Sunday, August 15, 2010
A Night In Medical Purgatory
A true story of medical misdiagnoses, hated purple dinosaurs, and waiting.
It started out a typical Saturday like any other during the summer of 1998 with Dragonwife and me working in the yard and a very young Darth Spoilboy in his playpen inside the house being entertained by Barney the dinosaur on television. Despite my intense dislike of suburban yard work and anything connected with it, I felt myself on the plus side of the situation that day since Spoilboy had recently become enamored with the loveable dinosaur. While Barney was a great babysitter it had me contemplating very antisocial behavior whenever the purple thing appeared, talked or sang.
The motivation for yard work evaporated about the same time Spoilboy’s interest in his electronic babysitter with my wife and I coming back inside. After we cleaned up and put a more adult friendly kid’s movie in the VCR for Spoilboy a nap was in order that ended in the early evening with the question of what we would do for dinner the first thing we talked about.
After some discussion, I was sent out to a greasy local restaurant we would frequent to pick up dinner since neither of us wanted to cook or get cleaned up enough to go out for a sit down meal. I was okay with the decision even after having to wait around an extra twenty minutes because our order was misplaced. It was while I was waiting I just happened to notice the new health inspection sticker on the door, which said that establishment had failed in some way to satisfy state standards. Before I could ask the manager, which I also realized was very new, my order appeared and I merrily went on my way back home.
Once I walked back into the house the three of us quickly settled down in front of the television with our evening meals. With my wife and child already tearing into the Styrofoam containers that held their food I slipped a tape into the VCR with the room soon filled with the sounds of pounding music and gunfire with the action hero sending scores of bad guys to their demise while making snarky comments. By all accounts it looked to be a normal and quiet Saturday night, hell I even pondered the possibility I could get laid that night.
All my expectations ended ten minutes into the movie with the action hero in the middle of some sort of witty dialog with his beautiful brunette costar whose big boobs took up most of the screen while several bad guys stealthily approached his location. It was then my wife let out a long groan and tossed her Swiss cheese patty melt back into its container; my first thought looking over at her was that she just didn’t like the movie.
“I don’t feel good,” she said looking at me while pressing down on her lower right abdomen.
Right from the start I believe our three year-old son nibbling on chicken strips, the action hero on the television again dodging bullets while making snarky comments, and even me going all carnivore on a hamburger could have guessed correctly that my wife’s appendix decided at that moment to go rogue. Although, the less than stellar health inspection of the restaurant and possible food poisoning did cross my mind for a couple of seconds.
There was no sudden panic or rush to quick action, we just kept our places with my wife guessing it was an upset stomach but the sandwich she had so desired earlier was now abandoned. At first all she did was to lie down on the couch in the hopes of letting the discomfort pass. It was a sudden spasm in my wife’s affected area about an hour later that finally pushed us to load up in the car and head to the nearest emergency room.
Arriving at the Emergency Room entrance it was then my turn to let out a long groan seeing the jammed packed waiting area. While I am not Catholic, I am familiar with the concept of Purgatory as a dreary place where souls who didn’t cut the heavenly muster have to suffer awaiting entrance to the other side of the pearly gates as the saints and others on the preferred list get express lane service and the emergency room that night met that description. Nearly every chair was occupied with some poor individual either waiting for medical attention of keeping someone company who was.
After signing Dragonwife in at the front desk then a few minutes later having her report to triage where she received a brief examination by a bored nurse all three of us settled in on the far side of the waiting area next the television playing a continuous loop of children’s programming. Spoilboy, who was young enough to see this as a grand adventure, settled on the floor next other children watching the ultimate odd couple, Bert and Ernie, fuss over some damn rubber duck. At least, I thought at that moment it wasn’t the purple dinosaur. Dragonwife, whose abdominal pain had almost gone away, brought a collection of magazines and quickly fell into her own world of decorating and gourmet meals. I on the other hand had nothing to read and started to observe our fellow denizens in medical limbo.
Immediately I noticed some guy dressed in a wrinkled but expensive suit painfully walking around showing distinct signs of suffering from kidney stones. The key to my untrained diagnoses was him walking into the restroom on our end of the waiting area and letting out a blood-curdling scream. Truthfully, I also considered the possibility that the guy could have gonorrhea, not that I have any experience with that illness and any evidence to the contrary is locked up at an army medical records depot. I had no idea that my small attempt humor running through my head right then would come back to haunt me later.
Sitting close to us was a Billy Ray Cyrus clone with an amateur looking bandage around his right forearm dripping blood. The guy looked to be a certified redneck complete with authentic mullet, sleeveless t-shirt and ripped blue jeans but turned out to be friendly and eager for someone to talk with. I wasn’t surprised to learn he did play in country band and received his injury when someone threw a broken beer bottle at him while he was playing. However I was surprised to learn that the Billy Ray-clone was a Duke graduate with a double major in computer science and mathematics. Amazed to hear this he told me that had forsaken computers since they bored him silly but after having sat in the emergency room for several hours he had used his mathematical skills to figure out how long it took someone to see a doctor. Both Dragonwife and I winced when the Billy Ray-clone told us we should leave the hospital just about the right time to have breakfast and after that like magic his own name was called and he was guided to the back by a very attentive and attractive nurse.
Since the hospital placed a bright orange wristband around actual patients I was able to figure out that of the people looking for medical attention about half were showing visible signs of discomfort or actual injury, even Dragonwife was getting worse again. The other half seemed fine going as far to be laughing and joking, almost to the point of having a party-like atmosphere enjoying the endless supply of apple juice provided by the hospital. Not wanting to delve any deeper I settled in for the long wait watching the kid’s television shows with my son and the other nearby children thanking God that at least Barney had not showed up, of course the very next show began with, “I love you, you love me, we are a happy…” The resulting seizure that hit me was thankfully mild.
While the emergency room waiting area looked like Purgatory as we entered the extended series of Barney shows that went on for hours turning the place for me into a lower level of Hell. It got so bad that I actually began reading one of Dragonwife’s decorating magazines’. But time did pass and we eventually gained access to the inner sanctum where it was hoped a doctor would actually show up. Escorted to an exam room it had several huge advantages, the first being a stretcher allowing Dragonwife to lay down since the pain was fairly constant now, a television for Spoilboy who was still awake but could now watch something other than Barney, which pretty covered me as well. Looking at my watch seeing that it was a little after 3:30am my biggest hope was that the doctor would bless us with his appearance soon.
It was another hour or so before the big bear of a doctor stormed into the exam room accompanied by a tired nurse. Close-cropped red hair juxtaposed with a long red beard the doctor mumbled his name then went about groping my wife around her stomach, he ordered an X-ray apparently talking to the nurse, and then stormed back out. The nurse wrote down his instructions then smiling briefly at us and walked out herself. To say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement but I figured the guy was busy and that he would be more personable once he could look at the X-ray. He did, but not in the way I would have guessed in a million years.
When the doctor returned he only breezed in this time reading some printout while holding the X-ray of Dragonwife affected area. The nurse returned as well giving me some hateful stare that would have chilled my blood had I not been physically tired as well as mentally numb from waiting.
Looking up from the printout without preamble the doctor gave my wife her diagnoses. “From the X-ray you appear to have a uterine infection caused by a sexual transmitted disease. I am going to refer you to the hospital your gynecologist works out of.” With that he and the nurse walked out with the nurse’s evil glare at me fading away like the Cheshire cat’s smile.
We out processed at near warp speed compared to the rest of our Purgatory-like experience and drove away heading toward the referred hospital. Both Dragonwife and I were very quiet while Spoilboy had finally faded off to sleep. Frankly I was floored, puzzled, and overwhelmed but figured there had to be some other explanation but I had to ask the question going through my head.
“IS THERE SOMETHING YOU NEED TO TELL ME?” Both Dragonwife and I blurted out at the same time, telling me the same question was floating around her head. Our discussion after that was quiet but stunted since neither one of us wanted to worry Spoilboy. After a few minutes we both fell silent.
Dragonwife’s pain was increasing as we walked into the hospital located in the middle of Columbia with two old and very experienced nurses quickly laying her on a stretcher then pushing her into an exam room without waiting. Inside the exam room the nurses looked over Dragonwife going as far as to feel around the lower abdominal area.
“Honey, you got the most inflamed appendix I have seen in twenty-two years.” One nurse said moving to setup and IV into Dragonwife’s arm.
“But the doctor said it was a uterine infection,” Dragonwife said fighting off another wave of pain.
“Child, who told you that foolishness?” the IV nurse asked with a deep southern drawl.
When Dragonwife told her the doctor’s name both the nurse setting up the IV and the other writing up a report burst out laughing.
“Oh, that fool, honey I wouldn’t let that man put a band-aid on my big toe.” After that everything got better, except for Dragonwife who was in surgery two hours later having her appendix removed. Moreover, as the Billy Ray-clone and math wizard said much earlier Spoilboy and I left the hospital in time to have breakfast at a pancake house before we went back home to collect Dragonwife’s basic toiletries. It should be common sense but if anyone is wondering we have never gone back to the red headed doctor’s hospital.