another piece, so between the two of us, we managed to get home in two pieces, which is exactly the way it should be.

But once I got home, I couldn't find a comfortable position. I couldn't stand, I couldn't sit, and I couldn't lie down without feeling intense pain. So I took some ibuprofen and I took a few Vicodin tablets that were left over from the last time I hurt my back, but they didn't do any good. For the record, I don't think Vicodin works on me at all. The last time I had some, I finished off most of the bottle and it didn't relieve the pain even the tiniest little bit. But you always used to hear about some celebrity or another who became addicted to Vicodin, which I could never understand until I decided that Vicodin probably only works on the rich and famous. That's my theory at least.

Anyway, I didn't look forward to the prospect of driving to the emergency room, especially since it entailed parking the car in a huge lot, from which the actual emergency room is a rather long walk. (To be fair, it's not that long a walk, but when you can barely take one step, any walk seems like a long walk.) But I needed medical attention that night, so I figured I'd better call an ambulance.

But I wasn't sure about how to do that. I knew I could call 911, but this wasn't an emergency, technically speaking -- it's not like my house was on fire or I was being attacked by rabid dogs. I figured I could get some paramedics to come over to the house, and maybe they could treat me right there with some pain killers, but I couldn't find "Paramedics" in the phone book.

So I called the local police department and asked them what to do. They told me I should call 911. "Even if it's not an emergency?" I asked and they said yes. So I called 911 and they asked me what was the nature of my emergency. I told them it wasn't really an emergency and then I explained the situation to them. They told me they'd notify the fire department, who would have an ambulance at my house in a few minutes.

A few minutes later I heard sirens blaring loudly in the night and a few seconds later the ambulance was at my house, along with a huge fire truck and some other very large vehicle. I guess it's standard procedure to send a fire truck, some other huge vehicle, and an ambulance -- all with sirens blaring -- when you report a non-emergency, but it was a little embarrassing for me, especially since I try to keep a low profile.

I'd left the door unlocked so they came into the house, picking me up and putting me on a gurney. It seemed like more and more people came into the house, even after I was on the gurney, and one of them was asking me all sorts of questions.

The only one I remember is, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you feeling right now?" I told him 9, since even though I was in a lot of pain, there were times when I've been in a lot more pain.

The next thing I knew they were wheeling me out of the house and into the ambulance, and about 15 minutes later I was in the emergency room.

Now, here's something you may not know. I'd heard it before and accepted it as true, but had never had the chance to verify it. If you drive to the emergency room, no matter how sick you are, you have to sit in the waiting room and fill out forms while you wait for your name to be called. But if you arrive by ambulance, they wheel you right into the emergency room with no waiting whatsoever. Once inside, though, I did have to wait a few minutes, because all the beds were filled, but fortunately I'd found a somewhat comfortable position on the gurney.

While I was waiting, somebody asked me the same "On a scale of one to ten" question, word for word the way the last person asked it. But this time I had a difficult time answering it. I said, "Well, right now, I don't feel all that bad because I'm in a somewhat comfortable position, but when I called the ambulance it was about 9."

Anyway, it feels like I'm taking way too long telling this story, so I'll just cover the highlights: When I met the doctor, she decided to give me an IV cocktail of morphine, Valium, and Vicodin. (At least that's what I think was in it. I'm sure about the morphine, but I've pretty much forgotten what the other ingredients were. It doesn't really matter. The important part was the morphine.) The IV didn't seem to do much for me, though, because when they wheeled me into another room to get an x-ray, I had to slide off the gurney and onto the x-ray table, which was a semi-major ordeal. After they wheeled me back to my room and the doctor told me my x-ray didn't show anything abnormal, she asked me how I felt and I told her about the same. So she gave me another IV. That one seemed to do the trick. She let me rest for a while, but I knew I'd have to find a way home, so I called a friend of mine, told her I was in the emergency room, and asked her if she could give me a ride home. (I don't know why that idea didn't occur to me when I needed a ride to the emergency room -- possibly because I was in so much pain that I couldn't think.) After a while, the doctor decided to write me a couple of prescriptions and discharge me, but before she did, she asked if I wanted another IV. I told her I didn't think I needed one, but she decided to give me one anyway and I couldn't think of any reason to object. When I was discharged, my friend was already waiting for me. I was groggy but feeling no pain, so walking to her car was no problem.

When I got home, I looked at the prescriptions. There was one for Vicodin and one for Valium, but nothing for morphine.

The drugs wore off by the time I woke up the next day, so I could feel some pain again, but I've been improving day by day and I think I'll be back to normal soon. I've been walking with a cane, but that's mostly to warn people to steer clear of me -- I seem to rely on it less and less.

But last week, I had an appointment with a different doctor for a different condition, and she asked me about the cane. I told her "This is proof that exercise is bad for you" and she agreed. At the time, I thought she understood I was just being wry and sardonic, but over the last few days, it's occurred to me that maybe she thought I was being serious.