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Go Straight to the ER, Don’t Stop for Cupcakes

Saturday was something else. On the one hand, I might have a life-threatening blood clot in my chest; on the other–which I thought far more likely–I might die of old age forgotten in a quiet corner of the ER… One day nurse Brittney would walk into the hospital with that nagging feeling in the back of her head that she had forgotten something and then it would hit her– she’d run to my room and find the bones of me and my mother still patiently waiting for a CT scan. Then she’d shrug and call the janitor, “we forgot a patient again…”

At least that’s the scenario my imagination concocted as I sat in ER purgatory–waiting three hours for a fifteen minute scan, and then two more for results and ultimate discharge. Add to that the fact that we had already started the day off with three hours at the minor emergency clinic and you might understand why I was, at one point, considering just taking my chances with the blood clot.

My fun Saturday started with waking up in the middle of the night to a collection of uncomfortable and confusing symptoms: sweats, chills, lightheadedness, nausea and chest pain. In my world the first four mean I have an infection of some sort. But the chest pain, in absence of a cough, was totally new. Plus it was only on the left side, which is also weird. I tried unsuccessfully to get back to sleep until about 8:30am, when I sighed, sat up and accepted that a trip to the doc’s was unavoidable. I talked to my mom, and she generously offered to accompany me. We decided to try the minor emergency place first, as we were not ready to resign ourselves to a day in the full-on ER just yet.

At 9:30 we walked into the Urgent Care, just as we had about a hundred times before–in high school, before I was diagnosed with PI, this place was my life–and were dismayed to find it unusually full for a Saturday morning in June. A sinking feeling settled in next to my throbbing chest, a grim foreshadowing of the day ahead.

It is certainly a rarity for me to go in to someplace like MD Express and not know already what is wrong with me, but Saturday was an unusual day all around. The PA I saw was very kind and tried to help me out, but he was also perplexed. They stole my blood and pee for science (Andy Dwyer quote people) and did a chest x-ray. Everything looked pretty good except one blood test, perhaps the only one in existence that I haven’t had before, the D-dimer. Apparently it is used to check for the possibility of a blood clot. Normal level is below 600, mine was 2,160–so not normal. When the doc told us he explained our sentence–we were condemned to a day in the depths of the ER. He said he wouldn’t make us ride in an ambulance as long as we promised to go straight there and not stop for a box of cupcakes–if I did have a blood clot it could be very dangerous.

Well we didn’t stop for cupcakes, but we did stop by the house to refuel and stock up on supplies for the day ahead. Technically I guess I should have been scared I might drop dead at any moment, but being cold, hungry and thirsty overrules fear of death any day. We got to the ER and were taken back to a nice quiet corner room pretty quickly, which filled us with false optimism. They stole seven more vials of my blood via the largest IV needle and catheter I have ever seen and hooked me up to all the heart monitor stuff. The doc also came by the first time pretty quickly; she said she’d order a CT scan, etc. Then we watched the grass grow faster than the CT machine became available. Eventually I did get wheeled back to get my scan and was unhappy to learn that it was with contrast–the IV contrast stuff they use makes you feel really weirdly hot and gross and like you’re peeing your pants. Back to the room. Look at that grass grow.

After another good stretch the doc came back with the good news–no blood clot! And then the bad news–that means we have no idea what is wrong with you. And then the medium news–I’m prescribing you an anti-inflammatory to help the chest pain and prevent clots. And then the best news–the nurse will be by soon to discharge you and then you can get outta here! When we left at six, poor nurse Brittney still had nine hours left in her shift. I felt bad leaving a man behind, but we had to make our escape while we could. I’m sure she understands.