Not A Favorite Vacation Spot, OK?

I spent the past Monday up to 2:30 PM Tuesday in the emergency room. One of my friends in a city about an hour from me is an Emergency Room Doctor. He loves it. He continues with enthusiasm even though it requires him to start his workday at midnight. Does that seem strange to you?

My idea of an emergency room is a place bringing in gunshot wounded person after gunshot-wounded person with lots of other less seriously affected folks waiting for care. I waited with hundreds of other people in such an ER in the county hospital years ago. At the time, I had no health insurance. Ambulances brought people severely injured in accidents and victims of shootings and stabbings to the adjoining County Trauma Unit. From the ER waiting room, there was a large door, left open, to the Trauma Unit. I could see through it as person after person was rushed in by EMTs. Now, however, I am retired for 6 years after working for fifteen years for one of the largest health care providers in my state. Those years working earned me good health insurance.

My mini-stroke

At church last Sunday, I experienced something like a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack), a brief stroke-like attack that can last only a few minutes, up to a few hours. The TIA did not render an arm or leg on either side, numb or immoveable. Nor did either side of my face sag. Instead, I had a few minutes not understanding what people said to me (receptive aphasia) and several hours of confusion.

When I called my Science of Mind practitioner, Katherine, to settle on an appointment day and time with her, I told I had been a cognitive train-wreck for several hours earlier on Sunday. Katherine advised me to call my health care provider. It sounded to her like a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack), or mini-stroke. Her husband had one some years ago.

When I took my blood pressure afterward, it was high and went higher before coming down at last. I called the Advice Nurse. He said the doctor he consulted might send me to the emergency room. Enter the gruesome partners: (1) my idea of the county hospital emergency room, partnered with (2) the prospect of a scary several thousand dollars bill, according to recent news. I didn’t want to go. The doctor said it was okay if I went to see my doctor the next day if I was not having symptoms at the time. I wasn’t, so I didn’t. But, early the next day, my doctor, on consultation with a neurologist, sent me to the ER.

In the Emergency Room

This ER served middle to upper-middle-class suburbanites of various races and ethnicities with excellent health care coverage. To the best of my knowledge, there was no gunshot victim anywhere there. They were rushed to the County Trauma Unit I’d seen years before. However, there were plenty of chatty EMTs in navy blue uniforms pushing patients on gurneys. The patients were over fifty, like me. They were of sound mind, with one possible exception. She was convinced that the staff was trying to kill her and, over and over, she screamed “Stop! It hurts! You’re killing me! Stop!”The woman was clearly terrified and suffering. It was upsetting. What was going on? I saw the nurse run down the hall, calling, “Who’s her doctor?” Sometime later, the woman quieted down completely. My assumption is that she was given a heavy dose of a tranquilizing drug following her doctor’s advice. Later on that night, she began screaming again. Staff closed her door, so she didn’t upset the whole floor. She quieted down again shortly afterward.

My body was given about 8 tests to try to determine what contributed to the TIA. I was hooked up to a monitor the entire time. In fact, I learned how to detach and hook myself back up so I could go to the bathroom without having to call the nurse.

Ruling out what leads to severe strokes

The purpose of monitoring my heart was to see if I had atrial fibrillation. Nine percent of people over 65 have it, and strokes for people with atrial fibrillation are more likely to be severe. No signs of it showed on the monitor in ER. I’ll wear a heart monitor for a month to continue checking for this condition now that I’m moving around as usual. As explained on the website A Matter of Moments, atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm condition. The upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly, or too quickly. When that happens, they do not pump all of the blood to the lower chambers. That causes some blood to pool, and potentially form clots. If a clot breaks loose, it can travel to the brain and lead to a stroke. (1)

The ultrasound of the arteries in my neck seemed to show that both were narrowed to the same degree. A CAT scan of those arteries to learn more showed no narrowing. Who knows what contributed to my stroke-like experience? No test showed anything definitive.

But I have two new medications. I’m not eager to take drugs. What happened was serious, so I follow the doctor’s recommendations. As my roommate Marilyn said, she (the doctor) is the one with the advanced degree.

My diet is pretty good, but I’ll tweak it by taking more plant-based options. Last night I tried a veggie burger with no fat and low salt. The veggie burgers I remember from the 1970s were awful, but this one was tasty.

Today’s emergency room is a place where all medical diagnostic tools are available in one place. When you go there, they can be used to determine what’s going on with your health quickly. Outside that setting, it could take months to schedule and have those tests done. The staff of the emergency department knows that they are saving people’s lives. Now I appreciate why my friend loves being an ER doctor. He knows he is making a difference for patients and their families every day.

(1)National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Atrial fibrillation. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/atrial-fibrillation.
Accessed March 1, 2019.

Aikya Param worked for the health care organization that runs the emergency room where she received care. She’s grateful for the kindness and professionalism of the staff there.

To read more by Aikya, click here.

Aikya Param is a licensed minister, a visual artist, and writer.

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