getting to and out of the emergency room

As if it isn’t enough to learn that your husband is now on his way to the Emergency Room, I also had to figure out how I could get to him. There was also the matter of the car that he had to leave in the parking lot in Chino Hills, about 10 miles away. He was told that the car should be okay overnight, but I could tell it was making him anxious.

In theory, the Benz (30-year old diesel) was in the garage with its battery connected. Of course, if I drove it to pick up the car, I would have to leave the Benz there, so that really didn’t solve anything. Getting a taxi in this neighborhood isn’t impossible, but it isn’t a common thing, so I figured I would have to wait at least 30 minutes for someone to show up, and who knows what it would cost given that the traffic in the area was now at the peak of rush hour. I also considered the bus, but again, it was all about timing, even if I did know the route. B suggested that I go to the neighbor’s house and ask them to take me to get the car.

I really didn’t want to do that. I hate to impose on people, especially those I don’t really know. To be fair, the next door neighbor’s bought their house at the same time as B’s parents, so both have been here over 30 years, although B’s parents never really lived here. They have invited us to their big New Year’s party, but beyond that we pretty much just wave hello and chit chat a bit when we happen to see them. Also, I had no idea if they were even home.

I sat down on the couch and tried to figure out what to do. Why wasn’t this covered in some class I took, or some book I read? It was starting to sink in how isolated we are, and how weak our support network is. How the hell did we get here?

I decided my best option was to walk next door and ring the doorbell. I realized that even if they were home, they might not answer the door, as this neighborhood is prone to solicitors (especially of the religious variety), and really the best way to handle them is to ignore them. At least, that is what we do.

It felt like forever, and I could feel my heart pounding. In general,  I don’t like to ask for help – EVER. I don’t like feeling needy. It didn’t help that I felt like I was in this position because I hadn’t insisted I go with B to Urgent Care. But after explaining what had happened, our neighbor agreed to give me a lift. I just had to wait until her husband got home, which was around 7pm.

I thought about calling B’s Uncle, but after what happened with the ectopic pregnancy, I figured it best not to. Plus he is not exactly around the corner (I did mention LA rush hour traffic was now in full swing, right). Plus, I don’t have his phone number anyway (I don’t have any phone number of any of B’s family).

Now all I had to do was wait and not lose it. To keep from freaking out, I sent off a bunch of crazy text messages to my friends about what was going on. Most were at least an hour away, so there isn’t anything they could really do. I just needed to “talk it out”, so to speak. While I waited for replies, I set to packing a bag for B in the event they kept him overnight.

I found B’s pajama bottoms, a clean t-shirt, a change of socks and underwear, a new  toothbrush, toothpaste, his comb, his razor and a pair of flip flops. The last are important for walking around the hospital – you never want to do that barefoot. I also had checked the mail (on my way back from the neighbor’s house) and threw in his alumni magazine that had arrived in the bag (in case he needed something to take his mind off of things).

At 7pm, I found my neighbor’s wife on the doorstep. I forgot to tell her our doorbell is broken. I grabbed my stuff and got in the back seat of their minivan. It was decided we take the surface streets to avoid the traffic. Along the way we made small talk, but of course it came up how we got here. I told them about the laceration to B’s scrotum. They didn’t understand the word, so I finally just blurted out “balls”. Fun times.

While in the back seat, I was able to use Google to map the directions to the hospital from the parking lot, as I had never been, and didn’t even know it was there. Although the hospital is right off the freeway, it looked like the easiest way to get there was a fairly direct line via the surface streets. I got there without too much trouble. I only missed one turn, but was able to make a U-turn easily. It was still about a 20-minute drive, so I ended up getting to the ER around a quarter to eight.

I walked into the ER and tried not to look around. There was a booth where everyone was required to check-in. It looked more like a cage. I talked to the woman in the booth (behind glass), and was given a visitor’s sticker. She let me back into the ER and pointed me in the right direction. B was on a gurney in a room that had another man in it. There was a curtain separating them. The sink in the room was blocked by equipment, and there was what looked like dried blood on the floor. All I could think is how is this going to help anyone lower their blood pressure?

B was hooked up to a machine that automatically took his blood pressure every 30 minutes or so. It was also supposed to monitor his heart rate and respiration. At one point it started beeping, with a note on the screen that he was in apnea. B was still breathing and talking, so I knew that wasn’t the case. Also, no one seemed to rush in to figure out what was wrong.  It would also say that his heart rate was jumping from around 90 to 174. His heart would have been pounding out of his chest if that were the case.

Given that the date was set to January 1, 1970 (B wasn’t even alive then), and that time was hours off, I didn’t know how trustworthy a monitor it was. I am still not sure why you would use it, if you wanted an accurate measure of blood pressure every hour. It would seem it would be much better to have a nurse do this manually, no? A nurse did show up around the time the machine took the measurement to check on it. This just seemed so backwards and wrong. Nothing about this machine said, RELAX!

Meanwhile, at 8pm, they announced over the loud speakers that visiting hours were over. B was getting worried that they would ask me to leave. I tried to explain to him that he had NOT been admitted to the hospital, and most likely since he had been here so long, they were probably going to send him home tonight. Sending me away, would mean he would have no way to get back to the house. A similar announcement was made at 9pm, reminding people that visiting hours were over an hour ago.

I showed B the bag of things that I had brought, and he decided to put on his pajama bottoms as he said he was hot. It was very warm and stuffy in this space. Here I should point out that heat is another thing that can raise blood pressure.

A nurse did come in at one point to check the blood pressure reading from the machine, and to give B some potassium tablets. [She dropped one on the floor.] It seemed that his blood test showed that his potassium was low. [His doctor that he went to see the following week believes that it was because he was dehydrated.] In the almost 5 hours that he was there, he was given two tiny cups of water with ice. They also gave him an IV, but not keeping him hydrated could not be helping things. Ironically there was a water fountain less than 10 feet away from him, but because he was strapped to the machine with several cords plus the blood pressure cuff, it wasn’t possible for him to just get up.

Meanwhile behind the curtain, the other patient was not doing well. It turns out that they lost his urine sample so they needed another. We could hear the poor man pee. Can we go home now?

According to the machine, B’s blood pressure had decreased, although it was still very high. A doctor finally signed the release orders. He never spoke to me. In addition to being told to watch his sodium and stay hydrated, he was given a prescription for a week’s worth of medication. He was told to follow up with his primary care doctor within ten days. I guess no one looked at the calendar, but July 4th was coming up that week. Somehow B was able to find a doctor taking both new patients and appointments, plus her office is less than 5 minutes from the house (but that is a story for another time).

We finally got home around 10:30pm. We took the freeway, and even without traffic, it is over a 20-minute drive. We are almost equidistant from two hospitals – both about 10 miles away, but both close to a 30-minute drive depending on traffic.

We had oatmeal for dinner. B was given no food while he was in the ER, so his last meal had been around 1:30m (again not good for maintaining a healthy blood pressure).

I think the most important lesson is that no one should go to the ER solo – you need someone advocating for you, even if that just means refilling your water cup that you cannot get to because you are strapped to a machine that may or may not be working properly.

on the night stand :: One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper

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