I am sick today. And since my boss and my coworkers are out of the office this week, I can’t take a sick day. I mean, I guess I could, if my limbs were falling off or something. But I’m not that sick. Just sick enough to make me want to sit half-upright in bed and watch TV all day instead of sit at my desk and invent work for myself.
But no one wants to read my complaints about my sore throat or my headache or the fuzzy Idon’twannbehereoranywhereatall feeling I have. Instead, I thought I’d tell about a time when I was even sicker. What? Yes, I’m going to tell you about my amazing adventure to the ER my freshman year of college. This will be a short post (heh… right…), because my head feels like it might need to be detached from my neck and I have to go find an instrument to accomplish that before the hardware store closes.
So, here’s my story. I’ll set the scene: Freshman year. Undisclosed private university that happened to have a major metropolitan hospital on each of the four corners of campus. Late winter, during a record breaking string of rainy days (not helpful when recovering from illness). A roommate who was Smelly (not at all material to the story, but added to the grievances). My mother lived in a different state (in my home state. Where I wasn’t.).
I went to bed fine on Thursday night. My throat felt a little scratchy, but it was very late and I had spent the evening watching movies with friends, which inevitably resulted in laughing and yelling and general horsing around. I thought nothing of it. Until I woke up on Friday and thought I had died. I don’t quite know how the biology of that works, but I did. I felt like I’d been hit by a train. I oozed out of bed and into something resembling clothing and went to class. And was sent back to my dorm room by at least one professor—“You look like death and none of the rest of us wants to die. Go home. Feel better. Bye.”
I called my mother, homesick and sad. It was the first time I had been sick alone and I missed her. Plus, I had never done the hospital thing by myself and I was pretty sure where this was headed (the campus health center was closed and would be until the following week). I had a headache and an earache so bad I thought my face would fly off from the pressure. By Friday night, my parents told me to go to the ER. I called the campus public safety for a ride, less for my safety and more because I knew I couldn’t walk the two and a half blocks to the ER by myself (and who wants to call an ambulance for a head cold?). There was all of this murmuring about how they couldn’t transport me if I was really sick, because of all the liability crap, but I actually put my foot down and stood up for myself, the one and only time so far in my life, I think.
I got to the ER about 10:00 pm and was triaged. They asked me the pain level thing that LauraMiri hates. I told them “six” because I have migraines and this pain was high, but nowhere near that badness. I sat in the ER, without a book (Elise, what were you THINKING?), trying to watch TV and pass the time. Do you know how fun it is to watch a marathon of James Bond movies in a hard plastic hospital waiting room chair while you have an earache and a headache? Zero fun, sir. That is how much. Many people got to be treated before me. Even some who came after me and were not bleeding as far as I could see. I grew up in and around hospitals, so I know that the system may not seem fair, but is actually a good system. But that night, I didn’t care if it was “good.” I just wanted the pain to stop.
Then this couple came in. They were obviously drunk. And his forehead was cut open and his knuckles were bruised. Bar fight. Great. There’s blood, so I’m waiting again. Their friends, another couple, came in a few moments later to “help” but they were both drunk , too. Somehow, the guy with the head wound ended up asleep on the floor and his girlfriend tried to make out with one of the female triage nurses. And then another patient. While the other couple disappeared. This was a small diversion for me, but ultimate just annoying.
At 5:00 am, I was finally led back to a room. And left for another half hour. The doctor was nice when she finally showed up, so when she asked about my pain level, I only said “eight” instead of the swear words I wanted to use to preface and follow the number. She did all the doctor things one does and determined that I had laryngitis, sinusitis, an ear infection, and strep throat. And those were the only obvious culprits. I was a veritable petri dish. She gave me some antibiotics and sent me home.
After wrangling the campus public safety to come get me and bring me home (Did I mention that this was a program the offered freely? A ride to/from anywhere within ten blocks of campus during the hours of 10:00 pm and 6:00 am no questions asked. To ensure the safety of drunk partygoers. But somehow, taking me to the ER less than three blocks from campus was a burden…), I took my meds and fell into a deep sleep. For an hour. And then I woke up and vomited. In my trash can. Then I realized I would have to clean it up myself. Because I am an adult and adults take care of themselves. Or some other “I go to college in a different state from my parents” nonsense.
After cleaning it up in the dorm showers (because what ELSE was I supposed to do?), I crawled back into bed and slept. For another hour. At which point I promptly woke up and vomited again. This went on ad nauseam (heh…) on the hour, every hour. After a while, I stopped vomiting, because there was nothing left, but that didn’t stop my body from TRYING. At some point, pressure started building in my non-infected ear and I realized: These antibiotics are not helping if I’m getting a new infection while one them. So, about 6:00 pm, I packed up to make another trek to the hospital. This time to demand better drugs.
In case you’re wondering, Roommate (who was not yet a roommate at this point, but had just become Best Friend) was out of town for this illness extravaganza. So I begged another “friend” to come with me, because the last trip had been so lonely and overwhelming (I put friend in quotes because she complained the whole time we were at the ER and for weeks afterward about the inconvenience of my illness to her. I ended up having to cut her out of my life completely by the end of sophomore year, because she was so toxic to me. But that is another story for another time.). This “friend” didn’t want to drive her car over, because it would be a hassle, so I spent another half-hour convincing campus safety to break the time rule and drive me over. They finally did.
So I returned to the ER, this time with a grumpy friend. It was only a little over twelve hours since I left it. The nurse who triaged me the night before was back on duty and recognized me. She took pity on me and my vomiting, so I only had to wait about an hour this time. They put me in a different room and realized that I was dangerously dehydrated. The pain and the stress were making me a little delirious, so I told them my level was “a ten or eleven”.
Pretty soon, I had an IV of saline, antibiotics, and Dilaudid. That stuff is amazing. So amazing, that I apparently demanded the nurse give some to my friend (she told me later). The nurse explained to me that the Dilaudid would not make the pain go away; it would just make me not care about the pain anymore. I thought that was a weird statement, but I wasn’t going to refuse anything. She was right. When she came to ask me my pain level later, I had to search inside my brain to locate the pain. Once I did, it was bad. But if I stopped looking for it, I stopped hurting. I said, “It’s still a ten, but I don’t care.” She nodded sagely and I giggled.
Needless to say, being admitted to the ER twice in one day had my parents incredibly worried. My father had a suitcase packed, ready to buy an emergency plane ticket, but the nurse called them for me (I was in Dilaudidland where phones did not exist. It’s a happy place. You should go there sometime. I mean, drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs.). She told them I was fine and that they didn’t need to come. She may have handed the phone to me, but I don’t remember much. I do remember my “friend” being a jerk and the nurse getting upset with me for forgetting to tell her that certain drugs give me dry-mouth (like this should go in with all the allergy information and how dare I LIE to them or something). I was sent me home around midnight. I had seen that ER from one midnight to the next, with only a short break for vomiting in the middle.
I was sick for three more weeks. The second antibiotic had some side-effects that needed their own drugs to fix (If you know what I’m talking about, I’m sorry that you’ve experienced this too. If you don’t, don’t worry.) so that took a while. Both of my eardrums had burst, so it took me about two weeks to hear clearly again. Plus, I was achy and beyond exhausted all the time. All of which made classes and homework A LOT of fun. At one point, the health center thought I had Mono, but no. And they only needed to stick me with a needle four times in each arm and three in the wrist before painfully suctioning the blood out of the back of my hand to tell me this. Eventually, I healed and was able to visit my sister for spring break early in March. But that entire Winter Quarter was brutal.
So, that is the story of how I was admitted to the ER twice on my nineteenth birthday. Oh, wait. I didn’t tell you that Saturday was also my birthday? How silly of me. Yes. I started and ended my nineteenth birthday (the first one away from home, no less) in the emergency room. And not for anything cool or college-like either. It is, by far, my worst birthday on record. Knock on wood.
Now I don’t feel so bad about being sick today. But I do think I might go home and nap anyways.