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February 18th, 2006

Rockin' good times at the ER

Let me just get the TMI over with here at the start: I've been flirting with a urinary tract infection for a few days, but I thought I had it whooped with cranberry supplements, juice, and ibuprofen. Yeah. Ha. By lunchtime today, I was barely able to stand upright, due to a stabbing, cramping, horrible mule-kicking pain in my lower back. This was no UTI. This was something seriously fucked-up, and by the time I could hardly breath (so badly did it hurt) I was getting genuinely frightened. By 2:00 p.m. I had a fever and the shakes on top of it all.

So this is the story of my first ever trip to the emergency room*.

I suppose I should state upfront that I'm not particularly scared of hospitals. I've had a lot of minor health problems in my life - ear infections, tonsils/adenoids removed, oral surgery to have some impacted teeth extracted, etcetera - but my father is a CRNA and my stepmother is a nurse, so I grew up coming and going from medical facilities mostly as a visitor. I have good associations with hospitals; they are places where broken people go to get fixed - and not something to be mortally afraid of.

moriarty6 accompanied me to Erlanger. There, we located the ER and went inside; I signed myself in and was promptly shuffled of to triage with nice Nurse X. We established that I'd been taking ibuprofen and uristat, in addition to cranberry supplements. Pain on a scale of 1-10? By then the handful of ibuprofen was working its magic so I could quote her maybe a "6." It was the best I'd felt all day, and I was wheezing from the ouch of it all. I had a slight fever (again, after a handful of ibuprofen). I was a caucasian female with no known history of illicit drug use or allergies to any prescription meds.

Before long I was called back into an examination room, where everyone got down to business - by which I mean, I was gently grilled by a health insurance officer. Thank God this happened now, and not in a couple of weeks when I'm unemployed, right? Gah.

Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Nurse Y, a fellow about my age with a tote tray of vials and needles. I was none too thrilled to see Nurse Y, despite his pleasant demeanor and friendly nonchalance about asking personal questions (any blood in your urine?). You'd think that someone with 9 piercings and 2 tattoos would be a little less squirrelly about having blood drawn, but in fact, I am a giant crying choad about it. I stalled for time by offering to pee in the cup first. I returned from the restroom with a small tub of what appeared to be Extract of Alien. I'd forgotten to mention the uristat to Nurse Y, and in case you're unaware, uristat turns your pee bright frickin' orange. Oh yes. Very attractive.

But then it was needle time. I took off my glasses and whimpered. Nice Nurse Y was highly adept, though, and I compliment his technique. Nurse Y then went scurrying off with 2 vials of bright red and one plastic tub of bright orange, all courtesy of yours truly.

The insurance lady stayed a bit longer, taking down more personal information and requesting contact information for my next of kin (very reassuring). Then she came back with a hospital bracelet that declared me to be someone named Abigail Abbott. Ten minutes later she came back with one more appropriate for my true identity. Then she left, and I never saw her again.

Here's where it gets weird.

Right around the time I was starting to relax and settle down, I heard hollering down the hall. The hollering ran something like this: "I will KEEL the muthafucka! You give me my pistol! You can't take me here yet, I gots to get my PISTOL. It's in my POCKET!" And it was answered by, "No sir, it isn't. The police took it away from you." And this was greeted with, "You don't have to tie my ass down! You just got to give my PISTOL so I can KEEL the muthafucka!"

Around the corner came a man strapped securely to a gurney, which was pushed by two bored-looking EMTs. He was a black man, probably in his late forties, with a striped shirt and a gushing head wound. This head wound had been gauzed thoroughly, and the head which it adorned was propped between two blue foam blocks in order to keep it immobile. Sort of. Mr. Head Wound Guy was thrashing to the best of his ability, knocking the foam blocks to the floor. Repeatedly.

He was moved into a section of the ER with sliding glass doors directly catty-corner from my own room, and my door was left open, so I got a bird's-eye view of the whole thing. It only happened a few feet away from me. "I will KEEL the muthafucka! You tell the cop that and tell them to give me back my PISTOL!" "Yes sir, we'll get right on that. In you go." And in he went.

Shortly thereafter, a perfectly nice physician's assistant came in, patted me down, checked me out, and left. It would be another hour and a half before I saw anyone again. Except, of course, for Mr. Head Wound Guy.

Mr. Head Wound Guy, inexplicably relieved from his restraints, came sauntering out into the corridor looking for the restroom - which was right beside my room. A nurse came chasing after him. When he emerged, he was summarily returned to his home turf. Fifteen minutes later, he was out again, and this time he discovered me.

Him: Hey there, darling! What are you in here for?
Me: Um. I'm sick.
Him: Me too! Aw man, I'm sick. No, wait. I'm hurt!

He gestured at his bloody gauze headpiece, which bobbed merrily as he talked.

Him: What's wrong with you? Hey look at this computer! I'm going to mess with it -
Me: I don't think you're supposed to touch that -
Him: Aw, they don't mind [:: clickity clickity clickity ::] Hey, you got a big purse there!
Me: I guess.
Him: [:: lowers voice ::] You don't have any rock in there?
Me: I beg your pardon?
Him: Nothing! I didn't say nothing! Nevermind!

Lucky me, Nurse Z showed up and re-delivered Mr. Head Wound Guy back to his territory via nagging nurse parade. It didn't take him five minutes to escape again.

Him: What you in here for, anyway?
Me: Look, mister - I don't mean to be rude, but I'm really very sick. Please leave me alone.
Him: What kind of sick? What are you sick with?
Me: [:: gets a bright idea ::] An infection. I'm contagious. Highly contagious.
Him: An infection?!!!

He retreated a step, aghast. And ghastly. Really, he looked ghastly - between the bloody gauze headpiece and his blood-soaked stripey shirt, he was a walking vision of "Holy fuck, crazy man - please don't talk to me."

Him: You got some kind of infection?
Me: Highly contagious. I mean, it's catching. If you stay in here I'll make you sick.
Him: An infection? Like - like one of those yeast infections?
Me: (O_o) Yes. It's a fierce, mighty yeast infection. Now go away.
Him: And I can catch that? What, like by air, or by touchin', or what?
Me: All of it. It's practically bird flu. Just standing right there? You might already have it.
Him: And what does it do?
Me: It makes you sterile. And impotent.
Him: Man, they should shut your door!
Him: [:: runs away with his dick in his hand, doesn't come back thank you Jesus ::]

At some point, the physician's assistant returned with my blood and magical glowy urine test results. The verdict: nasty UTI, but whatever preventative measures I'd been undertaking on my own had kept the infection from going too far up into my kidneys. In other words: it's bad, but not as bad as it would have been in another day or two.

Now, I have meds - an antibiotic and hydrocodone, which is supposed to be great - but I just got finished puking out my guts a few minutes ago, so I'm not sold on it yet. On the one hand, my back isn't hurting anymore. On the other, puking my guts out. It's a lateral move, at best - and I'm not keeping the antibiotics down yet. I'll give it another try in the morning.

I sleep now.

[Edit: No sleep for me. More puking! I cry now, instead]

* Rather, the first such trip as a patient - not to visit somebody who works there.

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