Stack 'em up! Roll'em out...

Stack ’em up! Roll’em out…

Fade into a crowded, burgundy coloured hallway – smelling of hand sanitizer and ventilated by a cold breeze entering from the frequently opening automatic doors – harshly lit by many fluorescent lights, and dotted with computer monitors, hospital stretchers, and paramedics in uniforms of various colors and hues, and nurses and doctors in trendy scrubs with paramilitary cargo pockets…

I lay on a stretcher in the full Emergency ward, parallel parked in the high traffic hallway stretching from the ambulance entrance to the Nurse’s Station.  As I was witness to the multitude of people who frequent the Emerg (note the use of hospital savvy jargon), I couldn’t help but remark how lucky I was – save for the fact I was possibly having a heart attack.

My lovely wife and I sat in that hallway, in single file, her at my head, because there was no room for her to sit beside me in the crazy corridor. We were together – yet slightly apart – and silently thought about what was happening. Though we shared occasional encouragements, and commented on the goings on in the ward, we were both worried. I was here because I thought maybe I had suffered a heart attack, but really I was hoping that they would tell us I was a fool – that it was massive noon-hour meat loaf or a not quite “best before” sandwich.

And about 20 minutes later, the doctor came to me with the results of my first blood test.

“All is good, young lad! Your numbers are great, and there is no sign of troponin – our first indicator of a heart attack.”

No issues whatsoever...

No issues whatsoever…

We were so relieved.

But soon my relief was replaced by a temporal resignation, and an internal voice saying “I told you so, you pussy!” as the Doctor told me to dig in and get comfortable. Cardiac protocol dictated a second blood test at about 6 hours after the first incident. Ugggh. I was stretcher bound until at least 1230am, the first time that they could draw more blood accurately.

Ouch! I pondered my kitchen stupor decision – but the die was cast. I was, as the pig says, committed.

So I got comfortable, asked for a blanket, and with a mind more at ease, I started looking around to occupy my time between the occasional social media creeping.

An Emergency room is a fascinating documentary when you are waiting – especially on a weekend evening. Since it wasn’t after school, there wasn’t the stressed line of parents waiting for the docs to pronounce on Johnny’s concussion or stretched knee ligaments after rugby practice.

Nope, it was the Friday Night Club: an airlifted and unconscious car crash victim on a backboard and neck stabiliser; the obscenity hurling drunkard who wanted to beat up everything – not just everyone – in his path, but thankfully was restrained; the possible drug addict who looked as if she had crashed hard; and sadly, the poor young university student who appeared to be the victim of a drug-laced drink – or 10 margaritas. She and her friends shared a convoluted story about how she met a guy over the internet and had joined him for drinks. Her case, among all of them, disturbed me most; she was catatonic. I honestly have no idea what happened to her and neither did one of the Kingston’s Thin Blue Line who was trying to piece together the puzzle that was her evening. As I looked at her, not even knowing the ground truth but fabricating one of my own, I felt shame as a man, and I felt anger as a parent. As I looked at my fellow citizens in angst and those charged with taking care of them, it was amazing how thick the air was with a tension and turmoil. If I had to describe the atmosphere as a colour, I would call it a mist of reddish-black.

I asked myself again, “What the f*ck am I doing here?”

And time ticked on…slowly. And my mind explored unconsidered thoughts and memories.

I remember reading newspaper stories of the elderly who die unattended in the hallways of the Emergency room. I never understood it, but I get it now. As I lay there, the staff moved to and fro dealing with this and that – every “that” more urgent than the previous one. They were busy. And when it was my turn to be looked at – to give blood, or have an ECG, or have vitals taken – the staff were friendly, responsive and professional. But then their attention diverted to the next priority and I became part of the landscape – a part of the furniture. And though it is tragic, and inexcusable, I could see that if something went amiss, like a misplaced file or misdirected lab result, that people could sit and wait and wait and slip through the cracks if they were unable to speak for themselves or cast nasty looks.  As the administrators and clerks and porters and cleaning staff and medics who had nothing to do with my case management went by their business, there was no salutation or warm comment, not even a sideways glance. It was as if a kind moment would divert them from their quest, would implicate them in some longer interaction that was just not helpful to their work day.  No water, no food, no nothing for six hours.

I fortunately, was ok. I had my wife with me, and I was fine – the first blood test said so!

But if I was a lonely, scared, and sick or injured person, it would be absolutely terrifying and an unbelievably shitty way to pass time.

And time continued to march on. Thank goodness for my smart phone and the hospital’s free WiFi. The hours whittled away as I Stumbled-Upon and Tweeted and had virtual conversations on Facebook.  I was convinced that I was wasting my time, the staff’s time and holding up someone who was really ill from getting looked at because I was a priority over the laceration or contusion.  In fact, we were so optimistic that my wife, feeling tired and not so well herself, went home to look after the dog.  Whether it was the nitroglycerine sprays, the baby aspirin, or just time, my chest stopped feeling funny and I moved to the dodgy tummy and gas stage. I’ll spare you the descriptions – but if it was a colour, think greenish-brown!

Then, suddenly it seemed, 1245am arrived and the clinician took my blood, all the while asking me if I knew her friend Sanjay, who was Indian, but born in the UK. Sadly I didn’t, and strangely enough, she found that surprising. She was sure that Kingston was not

I'm here, I'm here....

I’m here, I’m here….

that big a town after all, you see.   And 45 minutes later, the hip looking senior medico – looking all young Bob Dylan-ish in his green scrubs and Levis – came to see me with file in hand, as if all of sudden I had pulled a Walt Disneyesque sleight of hand, and changed from a chest of drawers to a human being.

White dove and seas, man...

White dove and seas, man…

“Dr. Bob” looked a little surprised – and secretly I was hoping it was because he couldn’t believe someone would waste 8 hours of their Friday night for nothing. I was already dreaming of a nice hot shower and my comfy duvet, snuggled up to my wife.

But that wasn’t to be.

“Uh…mmm…wow. I would never have guessed it from your history, your activity level and your age, but…uh…the numbers for troponin in your 1245am sample seem to show you have had a ‘coronary event’…crazy, man.” (“Man” thrown in for literary effect…)

A coronary event – what the hell is that?! I don’t recall reading anything about that when they were talking cholesterol or blood pressure. Is it like the Farm Team version of a heart attack?  And if I heard it right – because I was a bit stunned – he explained it could be coronary arterial spasm (rare in men but possible), or angina, or a heart attack. He wasn’t ready to pronounce judgement as it wasn’t his specialty – I guess the answer was blowin’ in the wind.

The on duty cardiologist intern would check the data.

I remained stoic and calm and cheerful on the outside; but inside, I was a raging torrent of confusion. WTF? Seriously? A coronary event? My ticker was busted?

I guess it's something to do with your heart...

I guess it’s something to do with your heart…

So with that premium upgrade in patient status, I moved from “hallway hanger-on” to a full-blown patient of the emergency ward. I was moved from street parking and backed into my very own private parking spot. The curtain was drawn and I was left to ponder what just happened.

Being alone with such news is a freaky-deaky. Not for the last time over the next few hours, I asked myself again, “How the f*ck did I get here?”

Now, I know that I came to Emergency  because I thought I as having a heart attack, but what I really wanted was someone in green scrubs to pat my wrist and say, “There, there, Sir, the voices are just in your head. You’re fine…just lay off the fatty food and keep running.”   When it came to my read of my symptoms during the run, there was absolutely no joy in being right. It wasn’t as if I had just won a bet by looking up something on Google; I had just had a bloody heart attack!

Twenty five minutes is a long time to ponder such news. I dug deep and kept busy. As my phone was on its last 4% of power (ASF’s Top Tip: Free advice…if going to Emergency, grab your phone charger. You’ll probably need it),I did a quick assessment of who would need to know at 0330am that my heart was telling me I was an idiot.  And so followed a quick round of texts to my wife and e-mails to my bosses giving them the news – the first was necessary and needed; the second was because that is what we do in the Army. But, unfortunately I had to inform them that they would have limited opportunity to contact me on my phone because it was dying. In a burst of coherence, I changed “dying” to “running out of juice” –  dying may not be a good word to use when telling people you have had a heart attack.

And so at 0430am I was wheeled to the Cardiac Ward, pumped full of blood thinners and anti-coagulants, anti-clotting agents, aspirin, and beta-blockers and left in the quiet dark to ponder my fate.  It was late and I had been up for over 22 hours but I knew that there was not much sleep coming.

Again and perhaps for the final time of the day, I asked myself,  “What the f*ck am I doing here?” I did not have many answers.

End of Act Two…