Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How I put the "ER" in adventure

I am not dressed properly for the emergency room. Dress, heels, hair done up -- not a comfortable way to spend an afternoon on a gurney.

Then again, who can plan for these things? It's not the Expected room. Thank God I at least have clean underwear on. And my legs are shaved.

How did I end up here anyway, in the George Washington University emergency care unit, on the day before my 25th birthday? Well, I went temporarily blind in the metro on my way to work. The Ballston station (henceforth known as Balls-of-fire-HOT-ton) cooked my brain, sent my blood pressure into a tizzy, and caused my vision to pixelate, brighten, then gradually sink into a dark sea.

It wasn't fainting, per se. I remained upright the whole time, gagging on the thick perfume of the woman next to me, and making contingency plans for being that anonymous "sick passenger on the platform" who delays trains up to 30 minutes in the DC metro system. If I fall, I thought, will someone help me? How will my roommates find out? Will I hit my head? So I decided it was easiest all around to just remain standing.

What followed was 30-45 seconds of eyes-wide-open dark followed by lingering tingles and the urge to lie flat. The rush of the train's arrival delivered cool air that recalibrated my system. I couldn't see the train, so I didn't get on it. But the dark began to recede as the train pulled away. And the next train arrived just as the dark was coming back. I made it to work without further incident.

The rest of the morning was a bit woozy, dizzy, and nauseous. After 4 hours of not feeling better, and on the rec of a doctor's office I called, I decided to go to the ER.

Now, this is the first time in my life, with the exception of my birth, that I have ever been admitted to a hospital. And stupid stubborn me -- the same obstinate a** who overrode her own body telling her to fall down and faint already-- almost didn't go because she wanted to keep that golden record intact. But then my overactive imagination took the reins, and images of an undetected brain tumor made me all too willing to put in the time, just to be safe.

So here I sit, legs dangling, waiting for test results and people-watching. Spending time in a hospital is a stark reminder that somebody is always worse off than you. The young mother in the curtained room next to me who had to bring her two little babies along while she waits for treatment. The disoriented older lady trying to escape from the CT scan room, inching her wheelchair along with her toes and crying "Lord have mercy!" The man with the oxygen mask lying inert in a gurney in the hallway. The middle-aged woman who explains to the doctor that she's temporarily homeless, and she swears that her infected foot began as a sunburn.

This is where sudden, unexplained blindness will get you. Staff here have put me through an EKG, urine sample, and blood sugar test. All were good. I passed my neurological tests with the doctor. She didn't know what went wrong. (Though she did ask, "I have NO idea how you managed to stay standing up." My answer: "Sheer willpower.")

So I wait yet again, this time for results from my first-ever CT scan. I pass the time thinking of better ways to ring in my quarter-century birthday, which announced itself by expiring my warranty, it seems. I could eat ice cream. Go to happy hour with friends. Or update my living will ...

The unknowing is the scariest. The people are friendly here, the atmosphere calm, and the pace steady. Hardly the round-the-clock, tense drama depicted on popular doctor shows. Nothing overt to alarm me. Yet the possibility lurks in my mind that my flying-color test results will stop, and something abnormal will emerge.

I look calmer than I feel. Five hours imagining your certain brain tumor and fast demise wears you out. And while I'm glad no one is here wasting their time with me for what I'm (pretty) sure will be a clean diagnosis, I'm sad no one is here to distract and reassure me. (The one God-sent exception: my stalwart best friend Emily, who held my virtual hand by texting every 20 minutes to check in on me.)

The doctor comes back. She hands me my results. Not one thing wrong. My "near-syncope" is unexplained. That's at once reassuring and disturbing. Great, I won't die on the floor here, but will something happen later? Can I prevent my untimely departure? I'm only 25, woman!! Of course, I say nothing. Just take the papers and head home.

Jacob makes pizza for me that night. I update my parents, and learn that my mother had calculated her PTO days in case she had to come down and nurse me through my Helen Keller moment. Emily had checked train schedules to do the same. I drink some wine to banish my very dull headache. And I head to bed, ready to greet my birthday with renewed senses of gratitude for my health and happiness, and of awe for the mystery that our bodies occasionally like to remind us they are.


Ed. Note: After a follow-up appointment to this incident, it looks like I had a vasovagal episode -- a near-fainting experience spurred by a 'perfect storm' of my low blood pressure, a med I'm on, electrolyte depletion, and the heat wave here. Blood work will tell the rest. So nothing serious, and all entirely treatable. Can we get a *phew*?

5 comments:

  1. Nice birthday! Glad everything worked out well! I always go into "I must have cancer" mode when something like that happens, so I feel your paranoia. The hospital is my old stomping grounds, haha.

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  2. Yeah, but you actually did have cancer at that point, didn't you?? So you're more than justified ...

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  3. Oy vey, what a mess...glad to hear things are OK! Make sure you are eating/drinking enough to keep those electrolytes up!

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  4. Hey all -- quick update. Blood work came back a-ok. All normal, nothing wrong, sitch will forever be unexplained ... and I'm ok with that! Thanks for all the well wishes!

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  5. Marie Rocchi (The Mom)9:33 PM

    Apparently, giving birth to someone also creates the parallel universe of anxiety. While Julia sat for hours in the ER, I already had her diagnosed with a brain tumor and was trying to figure out how I would help everyone cope with it---especially Julia. I figured my luck was up and this was the proverbial shoe that I have been waiting to drop for all of my adult life (which is starting to get a little on the long side). After waiting five hours to hear from Julia, I finally got a call directly from her and not a doctor or one of her roomates as I had half expected. She was fine and I was a wreck. I went home to Julia's Dad, my sweetheart, and we breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief, prepared and ate a delicious dinner and drank copious amounts of wine. Another crisis averted. I love my daughter. I love my life. Thank you, God.

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