August 11, 2011

A Kick in the Head, Part 3


Luckily for my pride, my EMTs wheeled me into the ER on the gurney sitting upright, chair-style. I felt like a woman in labor, and then laughed when the admitting nurse asked me if there was any chance I could be pregnant.

Sitting in the entryway, I was poked and prodded, strung up and squeezed by a blood pressure cuff. I listened for screams and moans, but I only heard beeps and murmurs. This was nothing like New York.

In fact, it was almost exactly like what I'd seen on TV and in movies. For a moment, I felt like a member of the elite, admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital, where so many celebrities had been brought after collapse, overdose, accident and exhaustion.

Even the staff looked like actors: stereotypically curmudgeonly redhaired nurses with gold-wire glasses falling down their noses, blond-banged orderlies brushing their swoops of hair out of their eyes, tiptoeing retiree volunteers walking patients by the arm and offering candy and tissues and water. It wasn't long before I was assigned to #34 - not a room number, but a bed number, thankfully for me in a room with only two other beds and two whole nurses all to ourselves.

My bed was already made, but apparently recently used, or somehow soiled, because my EMT stripped it of its bedding, and swiped it with an alcohol pad, fitting new sheets over it. "Don't they have somebody to do that for you?" I asked. "How'd you get stuck with that job?" He didn't answer.

My nurse - I forget her name - handed me a hospital gown and instructed me to put it on.

"Open in the back, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, sorry..." she said.

"Underwear on?" I asked.

"Sure. Are you OK with that one? Do you want another one?" she asked, as she pulled the curtain along its ball-bearing track for privacy.

"Eh, I've got nothing to hide," I said, thankful that I wore nice underwear that day, but wishing it matched.

I crawled into bed, and my nurse placed a too-small, too-thin blanket over me as I sunk in, and collapsed into myself. Feeling sorry for me, she handed me another one, saying, "I know, it gets cold in here..."

And then I waited.

I'd seen a too-thin, scraggly man next to me in bed #35 earlier, and could hear him getting lunch. My stomach growled, though I was still nauseous. I looked at the clock and realized I'd missed lunch, though I'd brought it to work with me that day. I hadn't made it long enough through work to eat it.

A tattooed woman with turquoise highlights in her hair shuffled by my bed into the shared bathroom next to my bed, holding an empty plastic cup. I tried to avert my eyes when she reemerged with the cup filled and a satisfied look on her face, but I couldn't help it. My reflexes were slow. My limbs were numb. The blanket felt like a weight on top of my legs, and then I realized that someone had foolishly put a very heavy, tethered TV remote on me.

I reached for my Blackberries - one for personal, one for work - and sent text messages and emails I don't remember. I felt it necessary to announce to the world where I was, though I was without diagnosis or prognosis. I wanted sympathy, even though I'd already refused help.

Calls came in but my signal was too weak to take them, though I tried.

Various staffers, patients and their visitors peeked at me from around my drawn curtain, smiling at me meekly as tears were streaming down my face. I was lonely and confused, already worried about my hospital bills, already worried that someone might get their hands on my mother's phone number and recklessly call her.

I still had a blood pressure cuff on my arm, but I'd removed a sensor from my forefinger to sign some paperwork, and never replaced it. The beeping had stopped. I didn't have any water. I didn't have any food. I didn't have any pain killers. And I had to go to the bathroom.

I was there in that bed, tapping away at my Blackberry devices, for a couple of hours, which passed quickly and unmemorably. My nurse would occasionally check on me, promising that the doctor would see me soon, and apologizing when he didn't.

Finally, Dr. Tony rounded the corner around the curtain, approached the bed and introduced himself, pen in hand, clipboard at attention, just like any good daytime drama doctor. He was handsome and young, simultaneously disaffected and caring, gently asking how I was feeling and how bad the pain was.

"Is it the worst headache you could ever have?"

"Well, no...."

I explained my history of fainting and resulting convulsions, and the bump I'd given myself a couple of days before, and that I'd been reading about concussions when the dizzy spell hit, and I could see the skepticism wash over his face, a healthy mix of doubt and amusement. "Don't tell me I did it to myself!" I exclaimed.

"I'm not blaming you..." he said. "But it would be very unusual for the symptoms to wait a day or two before they set in. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's unusual."

"Uh huh."

"So what do you want to do?" he asked. "I'm 90% sure you don't need a CAT Scan, but I can give you one if you want one."

"Well, a CAT Scan would only determine if there's bleeding in the brain, right? Which you don't think I have, right?" I asked, and he nodded. "So the only way to tell if I actually have a concussion is just by my symptoms, right?"

He nodded again.

"Don't bother."

I was worried about the cost, but then again I was in no shape to make any decisions for myself at that time. But he jumped to agree with me, warning about the dangers of radiation exposure, and then said that I could go home.

"So that's it?" I asked. "I just get dressed and go home now?" Surely there was more poking and prodding to be done. Blood work? Neurological tests? Emotional counseling? An IV drip?

"Well, yes," he said. "I'll send you some Tylenol over, and someone will have you sign some discharge papers, and then you can go."

Defeated but relieved, I immediately got out of bed, slipped my legs into my skirt and started to zip it up under my hospital gown when an orderly came in to take my blood pressure again.

"Were you getting up to go to the bathroom?" he asked.

"Well, no, the doctor said I could go home, so I decided to get dressed..."

"Yeah but there's paperwork to sign..." he said.

"What, I have to wait until I sign it to get dressed? I'm not doing anything else over here..." By then I'd been there a little over two hours, but I was ready to go.

Alone again, briefly, I snapped my bra on and grabbed my top when I heard a nurse call out, "You want to see a friend? You have a visitor..."

...To be continued...

Related Reading:
A Kick in the Head
A Kick in the Head, Part 2

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