Wednesday, August 02, 2006

this might sting a little bit...

Take a stroll with me, if you will, to a place called the A&E. Now I have no idea what the initials A&E stand for, but we Americans would call it the emergency room.

It was Sunday evening when I finally called the NHS hotline and explained my condition. I won’t go into details, but it was enough for the nurse on the other end of the line to bypass all the normal questioning and immediately suggest that I , “go to the A&E immediately”. With that in mind I called my friend Rich and asked him if he could give me a ride. Rich and his wife have become good friends and live in the neighbourhood. Upon hearing my news and my symptoms, Rich responded in a way that only a good friend would; “Can I finish my dinner first?” Sigh. It’s good to have friends nearby.

Rich did finally arrive and sped me to the A&E where he dropped me off with a hardy, “Give me a call if you need anything!” I thanked him and made my way inside where I was immediately greeted by a drunk Scotsman. Honestly, nothing makes my day like a drunk Scotsman. Nothing. This guy was stumbling around the ward, shouting obscenities. It was all glorious. But, as is usually the case with a drunk Scotsman, somebody eventually called security and the fun was too soon over.

(On a side note, we have a drunk Scotsman – or is he Irish? His speech is always too slurred to tell – who regularly visits our church. One Sunday, after a very intimate time of worship, he yelled out, “Shite!” It remains one of my all time favourite memories.)

I made my way to the reception where large, bullet proof glass, separated me from the staff. Posted, in several prominent places, were warnings about harassing the staff. This was my first sign that maybe everything about the next four hours wasn’t going to be so pleasant. I turned in my name, described my symptoms, and began the long arduous process that is national healthcare.

The waiting room was a large room with a tile floor, plastic chairs, three broken vending machines, and a small television with the BBC playing in the corner. Not the news, mind you, just some crappy British show. There were also no magazines.

It wasn’t long before my name was called and I was ushered into a small room where my blood pressure was taken, a small random blood test was given, and several questions about my current health concerns were asked. I assured the woman that I did not feel well at all, and that needles usually had a pretty devastating affect on me.

“I may pass out”, I explained.

“It will have nothing to do with my illness. That’s just what I do.”

“Fine”, she said. “We’ll just keep you talking.”

Pretty soon I was describing what I missed most about the United States (Taco Bueno) and what had brought me to the UK (momentary lapse of sanity) to this Indian woman in the white coat. She pretended to care, finished up the tests, then shuffled me back out to the waiting room.

It wouldn’t be long, I thought. Surely they’ll see how sick I am and insist that I go next! And so began a two hour wait.

Its funny what you do when you’ve got nothing to do. I’m one of those people who have something going at all times. I can’t even just watch tv. I have to either be eating dinner, or working on the computer when I watch. I even have music going when I’m in the shower. Headphones on when I’m on the bus or underground. And even music playing while I’m cooking. I cannot sit still. And I cannot do “nothing”. But there I sat, staring at a wall. Begging for a magazine. Wondering why in the world I didn’t think to bring one. Wishing that at least “The Antiques Roadshow” were on the BBC right now instead of this evening soap opera straight out of the 1970’s.

I began to wonder what other people were there for. As you do. How can you not? Some of them didn’t look all that sick to me. In fact, some of them looked downright giddy.

Then came the woman holding what appeared to be a rather large diaper on her abdomen. This woman was in serious pain and I couldn’t begin to figure out what in the world she was suffering from. She was wide eyed! Who holds a diaper to their abdomen? Oh man. This couldn’t be good. I felt it might help if I went ahead and stared at her. I think it might have.

Then came the little girl who had swallowed a coin. She was out of control. Her two parents chased her around the emergency room all night as she got into absolutely everything, all the while repeating, over and over again, “Sit down. Sit down. Sit down. Sit down. Sit down.” Clearly this little girl was not going to sit down and clearly they just needed to go home and wait it out. What was the doctor going to do, pump her stomach out? No. We all know what his advice was going to be. But they didn’t. And so she ran around, bugging the heck out of me.

Then came 8 Mile. If anybody in that entire ward needed to be slapped in the back of the head, it was this kid. Earphones in (actually, I wish I had thought of that), hoodie on, attitude plastered across his face, and mad as heck that he was having to wait. I wanted to walk up to him and say, “First of all your white. Second of all you’re English. Sit DOWN Vanilla Ice and wait your turn! And oh, btw, it’s a little hard to have attitude when you came here with your mom!”

I could go on and on, describing every person who came in that night, but you get the picture. I had time on my hands. I noticed them all. But finally my time came. After two hours of sitting there, trying to will little "coin girl" to throw up on "8 mile", my name was finally called.

The doctor apologized to me for the wait, and I followed him back through a corridor and into what appeared to be one of those evangelical haunted houses. You know, the kind churches put on at Halloween to scare the (literally) hell out of lost people. This one was working for me. I immediately felt compelled to get down on my knees and pray to God to deliver me from this place of torment. Everywhere I looked there were people having heart attacks, or with seriously jacked up faces, or with stab wounds, or who were running around shouting, “Where is our sister? We can’t find our sister! She’s gone!” I expected somebody to cry out, "Why didn't you tell me?!!!", at any moment. (remember that skit?)

I followed the doctor back to a small room where he pulled a curtain and asked me to tell him what the problem was. I asked him to tell me his age first. 26. Perfect. I went on to describe, in great detail, my ailment. Of how I had been ill for over five straight days, of how it had kept me from being able to travel, and how it had brought me to this point where the NHS hotline had felt it necessary to advise me to go to the A&E. He listened intently, making notes here and there, nodding along to show his concern. And when I was finally finished, he uttered the phrase that any straight man fears most. “Drop your pants and say, ‘Sir, yes sir. May I have another.” My eyes grew wide with fear. “We’re not going to be very good friends when this night is through”, I said. “This isn’t going to be pleasant for either of us”, he assured me. I thought that was a good point. You never think about that procedure from the doctor’s perspective. And so I mounted the bed and gave up my innocence to a 26 year old doctor from India (evidently they were all from India?).

In addition to all of that, they also required a blood sample and decided to hook me up to an IV so that they could pump some fluids into me. I explained again that I might pass out and that I would definitely get sick. “It has nothing to do with my ailment”, I explained. “It’s just what I do.”

After several failed attempts to hit a vein, the 26 year old left and sent in a colleague. But here’s the thing, while he was out speaking with that colleague, he kept referring to me as “The American”. Now I couldn’t hear the entire conversation. Like I couldn’t hear if there was more to the title than that. “The American Wuss”, for example. But he kept saying it and finally his colleague called him on it.

His colleague did finally come in, found a vein, and began the process of making me even sicker than I already was. Sure enough, after the needle was inserted, the cold prickly feeling began to take over my body. “You feel cold and clammy”, the guy said. “Are you alright?” “It has nothing to do with the illness”, I said. “That’s just what I do. I’m fearful (I actually used the word “fearful”) of needles.” “Right”, he said. And then I’m pretty sure he used the phrase “American Wuss” under his breath.

After he left, I laid there and tried to think of anything but that needle. Like the two rednecks who were looking for their sister. Or the distinct sounds of somebody flatlining. But it was of no use. That needle was still in me and the cold pricklies had taken over. I read the warning on the little red trash can. I noticed that it wasn’t placed directly under the big red warning sign like it was supposed to be. I noticed the little dispenser of hand liquid. “Neither of my doctors used that”, I thought to myself. I wondered how the handrail on my bed worked. I stared at the metal rod hanging over my bed, holding the IV bag. I glanced at the needle, then immediately tried to look away! Too late.

Finally, after 45 minutes, the doctor came back in, explained that the blood tests had came back clear, and that I was free to go as soon as the IV bag was empty.

Have you ever tried to will something to happen? I wanted that bag to empty so bad. “Would squeezing it make it go faster?” I wondered. You’ll be glad to know that I didn’t actually try it, but I did turn the dial to make the IV drip faster. It worked but my arm got really cold, really quick.

I laid there, staring at the bag, staring at the drip. Texting Rich to come and pick me up. Finally the bag emptied and I grabbed the bag, still attached to my arm, and peeked out the curtain to see if anybody was nearby who could help. A Vietnamese doctor (English people don’t become doctors anymore) came in and helped me out. I was sure that I would pass out again, but I didn’t. I made my way past the desk and then, realizing I was lost, began looking for the room where they hand you the track and present the plan of salvation! “Save me Lord! I am a sinner!”, I shouted! Finally a woman in a green jacket escorted me out through the ambulance entrance where I got to see one more seriously messed up person before I left.

And there I stood, just outside the ambulance entrance, freezing my no longer innocent butt off, and wondering just how long it would take my tiny little English friend to show up. 6 minutes.

In twenty I was back home, safe and sound, in my own bed, telling the story to my snickering wife. The next morning I awoke and wondered if it had all just been a bad dream. My limp, and slow and steady gait suggested that it had not.