Fear and loathing: Open up and say: "Uggghhhhh!"

Early Tuesday morning I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. I sat at this very computer trying to find something to bore me into slumber but it just would not happen. What did happen was a funny feeling in my chest. It didn’t hurt so much as it felt pressured and the longer it went on, began freaking me out.

Eventually I walked the couple of blocks to the hospital emergency room and told them I was having chest pains. I finally was put into a room and there I remained for more than six hours while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. During that time, the doctors juggled other, most likely more challenging, patients. Some guy across the hall was screaming” “You’re killing me!” on numerous occasions while someone, a cop perhaps, threatened to “light you up if you don’t shut up!”

One guy — close to me in age — was brought into the bed next to me and it was quickly determined he had suffered what would be his fourth heart attack. The doctor was quick about getting him into a cardiac catheter suite to get his heart open and running smooth again.

That same doctor arrived at the conclusion after blood tests and an EKG that he was “90 percent” certain I had not experienced heart trouble but given my history — high blood pressure, former smoker, relatives with heart disease, etc. — thought I should be observed overnight. He said that if I was going to have a full-blown heart attack it would likely take place in the first 24-48 hours after chest discomfort. I agreed with his recommendation. The only problem was that I was a Department of Veterans Affairs patient and would have to be looked after at the Houston VA, about 90 miles away.

So, I was loaded up in an ambulance and taken, non-emergency, to Houston. It wasn’t that bad of a trip with the exception of a a few places in which there were some major highway rough spots. I told the paramedic riding in back with me that it was the first time for me to ride in back as a patient. I had been in the back of an ambulance a number of times while training to be an EMT and also after I had become an EMT I had made a few emergency runs with paramedics. It is kind of different seeing the world looking backwards. At least you can see where you have been!

At the VA, I spent about four hours in their emergency room before they put me into a regular room. It was maddening. There was a bell on seemingly every medical machine and/or monitor in that room and it seemed like they all made different noises. Sometimes it would be DING-DING-DING-DING, beep-beep-beep-beep, then DING-beep-DING-beep. God I was glad to get the hell out of there.

I was put into a room and the next morning had a full-blown medical TEAM a’la “Grey’s Anatomy” visited me since this is a teaching hospital for Baylor College of Medicine. A professor came in with a medical student and resident, both of whom had introduced themselves as well as give me separate, in-depth goings over the day before. Several other interns tagged along as well.

The professor amused me somewhat. He started launching into this lengthy discourse about heart sounds after listening to my heart at several different points of my neck and torso. With his lecture he began making various vocalizations as a way to differentiate between the sounds — kind of like how an internal combustion engine sounds at various states of operation and with or without a plug or two missing. It reminded me of this lawn mower repairman we had in my hometown when I was growing up named “Bugger Red.” He used to could make all these noises to point out how the mower should sound or how it might sound if a plug wire was gone or if a manifold gasket was missing and the mower had been driven into a cave full of Jello and struck with a machete.

My nurses weren’t the best in the world either. They were somewhere between indifferent and assh**e deluxe. Finally I had this test in which they injected dye into me which circulated around and wound up in my heart, along with shooting in some medicine that simulates your heart working as if exercised. I think I might have been allergic to something they had shot me with as my lips began swelling. The nurses didn’t seem to think anything about the fact my upper lip looked as if it was containing $20 worth of pennies. Even I could tell it was the result of an allergic reaction and could ultimately lead to a type of shock that can kill you dead. I finally had to call one of these nurses’ superiors, a person who is the top nurse person in the facility. She was none to pleased to hear of just how crappy these nurses were performing.

You have to think about this. I was in the hospital for three nights and none of the nurses offered me a towel with which to take a shower, something this nurse boss asked about and was appalled to find out what had not happen. Also, no one ever changed the sheets the entire time I was there. I thought, in addition to being just plain unsanitary for a hospital, it was just … I don’t know … creepy? And the nurses swab your nose when you come in and out of the hospital for MRSA, in order to track the staph superbug infections. I wonder if the state of their hospitals might contribute to incubation sites for such maladies?

Alas I found out my heart was okay. It’s likely I have an acid reflux problem and probably will be receiving one of those very unpleasant visits by video machinery crawling through my colon fairly soon. But I am okay now. And that’s what is important. Thanks for asking, if you did.

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