It was almost exactly three years ago when I had my big emergency room adventure. It was then I discovered, merely by chance, I was short one kidney. I wrote about it in this blog and recently reposted it. You can read it here if you haven’t already. Apparently the event it was so memorable I decided to go for a repeat.
I woke up this morning feeling less than well. Truthfully, I’d felt this coming on since Christmas. I know, I have a real knack for creating some really unforgettable holiday moments. I toughed it out for a while but by early afternoon I was hurting. I had pain in my right side extending down to my nether parts and my lower back. I immediately wondered if my uni-kidney was at risk. And then I recalled that they never told me exactly which side my kidney was on. Guess I might have asked them three years ago but I was so shocked I just didn’t think about it.
I vacillated for a bit and decided it might be best to go to the urgent care clinic and have them check it out lest the Romanian kidney snatchers had come in the night and taken my remaining renal remnant.
I left the house about 2pm and drove myself (yeah, I’m a stubborn ass) to the clinic. After a relatively short wait I was ushered in to see the PA. Apparently the doctor was watching football from what I could discern. I explained my woes and was duly poked and prodded and asked questions from a pre-printed form. The PA said ‘Hmmmm’ and looked puzzled. She begged my leave to confer with the real doctor. She returned and advised me that it was probably my gall bladder or a kidney stone if it wasn’t something else but they could only do an x-ray at the clinic which wouldn’t show anything and they’d refer my to the hospital emergency room for a CAT scan. Time stopped for me in that moment and could hear the words ‘CAT scan’ echoing in my head like some cheesy B movie effect for emphasis. ‘CAT scan?’ I said meekly. ‘Yes’ she confirmed.
I didn’t feel like arguing so I took my referral and headed off to the ER about 2:45pm for my CAT scan. I left the clinic with no small sense of dread and that incessant echo in my skull.
I arrived at the ER a little after 3 and was told it might be a while since they were crazy busy. This did nothing to assuage my unease but I’d come this far so I found myself a seat in the waiting room amidst the (no doubt) infectious masses of humanity seated therein.
It was 4:30 when I was escorted to a triage room where I waited another 20 minutes for the nurse. During that 20 minutes I must have been asked a dozen times by various staff if I was this person or that person but I was never asked it I was me. Finally a somewhat flustered nurse came in and I got to tell my story again top to bottom. She took notes and said the doctor would be in but it would be a while because they were crazy busy.
Comes 5:10 and the harried doctor comes in. I know he was harried from the way he was brushing the Christmas cookie crumbs from the front of his scrubs. He ever so kindly allowed me to tell my story again top to bottom and said he agreed with the PA’s assessment that it might be my gall bladder or a kidney infection if it wasn’t something else. ‘You should probably have a CAT scan’ says he. ‘That’s good’ said I ‘since that’s why they referred me here from the urgent care’. He uttered a very sincere ‘Hmmm’ and told me they’d get me into a room but it might be a while because they were crazy busy.
About 5:30 a frantic young man stuck his head in the door and told me I’d need to go back to the waiting room for a while because they needed to triage a drug addict who was having a seizure at the front desk and they were still crazy busy. I didn’t argue with him.
I made myself comfortable in the waiting room and watched the last half of ‘The Rundown’, which for some reason was in Spanish. I actually think it made more sense than when I’d seen it in English.
At around 6:30 the frantic young man called my name and said ‘We have a room!’. This was spoken with the enthusiastic glee normally reserved to announce lottery winners.
I got to my room, number 32, and was told to take off my shirt and was given my traditional holiday garb, the hospital gown. Frantic man hurried off and I found the tie on the left portion of the gown had been ripped off so I had no way to secure it. I thought about tracking down frantic man but feared losing my room so I improvised and overcame but ripping off a piece of the lower part and tying it together at the top. (I had to rip it apart again when I left).
No too long after my ER nurse came in and introduced herself. I think her name was Maria but she mumbled every other word and I had a deucedly difficult time understanding her. I think she said they were going to draw blood and take a urine sample and the doctor would be around shortly. I said ‘I bet it’s been crazy busy’ and she replied ‘It’s not so bad’. So much for my endearingly clever attempt at humor. She turned on the TV and showed me how to change channels and asked if I’d like to lie down. I said I’d sit for a bit since it was more painful to lie down. She mumbled something reassuring and left.
I found the football game on TV and decided to turn my chair so I wouldn’t have to crane my neck. I reached underneath the grasp the chair and felt a sharp pain in my left index finger. I’d sliced it almost to the bone and was bleeding all over the place. I grabbed some tissues and staunched the wound. I cleaned up the blood on the floor a bit and washed my finger in the sink. I grabbed some more tissues and sat down pondering whether or not to call the nurse.
Maria returned while I was pondering and I told her what had happened. She was totally nonplussed as if this was an every day occurrence. She grabbed some gauze and tape and prepared to bandage my wound. I was holding the tissue between my thumb and index finger applying pressure. She asked me to grab the tissue with my other hand so she could get to the cut. I did so and she swiftly moved to bandage my thumb. When she finally noticed the blood gushing from my fingertip she mumbled ‘Whoops’ and switched the bandage around. By now I had blood up to my wrist and all over the floor. It was then that the CAT scan man showed up with his wheelchair. He stuck his head in the door and asked if I was ready to get scanned. Maria mumbled for him to go away and come back in five minutes since she had yet to put in my IV and draw blood. CAT scan man looked unhappy and rolled away.
I was having serious doubts at this point whether Maria could actually get a needle into me without causing severe damage. She got the needle out and fumbled and mumbled, patting my arm in various places to find a vein but to no avail. She decided to try my hand instead and patted and mumbled until she finally said ‘Hmmm’ and seemed satisfied. She got the needle in almost painlessly much to my relief. Then CAT scan man stuck his head in again and asked if I was ready to go. I was more than ready but Maria turned and mumbled ‘Go away. I’m not done yet’. When she’d turned she dropped one of the tubes on the floor and when she bent to pick it up she wrenched the needle sideways which made me clench my fist which made it hurt like hell. She apologized and proceeded to tape it down. CAT scan man went away looking even more unhappy than the first time.
Maria got the blood drawn and said she’d be back with something for the pain most of which, I thought to myself, she had herself inflicted. I guess it was getting on toward 7:30 when CAT scan man struck his head in the door and asked ‘She gone?’. I nodded yes and he said ‘Good. Let’s rodeo.’ Yes, he said let’s rodeo. I smiled.
He wheeled me away and the CAT scan went swimmingly as CAT scan man was amazingly efficient unlike most of his coworkers. Bravo CAT scan man.
Of course Maria was waiting impatiently in room 32 when we returned. CAT scan man dropped my off and went in search of another soul to scan. Maria said ‘I have some morphine for you’ at which I thought thank the gods at least I’ll be out of it for a bit. Maria scanned the vials, scanned my wrist band and looked at the computer and said ‘Hmmm. It didn’t scan’. So we did it again. And again. The fourth time it took and she readied her needle. Here’s where it gets a little weird. I swear she held up the morphine vial, stuck the syringe in and didn’t draw out a damn thing. She turned her back and brought the ‘morphine’ over with another syringe to flush the line. She injected both and said ‘You might want to lie down now. The doctor should be in soon.’ I complied, turned up the football game and waited for the pain to subside. It never did. Not a bit. If anything it was worse since I was now lying down.
I watched about a quarter of football and Maria came back and mumbled something about the doctor. I assumed she was saying the doctor was somewhere or other but her mumbling was worse than before. I think I know where MY morphine went.
About 9 the doctor came in and made me recite the story again from the top. Being well rehearsed I was quick about it. I explained the kidney story. She asked which side it was on and I had to admit I didn’t know. I was asked about diseases, surgeries, my black ops exploits in Venezuela. I told her I’d had polio when I was five, I’d had surgery on my neck a few years ago and wondered how the hell she found out about Venezuela. Anyway, she spent a good amount of time checking me out and admitted that without a peek at the scans and the lab work she couldn’t venture a diagnosis. I was impressed. Honesty without conjecture. She asked about the bandage on my finger and after I explained she said ‘You’re kidding, right?’ I assured her I was serious and she asked to take a look. She peeled off the bandage and the blood started to gush again. ‘That’s gonna need stitches’ she said. Super. She re-bandaged the damaged digit and went off to go over all my data.
While the doctor was gone a lady from reception came and asked for my insurance card and ID again. I went to reach in my pocket and realized I had this humongous bandage on my left finger and the pulse monitor on my right. I looked at her sheepishly and when it was clear there was no way in hell she’d reach into my hip pocket for my wallet I fished it out clumsily with my thumb and pinkie. I gave her the cards and got back to the football game. At this point I’m thinking to myself there must be a very good reason I’m periodically sentenced to these hellish experiences. I’m still in pain, my finger hurts and the words ‘CAT scan’ are still bouncing about my cranium.
The doctor finally returned and I immediately noted the slight smile and puzzled expression on her face. I felt somewhat relieved at this point assuming that the diagnosis couldn’t be all that serious. Could it? Maybe she was a tad ghoulish and took some perverse pleasure in delivering bad news. My little mental roller coaster was going out of control.
‘Well, we went over your scans and your labs and didn’t find anything. Urine’s clear, blood works good, white cell count is fine. Your liver, gall bladder pancreas and kidney all look great. Oh, it’s on the right side by the way’. Somewhat stunned by the result I think I said ‘Huh?’ to which she replied ‘Your kidney. It’s on the right side’. I told her that I got that part but what the hell was causing the pain. ‘Not a clue. Your insides look better than 90% of the people I see at your age’. Ain’t that just dandy. I’m hurting like hell and there’s nothing wrong. ‘It could be muscular. You might have pulled something and not realized it at the time. That wouldn’t show on the CAT scan.’ I was about to ask if she was sure they hadn’t switched the lab work and scans with someone else’s when she said ‘Actually, I only found one thing…’ Okay, here we go. What the hell is it? ‘I found a small fracture at T11 in your back. When did that happen?’ I said ‘Never to the best of my recollection.’ ‘Well, it appears it happened some time ago and looks okay now. Let’s get that finger sewn up so you can go home.’
I honestly remember little about the stitching of the finger. She did a great job and I didn’t feel a thing. Took three stitches that I have to have out in a week. Trying to make small talk I asked if the flu was the reason they were crazy busy. She said ‘Funny you should ask. We just had our first verified case this evening. The lady in the next room’. Great, I’ll for certain have the first flu symptoms in a couple of days.
The doc prescribed Lortabs and told me to consult a gastroenterologist who’ll probably want to scope me from one end or the other or maybe both to determine definitively what’s causing the pain. And in no time at all I was off into the very cold and very windy night.
It was almost 10pm when I pulled out of the hospital parking lot. On the drive home I couldn’t help but marvel at my ER adventures. Three years ago, almost to the day, I get a CAT scan that reveals I have only one kidney. This time around the CAT scan shows I fractured my back some time in my dark past. I’ve already made a note on my calendar not to approach an emergency room in December 2016. There’s no telling what might come up.