on becoming a patient

For weeks I’ve been thinking there was something wrong w/my GI tract. Pain, up high, mostly on the left side under my ribs. What’s there? Heart, lung, spleen, part of the stomach and pancreas. But pain can be referred, so possibly any of the major organs that are jammed up in there. Everything I tried seemed to make no difference, going on a blandish diet, lots of nicely cooked leafy things, home cooked soups, nettle infusions, carrot juice. Soothing herbs for the tummy like slippery elm, catnip, chickweed. Dandelion, milk thistle, yellow dock for the liver…nothing seemed to make a difference. So, finally, in desperation, I go to the doctor. She did blood work and ordered an ultra sound of the abdomen. Everything seemed fairly normal except for some fatty deposits on the liver. I promptly quit drinking alcohol. She suggested I see a gut specialist, but none of them could see me for before December.

Then, yesterday, the whole area seized up. I could not move without severe, spasmodic pain. I couldn’t breathe, laugh or cry or even draw, type or drive. Walking my neighbor’s dog or going to my sculpture class were right out. The doctor said to get myself to the ER.

The last time I went to the emergency room, I had broken my foot. The place was packed with damaged limbs, broken heads, ice packs and compresses spilling out into the hallway. I hopped over to the reception desk, leaned over some bruised and bleeding people trying to see what was on the television across the hall, and asked, “How long is the wait?” The receptionist said, “I don’t know how long you will be waiting, but see that woman in the chair over there? She’s next in line. She’s been waiting three and a half hours and no one has seen her yet.” I hopped back over to the door and told Brni, “Take me home. I can fix my foot myself.”

No such luck this time. At noon, the ER was practically empty and they took me back within minutes. Once through the locking security doors that swing open towards you after an authorized person swipes their card (homeland security has hit suburban hospitals), you are a patient. I’m not sure doctors, nurses, lab techs, and physician assistants ever talk to each other, because every one of them had to ask me the same things including, “What’s your name?” “What’s your date of birth?” “Why are you here instead of at your sculpture class?”

I understand the need to make sure that the right patient is being treated for the right problem, but dudes…read the damned wrist bracelet and the chart on the wall, k?”

Anyway, because of all the organs and such all jammed up in my painful abdomen, and the fact that the pain is mostly on the left side, I get to have an IV stuck in my arm (after 4 tries–my veins were “flat”), blood syphoned off, lots of leads glued to my chest and am hooked up to a monitor so that anyone and their brother can see my heart rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure. I am obviously not having a heart attack since the nurse kept muttering, “Wish I had that heart rate.” This does not stop them from doing an EKG.

*did you all know that saline solution pushed into a vein tastes briny? kind of a cool mouth rush. yeah, i get my kicks where i can*

Being a patient means that you get to wait. You wait to be seen. You wait for test results. You wait for nurses, techs, doctors and bad news or most likely, befuddledness, but mostly you wait to find out whether you get to go home or not.

After about two hours my blood work came back and showed that I had a possible blood clot in the lung. Okay, I wasn’t waiting for THAT. Hey, I was thinking a blockage, pancreatitis, a tumor somewhere, but blood clots? People die from that. So, next up, Xray of the chest and then a CT scan of the chest and abdomen, but not before I get results telling them my kidneys are okay because you can’t inject contrast dye into someone with fucked up kidneys. So we wait…and wait…and wait. We wait until 5:20 because some little old lady drove her car into the back of some other car, biting down on her tongue, causing a traumatic event that backed up the lab and the CT scanner. I know this despite Hipaa privacy rules.


Contrast dye is cool. In fact, despite the massive dose of radiation from CT scanners, the whole CT thing was weirdly interesting, reminding me of something out of a SciFi 3000 lab. The thing is a big, white, shiny donut, seemingly suspended in the cleanest room I’ve ever seen. For some reason, there is a happy face and a frowny face on it. They light up. The very personable tech, Joe, transfers me from the gurney to the sliding CT table, which is made up like a very low, white massage table complete with poofy pillow and knee wedge, all the while regaling me with humorous tequila drinking stories. Joe then hooks me up to the contrast dye infusion apparatus, which consists of two clear glass containers with spiral tubing coming out of them (I really like the spiral tubing–nice touch).

Joe leaves to go sit behind a distant glass wall. The little massage table starts moving back and forth, the donut starts to hum and whirl, the frowny face flashes and Joe cautions me to alternately breathe and hold my breath. A light starts flashing over one of the glass containers and then the telltale mouth rush of saline hits. After that, the light on the other container flashes. There’s a burning and pressure in my arm, then a seriously warm flush starts at the top of my head and flows down my body to my genitals, which for all the world feels as if I’ve just wet myself. And then the feeling is gone, the bed is no longer moving and the donut stops whirling. I have not wet myself.

After another 30 or 40 minutes, the results are in. No blood clots. No heart problems. No problems with any of my organs. No idea what is causing my pain. Seven hours after becoming a patient, I am released back into the world with 15 percocet, orders not to lift anything, and to see my doctor in a day or two.

I wonder how long it will take me to pee out the dye.

4 thoughts on “on becoming a patient

  1. gwox says:

    Sounds kind of like my one trip to the ER, about three or four years back. For me it was my lower back muscles siezing up, putting pressure on my sciatic nerve and making walking close to impossible. After hours in the ER, they came back and said, in essence, “We’ve run a lot of expensive tests on you and have no idea what’s going on. Here are some drugs. Go away.”
    Fortunately, the drugs (pain pills and muscle relaxants) worked, and my back pain hasn’t come back (at least, not to such an extent). Hope your situation works out as well. 😛

  2. Anonymous says:

    becoming a patient
    I am sorry for your pain…really. I have a similar on the left side under my ribcage…finally just think it’s a ulcer that’s eating my insides away….BUT you gave me the biggest laugh. Thanks.

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