August 10, 2011

A Kick in the Head, Part 2

A continuation of a prior blog post, "A Kick in the Head."

I had no sense of what was happening around me. I was dreaming about...something. But someone was yelling the numbers "4-5-8!" and the word "Breathe!"

What was going on?

I opened my eyes and saw someone standing really closely over me. I didn't know who it was. I didn't know where I was.

I closed them again.

And then I heard my name - "Sandi! Breathe!" I might've heard it before. I might not have known it was my name.

I opened my eyes again but all I could see was the pair of glasses on Michelle's face. Had I fallen asleep? Was I drunk? Where was I? Where was I supposed to be?

And then it hit me: I'd passed out.

And then I started moaning.

I think I'd been moaning before; I think hearing my own moaning was part of what woke me up. (As a sick child, my own sickness-induced whimpering would often wake me up in the middle of the night.) I placed my hands on each side of my face, pressed into my temples, and tried to stop moaning, but I couldn't.

"Oh God," I said. "What happened?" I don't know why I asked. I was pretty sure I knew.

Michelle was still yelling, at me or on the phone I'm not sure, because I couldn't understand anything she was saying.

"Don't call an ambulance," I begged.

"I already did!" she exclaimed.

"Oh God I don't have insurance, oh God...I passed out?" Michelle nodded. "Was I shaking?"

"Not at first but then, yeah." I expected it: I'd also had convulsions a lot as a kid, worrisome enough to send me in for two EEGs to diagnose epilepsy or some other neurological malfunction. They didn't find one, but the convulsions continued, for some reason.

Michelle then explained that she'd heard me moaning, called out for me, and when I didn't answer, came into my office to check on me. She found me turned around in my chair, slumped over the heater behind me. When she sat me up, I wasn't breathing, my face reddening. That's when the shaking began.

Listening to her description of me, watching her imitation of me, I was confused. I was terrified. And I was sweating.

The EMTs arrived quickly, asked for my ID and insurance card first, then checked my vitals, pricked my thumb to test my blood sugar, asked me some questions, and then offered to take me to the hospital. I told them to go away, that I would just go home and recuperate, that Michelle would drive me and that I would be fine.  I might've seemed coherent, but I was in no shape to make any decisions about anything. But they took me at my word, and left my office to complete their paperwork. Michelle left to retrieve her car keys, and I was alone in front of the computer, trying to shut it down.

I still couldn't really see anything. I couldn't process what had just happened. I couldn't remember Michelle grabbing me or shaking me. I couldn't remember screaming or gasping for air when I came to.

"Michelle?" I called out, successfully this time.

"She went outside," one of the EMTs said.

"Oh, um, can I change my mind? Can I come with you guys?"

A pause. "Sure."

So I collected my purse, my phone, my tote bag, and rose to my feet. "Don't get the gurney. I can walk," I proclaimed.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Michelle asked, when the EMTs told her I was coming with them after all.

"No, I'm fine, you can stay here," I said. I was in no shape to make decisions, and for some reason I refused to accept any help.

I walked outside into the sun, stepped up into the side of the fire department ambulance, its air conditioning vent blowing onto my forehead too hard and too cold, and lay down on the gurney, to be securely strapped in.

I'd been here, in the back of an ambulance, once before: three weeks into my first job in the music industry at Atlantic Records. I'd eaten my lunch outside, and suffered an onset of abdominal pain that was all to familiar to me, attacks of which I'd survived throughout high school and college, all undiagnosed. I crawled up on a bench in the public plaza across the street, hoping it would subside, and when it didn't, returned to the office. My boss was at lunch, so I went to the receptionist and asked if there was someplace I could go lie down. I explained my symptoms, and after she unsuccessfully tried to reach the company nurse and company doctor (the perks of working for Time Warner), called Fastcare, the ambulance company.

"Don't call an ambulance..." I begged, out of embarrassment and fear, but she looked at me and said, "You're pale, and you're sweating. I'm calling an ambulance."

So the new girl at work got carted away on a gurney, down the elevator, out the front door, in front of all her new coworkers returning from lunch, gawking curiously at the spectacle.

In the back of that ambulance, it felt like we were careening through Manhattan traffic, stopping and starting with a jolt, every bump and jostle making my pain worse. Those EMTs murmured something about my appendix, but assured me I would be all right, and that we would be there soon. It felt like it took forever to get to St. Luke's Roosevelt, but it took even longer for me to actually get a bed and be seen by a doctor in their emergency room, full of gunshot victims, drug addicts, screaming patients, and overwhelmed nurses and orderlies.

I spent 10 hours in that ER that day in 1997, with no diagnosis to show for it, and still an aching belly.

On Monday, once again being transported by ambulance, I was prepared for the worst, but Cedars is only about a half mile from work, so we arrived quickly and without incident.

But once we arrived, I was prepared to spend the next 10 hours there, like I had last time...

...To be continued...

To read Part 1, click here.

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