Monday, January 01, 2007

My New Year's Day

How did you spend your New Year's day?

I spent the first day of 2007 in the ER. 10 whole hours. Yes, I finally decided I would go and get myself checked out. The ongoing chest pains was not a good sign coupled with the tingling pain radiating down my left arm. The doctor ordered a slew of tests: ECG, blood, urine, chest x-rays. I was hooked up to the machine, getting my heart rate and blood pressure monitored, wires coming out of me seemingly from several places on my body. (The photo shows an example of all the sticky gel thingies they stuck on me to attach all the leads from the machine, not the exact spots of course) Additionally, in the afternoon, when my chest pains which had subsided in the late morning, returned after a trip to the bathroom (maybe the short walk there was exertion enough), the nurse hooked me up to an oxygen tube as well (pure oxygen is so... icy cool, a bit like toothpaste). Man, I had the full works, it's a good thing my mum wasn't there to see me, she was already sounding tearful when she rang me earlier. And this was serious, mum rang me about 7 times in less than 24 hours (and before this, she'd never rung me).

But before all that, I had a "real" ER experience. About half an hour after I was admitted (they were pretty efficient, got me a bed within 10 minutes), the paramedics wheeled a man in. I could only see his white distended belly from my cubicle. I remembered thinking "did he fall into the Sydney Harbour and swallow a lot of water?". I could see a doctor's rhythmic pumping from where I was, all the ER staff were either helping him (going "1, 2, 3" and lifting him off from the stretcher to the bed) or standing and watching the resuscitation efforts. I see the doctor's movements, I see the distended belly, I see the flat line from where I was. "Call it, call it" I was morbidly saying in my head, one of those "Grey Anatomy's" moments ringing in my mind. He did call it - "11.20". It was over. They drew the curtains around him and the crowd disbanded. A staff came and drew my curtains around me, before I could even wonder, someone opened them again, I see that the man's body has been wheeled out of that cubicle, he was no longer in there. They were trying to "protect" us from the unpleasant sight. I wonder if he did fall into the water and that's how he died.

I didn't see much (or any) gore or blood (apart from my own IV needle they left in my arm for the whole 10 hours, "just in case we need to give you medicine through there". When the nurse finally removed it from my sore arm, the needle head was about 5 cm long and covered in my blood, I was shocked it was so long and thankfully I didn't attempt to remove it myself when the nurse who was supposed to do it disappeared - I had started to peel the adhesive tapes off but left the needle in) today, for that I'm thankful.

I heard a lot of stuff though. Thomas on my right, was apparently covered in blood, from falling down and hurting his head after drinking 24 beers on New Year's eve. I think from what I can hear and piece together, he's probably a homeless person. The nurse took a urine sample from him, which I inadvertently saw (the sample not the procedure) because the nurse took the container of blackish liquid and said in a loud whisper to the other nurse, "look it's so foul and it stinks". I couldn't help but look as she walked past my bed holding up that container. Argghh. And then I heard someone suturing his head which was bleeding and they told him he's got blood in his brain and they cannot release him. He sounded like he was in a bad way, but probably best he was in their care than out on the streets. He kept trying to climb out of bed and they were so gentle yet firm with him, and they had to clean him up when he dirtied himself, and they were kind to him too. The nurses really have a good bedside manner at this hospital.

Later that evening, I also heard some violent shouting outside the ER security doors. Some guy was freaking out and peppering every other word with f*&^(%$#. The staff who was talking so calmly to him was a woman, I was surprised they didn't send a man to deal with him, but maybe a woman would appear less threatening and calming to a nutcase. She was cool and collected talking to him, he continued shouting. I couldn't tell if he was a patient or a visitor. Thankfully, they didn't let him into where we were all lying helpless. I half expected someone to blaze in with a gun.

Apart from the excitement of listening in on other people's woes, I was pushed in my bed to the x-ray room. I wasn't allowed to walk there myself! It was a strange perspective looking at things from lying down in a bed, being wheeled around.

And finally the doctor came in to talk about my problems. It wasn't the same doctor as the one who first saw me, it was the obese doctor who had been lumbering around the floor. He turned out to be a gentle giant, again someone with a wonderful bedside manner. I got a little worried when he reached out to pat my hand, when I asked him so what was wrong with me, after we had talked for ages about my pains, and other symptoms and activities that trigger them, family history, lifestyle etc. I immediately thought of the worst, but he actually reached out to take my pulse, why he had to do so, with the heart rate monitor in front of him, telling him exactly what my pulse was, I don't know. But he had ruled out heart problems, said all the blood tests showed that i didn't have damage to my heart from a heart attack, the ECG was normal. My family history (or lack thereof rather) and healthy lifestyle do not put me at any risk of heart problems (he acknowledged HE was more at risk than I was, and he was the same age) although he did qualify that anyone could also drop dead from a heart attack. He thinks the most probable cause was stomach acid reflux, which can also cause symptoms similar to a heart attack, like the chest pains, tingling in the left arm and pain between the shoulder blades (which I subsequently had while in the ER). It could also be an inflammation of my lung lining from a viral infection. But he is betting on the reflux and prescribed some really strong anti-acid medication and gave me a letter to go see a GP who can prescribe a stress test and a referral to a heart specialist if necessary.

Well at least that puts some concerns to bed, even if there is still some remnants of the pain in my chest and left arm. And the hospital food wasn't half bad, in fact I thought the meat loaf for dinner was pretty good.

And I'm leaving you with some nicer images of New Year's eve. I had glimpses of the fireworks from my balcony, just above the trees and the street light (that's what that white spot is).


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