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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

An evening in the emergency ward

Yesterday afternoon, right after lunch, I asked my daughter to step on my back (I enjoy having my spine cracked). My mistake was to ask her to do that when I had a full stomach. Right afterwards, I felt a severe pain in my left chest. Suspecting the worst, I put my hand to my throat to measure my pulse; it was beating strong and steady. But every time I tried to breathe deeply, it hurt my left lung. Then, when I tried to lay down, I found that resulted in intense pain. My family urged me to call the doctor. After a few hours, I did. Partly because I'm 60, but mostly because a doctor's job is to err on the side of caution (and avoid malpractice suits), I was told to go to the emergency ward at the local hospital.

I had the full battery of tests, and they found nothing wrong. Eventually they gave me some muscle relaxants, I went home, and slept soundly. I still can't breathe deeply, but seem to be on the mend.

There are various situations in which I would find it utterly impossible to get a hard on. One is while exercising hard. Another would be while giving a public speech. A third is being in an airplane during turbulence. I would rank last night's situation ahead of all of them.

There's nothing quite like sitting in a backless hospital gown with an IV coming out of your arm, an oxygen monitor on your right index finger, and a bunch of EKG wires hanging off you to make you feel emasculated.

Plus, when everybody is treating you like an old man who's about to keel over, you can't help but feel like one.

Thank goodness my son came with me to insult me and make me feel normal. He took a picture of me in my gown, and mused about how he could turn this situation into a good story to tell girls.

We also talked about how hospitals themselves can make you feel sick.

It is true. I felt fine when I got there, and when they first took my blood pressure in the "triage" area, it measured 113/77, about normal. However, by the time they took it again when I was covered in those sticky EKG thingies and having a needle jabbed into me for blood extraction, it measured 140/98.

The nurse took four vials of blood from me for various tests. (Good bye to that world record attempt I had been planning for next month; reverse blood doping has never been known to work). I asked her if I could have the blood back when they were through testing it, but she didn't seem to think that was a good idea.

While we were waiting for the results, my son told me about a recent Medal of Honor winner who'd been shot in both legs, then got one of his arms blown off by an enemy hand grenade. He'd had to tie the tourniquet himself around his own stump.

Then he kept fighting.

I couldn't help but feel my son told me that story to provide a contrast to my own behavior.

The story was certainly inspirational though. It bolstered my courage to the point that when the nurse stuck the needle in, I didn't even cry.

I'm dreading the bill. The doctor said she consulted with a radiologist to get a second opinion on my chest x-ray, and started to tell me about what they'd found, but after that all I could hear was "fee splitting."

Next time I'm not going in unless I'm positive I'll die otherwise.

And even then, I'll think twice.


Glen Filthie said...


Those doctors and young hottie nurses that looked after you will croak before you do, John.

It is my scholarly opinion that our society promotes and encourages hypochondria. I myself got a similar scare. I use those public blood pressure machines at the pharmacies from time to time. I noticed recently that my blood pressure was red lining and immediately shat my pants in fright! (I am heavy to begin with, an ex-ironworker slowly turning to flab at 50).

I clucked my way into the doctor's office, laid an egg and gobbled in fright about how I was going to blow my gaskets and keel over any second. He just calmly laughed, and gave me another blood pressure test - with a properly sized arm band - and I fell back within range with room to spare. I was scolded to lose weight and I may even do it this time...but I had been given the fright of my life. The public machines are made for women and gimps with girly arms and not for men with actual biceps. You might warn your son about this - or not. It might actually be a good practical joke to play on him, depending on how mean and angry you are with him...


John Craig said...

Glen --
I suspect I will too; it' surprising how unhealthy many people who work i the medical profession look.

Agree about hypochondria. Especially with all the new studies contradicting each other. First we're supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day, then we find out that's too much. Salt is bad, then it's okay. Coffee is good, then bad. Alcohol is good in moderation, then it's bad. Fats are bad, now they're recommended. We were supposed to make carbs the basis of our nutrition, now they're considered bad. Coffee was bad, now it's indifferent. About the only thing that everybody can agree on is that sugar is bad for you.

I'm sure your biceps are bigger than mine.

Steven said...

I've been spending time in the hospital lately. My grandmother had a large aortic aneurysm removed. It was a risky operation, even more so given her poor lung capacity and previous heart problems.

She seemed tense (like I would be before getting a tooth out) but good humoured before she went in. We said goodbye to her. She survived and told us afterwards that she expected to die and was petrified. In her mind, she was submitting herself to her death when she went under the anesthetic. That's really admirable bravery. I can't help but think I would have been far less composed!

We found out here is something called intensive care unit syndrome or delirium. A lot of ICU patients, a third or even up to a half, experience serious paranoia and sometimes hallucinations in the immediate aftermath of surgery. Its probably some combination of the strong drugs and the situation you are in.

A lot of them believe the nurses are trying to kill them. My nan went through a couple of days where she believed night she saw a nurse coming with a torch and was convinced the nurse was there to blow her up. She thought they wanted her limbs or something. She was terrified and stayed awake all night. She appeared to us afraid and suspicious.

This is a woman has never had a mental illness in her life and is very stable. A day after she came off the morphine and she was completely back to normal. Crazy, eh?

Your hospital story prompted mine.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, your grandmother is brave.

I would have to imagine that ICU delirium is caused mostly by the drugs. I had my left shoulder operated o in '94 and they evidently gave me some morphine. I've never been happier than when I woke up from that operation. I started chatting away with the doctor, telling him about the Michiavellian's Guide to Womanizing which i was about to get published. Usually when I run off at the mouth like that (which isn't all that rare) I'm at least aware that I've boasted as soon as I've done it, but this time it didn't even occur to me until the next day. I'm sure that was the morphine talking. It was a happy experience, not the bad one your grandmother experienced, but it was definitely the drugs.

As I write this I"m on Valium (I'm supposed to take it for five days as it's a skeletal muscle relax, and that as evidently my problem), but even though the drug's had a reputation as an illicit high since way back when, I don't seem to feel anything.

In fact, wasn't Valium what the Rolling Stones were referring to as "Mother's LIttle Helper"?

Steven said...


Yeah I agree it was the drugs that made her paranoid but its a 'perfect' situation to feed the paranoia. You are in bed hooked up to machines, at the mercy of the hospital staff. For somebody already paranoid, that situation could be interpreted in a very sinister and frightening way.

Funny, I like a lot of old music but I never listened to the rolling stones. You like them?

John Craig said...

Steven --
True, I can see how it'd be easy to get paranoid in that situation.

Yes, love the Stones, at least everything they did up until 1969. "Let it Bleed" was their last great album in my opinion. I"m one of those old guys who thinks all good music stopped after the 60's.

I've been thinking, it's funny, but when you write, I hear an American accent, which I guess is far from the truth.

Steven said...

In some ways the sixties ended in 1969.

You like the Beatles?

Its funny how that can happen with the voice. I'm somehow flattered, being of the America liking persuasion.

American accents are par for the course on tv but it'd be strange to hear one in real life. Not sure I've ever actually known an American irl. Be like somebody jumped out of the tv.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, I love the Beatles, though a fair amount of their music was a little like elevator music. Liked the White Album, their early dance music, and various individual songs like "Here, There, and Everywhere," which I think is their most beautiful song. Also really like a lot of Lennon's later stuff, including "Watching the Wheels" and "Beautiful Boy."

In the US, people often see British accents as classy. I've often joked to my brother that a girl goes from a 6 to an 8 in his estimation if she has a British accent.

When my wife and I visited new Zealand in '88, people would sometimes seem to perk up when they heard us talk, and after a few days I realized that it was because they associated American accents with the glamorous people they saw on TV (many of the TV programs over there at the time were American).

Steven said...

The one American I remember talking to was a friend's girlfriend. And according to him, having a scouse accent in America is a serious hit with the ladies. Not sure it would be seen as 'classy' though! Its more like a working class Irish-American type of accent like Bostonian.

Its funny how a lot of Americans have the notion of a 'British accent' and it is a posh London accent that i guess most Brits don't have.

I'll look JL songs up. I only know 'working class hero', 'imagine', 'instant karma', 'woman', 'jealous guy' and 'woman is the nigger of the world' which he talked about on the Dick Cavett show.

My high school was on the same road as strawberry field, a favourite place of John's from his childhood. There are tourists there often when I go past, posing for photos outside the gates.

You more of a John Lennon than Paul McCartney fan? The intellectual types usually are :-).

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, if you came to the States I suspect your accent would definitely score you some points with the ladies.

It's true, though, most Americans think of British accents as the plummy ones they hear in the movies, either from the villain, or some sexy women like Elizabeth Hurley.

I'd recommend the two Lennon songs I mentioned in my comment above. There are others, though.

I like McCartney's music too, though I prefer Lennon's. Can't say I was a fan of Lennon's politics though. The Beatles were sneaky conservatives, though, as you can sort of glean from their songs "Taxman" and "Revolution."

I wrote about that here:

Steven said...

I'll have a read of that now before bed. I'm just listening to Simon and Garfunkel.

Somebody told me that a Maoist group asked John Lennon for money and revolution was his reply. I think my sociology teacher when I was 17 told me that...he was a big John Lennon fan and that was his favourite Beatles song.