Eight Things I Learned in the E.R.

<strong>Eight Things I Learned in the E.R.</strong>

A doctor I’d never seen peeked around the curtain of my Emergency Room cubby hole and softly announced I have clots in my lungs.

My entire joyless face broke into an involuntary smile.

“That’s great news,” I said.

The doctor pulled his head back, turtle-like, as if he’d delivered the news to the wrong patient.

“There’s a simple solution, right? No surgery? Just pills?”

“That’s right,” he said.

In the thirty-six hours I’d been in the E.R. I’d learned a few things.

First of all, most hospital employees say “E.D.”, as in emergency department, rather then E.R. I was in the E.R. because I couldn’t catch my breath. A few hours of oxygen fixed that. Nurses and doctors kept saying, “it’s good you came to the “E.D.” Everytime I heard it, I thought of those commercials for little blue pills. On the other hand, when I hear E.R., I think of George Clooney.

Second, a nurse asked me if I wanted to be admitted. Was that my decision? My friend Kristina, who came to rescue me from fear and confusion reminded me that we have to say “I want to be admitted”, to satisfy Medicare. If you hesitate in making that declaration, you’ll be farther down on the waitlist for a bed upstairs. And let’s face it, if you’re seventy-five years old and find yourself in the E.R. with tubes in your nose, you’re going to end up admitted upstairs.

Three: There are no beds, no blankets and no extra pillows. The board you lie on is a padded gurney. The E.R. is a whistle-stop on the way either back home or upstairs. No need for frills.

Four: The E.R .does not have food service. You may find out about the secret stash of turkey sandwiches, graham crackers and apple juice. But no one’s in a hurry to get you food. If you toss it, well, there’s the clean-up. 

Five: The call button for the nurse is like an emotional support dog. It’s a comfort lying next to you, but won’t answer your call for help if you need to drag your tubes and drips to the bathroom down the hall. 

Six: The E.R. has all the equipment for all the tests. It’s designed to get results fast. When someone says, “you can have a CAT scan here or you can have it upstairs”, get it done in the E.R. The upstairs equipment is for the entire hospital and there is a long wait, even for someone with clots in the lungs.

Seven: Watch for clues. When a doctor says we want you to take Eliquis but it’s expensive, that’s your clue to call your friend and find out what online Canadian pharmacy she uses. And yes, buying drugs from Canada is legal.

Eight: There are a lot of doctors, nurses and technicians coming and going using words you’ve rarely heard. Call in a savvy friend like Kristina, to rehash the diagnosis and the prognosis. 

Most important of all: take a breath and let them take care of you.

Irish Alzheimers

Irish Alzheimers

Oh look! Bufflehead ducks. They’re migrating kind of early. On their way south ahead of the freeze. What luck to spot them today; a glistening black and white raft bobbing and dunking near the shoreline. 

The only place to find a bufflehead during extremely cold winters in northern Illinois is on Lake Michigan. (Chicago Botanic Garden)

Watch it! There’s water spilling over from the lake.

Why did I agree to see her? I could have said I’m busy, since I AM busy. What’s she doing here anyway? She stopped talking to me at least ten years ago. No explanation. No return calls. Just kaboom! Silent treatment.

Oops. Dear God, the lake is so high. I should have worn boots. I thought climate change was supposed to lower the lake level. Yeah, global warming means less ice holding water in the Great Lakes, more water evaporating off Lake Michigan. So what gives? The polar ice cap melting?

I wonder if she still has her Medicare insurance business. You’d think she’d have called me when I turned sixty-five. It’s not as though she didn’t know my age; would have saved me a short-term nervous breakdown and trips to a social worker. I know so many people who’d pay for her services.

I have to get off the lake path. It’s getting too slippery. Uh-oh. Flashing lights ahead. What’s going on? A runner got washed into the lake and they’re fishing him out? Oh no. I hope he’s ok. It’s a woman? Walking downtown wasn’t such a good idea today. I hoped it would refresh my mood, clear my head, but there’s danger; time to head to the underpass.

I guess we’ll have lunch at the Art Institute. Does she still love art? I’m glad I brought the birthday present I never got around to mailing. I’ll push it across the table as if to say, “See, I’m not as unforgiving as you.” Wish I knew what her grudge is all about.

How did I get on the bridge? I’m not paying attention, need to be more mindful. Pause. Take a breath. Yikes, a flock of Sandhill Cranes in V-formation! Still migrating even though It feels like the middle of January out here. Get off the lake now. Hmm, let’s see. Take the path up the hill off Randolph, pass the Survivors Garden, over the silver bridge through Millennium Park to the new entrance, Art Institute.

I know! She has a terminal illness and wants to make amends before she dies. Naw, I would’ve heard that from another sister or her children. Maybe she simply wants to say she’s sorry and let’s stay in touch.

Guess I’ll take the bus home. What was that all about? She acted as if we saw each other last week. No scores settled. No plans for further contact. Glad I didn’t pursue it. I yearn for sisterly love but her rejection throws knives; it is a pain-filled memory. 

Oh good. Marge is on the bus.

“You have a sister?”

“Yeah, she cut me out of her life years ago.”

“Who needs a sister like that?”

Amen, Sister.