Friday, July 10, 2009

Six Hours in the Twilight Zone

The voices in my head are singing Alan Watts Blues by Van Morrison

What I'm reading: Shadowfires by Dean Koontz

So, Jim and our next door neighbor are working on a privacy fence between our yards. Whatever needs doing, if Jim can possibly do it himself, he will not pay someone else to do it. He's...thrifty. That's a good word for it. We balance each other well.

Anyway, last week Jim and the neighbor both took a few days off to work on the fence. Things were moving along nicely up until the point Thursday afternoon when I looked out the back door and saw Jim sprawled on the grass. He was lying on his stomach, propped up on his elbows, in what looked like a casual conversation with our neighbor, who had knelt down beside him. I was confused, because it was blistering hot, and it didn't seem likely he'd sprawl out for a break in the sun--the shade, maybe.

I stuck my head out the door and asked, "Jim, are you all right?"

"Not really," he said calmly.

By that time I was sprinting across the yard. "What happened," I asked.

Jim nodded at the line of string that had previously been stretched tight from one end of the yard to the other, but was now lying in the grass. "I tripped over the string, put my foot down in a wet spot, and slid into a split--like gymnasts do on a balance beam," he said. "I'm not a gymnast."

We arrived at the ER at 3:45. One of the security people brought a wheelchair and helped Jim inside while I parked the car. By the time I made it through security--the fool thing kept beeping and I had to be wanded and patted down--Jim had already spoken to one of the not-very-busy clerks at the front. There was a desk with maybe six of them, and they were chatting, or staring into space--not frantically admitting patients. There were maybe a half-dozen other patients in the waiting room.

Forty-five minutes later, two people who'd come in after us had gone back, but they hadn't called Jim. "What did you tell them?" I asked.

"I told them I'd been doing gymnastics, and I wasn't a gymnast," he said.

"Oh, no, no, no!" I said, shaking my head. "You never, never joke with people in an ER. You've told them two things," I said. "One, your pain is not bad enough to effect your disposition, and two, you're an easy going guy who won't complain if he has to wait four hours."

"You thing I should do the Stingray Howl?" he asked. He was referring to the noise I made all the way to the car, all the way to the hospital, and in the ER until they gave me something to quiet me down the summer I stepped on a stingray and got stung.

"Yes, actually," I said.

He shook his head.

I sighed. "We're going to be here all night."

I went up front to speak to one of the clerks. "We've been here for forty-five minutes," I said, and my husband is in a lot of pain." This was true. The thing that scared me was that it was really unusual for Jim to go along with an ER visit. He's heavy into self-diagnosis and natural healing. His mother had six boys, and her typical response to an injury was, "Put some water on it, it'll be fine." The fact that he'd come to the ER told me that, despite his good humor, Jim was in a lot of pain.

"What's his name?" she asked and I told her. She scrolled down a list. "Is he here?" She scrunched up her face at me.

"Yes," I pointed across the room. "He's right there, and he's been here for forty-five minutes."

"I can't find him," she said, looking blankly at her computer.

Before I could launch into hissy-fit mode, a man in scrubs opened the double doors that led into the Bowels of Hell and called Jim's name.

Jim started wheeling his chair towards the doors and I skipped to catch up.

First stop was a nurse in a little room who asked a lot of questions about the injury and other related topics. One of the questions was regarding chest pains. I guess this is a typical question for men over forty who admit to having been out working all day in the sun. Jim allowed that his chest muscles were sore from the post-hole diggers, but that was all.

Immediately, she called a technician to wheel us over for an EKG.

Whatever, he was getting attention, right?

After the EKG, they sent us back out to the waiting room. About thirty minutes later, a different guy in scrubs came and got us and led us back into the inner ER. After a half-mile hike through a labyrinth, he settled us into room 15. Room 15 was at the very end of the hall, and you had to go through another room to get to it. Both rooms had sets of thick sliding glass doors, which were left open.

Thirty minutes later, Scrubs Guy came back with a chart. He looked at Jim. "You're not Amanda," he said.

Jim shook his head no.

"I got the wrong chart," Scrubs Guy said. He went off to find the right one.

A few minutes later, a Young Girl In Scrubs can in and attached the little round sticky things and wired Jim up to a heart monitor. She said, "I need to draw some blood for the cardiac panel."

"My heart is fine, Jim said. "I've pulled--possibly torn--my right hamstring."

She smiled benevolently. "We just want to make sure." She patted him on the hand. "I just need to go get something, I'll be right back."

No sooner had she cleared the door, than a different Young Girl In Scrubs came in. "Time for your X-rays," she said.

"But I haven't broken anything," Jim said. "I've got a badly strained hamstring."

She smiled benevolently. "We just want to make sure." She then proceeded to remove all the wires and sticky things that the other YGIS had attached. She wheeled him out the door with a "We'll be right back" over her shoulder.

YGIS #1 passed them on the way out. "Oh," she said. "I'll come back later. You want me to get you something to drink, maybe a sandwich?"

"Some bottled water would be great." I said. "And I know Jim would like a bottle."

"Oh, no," she said. "He can't have anything until he sees the doctor. Just in case he has to go to surgery."

"Surgery?" I asked. "He's pulled his hamstring."

"We just want to be sure," she said. "He might be gone a while. You sure you don't want a sandwich?"

I looked at the clock. It was quarter till six. I was still thinking we might pick up take out Chinese on the way home. "No thanks," I said. She showed me where the vending machine was and I bought two bottles of water.

At five after six, YGIS #2 brought Jim back from x-ray. After she left Jim said, "They x-rayed my left hip. Then they asked me which hip I'd injured. I told them neither one, but my right hamstring hurt like hell. Then they x-rayed my right hip."

At ten after six, an alarm went off. Scrubs Guy came and closed the curtain, then the sliding glass doors to our room. He then closed the sliding class doors to the outer room. The doors were thick, so we couldn't hear much from outside. With the curtain closed, we couldn't see anything, either. Me being me, I was thinking some fruit-loop had gotten a gun through security, or maybe someone had been admitted with the Swine Flu. There had to be a reason why they closed the doors, right?

For the next hour, no one came into the room and the doors stayed shut. Not knowing what was going on was making me a little crazy, and it was getting hot in there. I peered around the curtain and saw that a large cart had been wheeled in front of one side of the outer door, and a guy in a wheel chair was backed up to the other side. We were blocked in.

"I think they've forgotten about us," I said. I started weighing whether or not to go find someone in scrubs and ask if perhaps this was the case.

I heard someone hollering down the hall. Over the guy in the wheelchair's head I saw three security guards and a police officer heading into a room two doors down. This reinforced my nut-with-a-gun theory. I scooted back behind the curtain. At 7:30, a different YGIS came and drew some blood. They'd had a shift change.

"Why did someone close the sliding doors," I asked.

"We had a fire drill," she said.

"And part of the drill is to close us up back here with nowhere to go?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "It's for your protection. WE DON"T WANT THE FIRE TO GET YOU."

I don't know about y'all, but every fire drill I've ever participated in involved getting people OUT of the building, not shutting them up in the farthest corner.

She opened both sets of doors. "It's getting hot in here."

"Listen," I said, "We've been here for nearly four hours, and my husband is in a lot of pain. Isn't there something you can give him?"

"I'll check with the doctor," she said.

"When do you think we might SEE a doctor," I asked.

"I don't know." she said, "but I'll let him know that your husband's vital signs are good."

With the doors open now, we could hear the hollering from two doors down. "Hey...hey...hey! Help Me!" some guy yelled. Continuously.

After about thirty minutes of that the guy in the wheelchair said to his wife, "I got some duct tape out in the truck."

Thirty minutes later YGIS # 3 brought Jim some heavy-duty drugs. Still, no doctor.

"He hasn't eaten since lunch," I said. "Don't you think he should eat something with that?"

"I'll ask the doctor," she said.

A few minutes later she brought him an imitation cheese sandwich and a bottle of Gatorade. I guess someone had figured out that he wouldn't need surgery.

"What's all that hollering about?" I asked.

She shrugged. "He's just drunk."

At 9:30, nearly six hours after we arrived, the doctor walked through the door. I have no idea where he was from, only that his accent made communication a challenge.

I think he said, "EKG fine, x-rays fine. Heart fine. Hip not broken."

"How do we know if my hamstring is torn, and is there anything that can be done about it?" Jim asked.

He shrugged. "These things happen. If it's torn you'll have a bad bruise. I can give you some pain medication, but it will just have to heal on its own."

"Something not quite so strong," Jim said. "Whatever you gave me made me nauseous."

"I thought your hip was broken," said the doctor. "I thought you needed something strong."

He left to get his prescription pad. We did not wait for someone to unhook Jim from the monitors. We quickly disconnected him, peeled off all the sticky things, and got him out of the gown and back into his cargo shorts and T-shirt. By the time the doctor got back, we were ready to go. The heavy-duty pain pills had taken the edge off the pain enough that Jim could stand and hobble.

The drunk was still hollering as we made out way back out through the labyrinth.

Self-diagnosis and natural healing are now our family policy.

Peace, out...


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