The best way to get emergency help in an emergency room is with the words "chest pains." I recently experienced the wonder of this truth one bright Sunday afternoon around 12:45 PM. After enduring three cold-sweat attacks, a blackout, extreme queasiness and stomach-to-chest pains over an eight-hour period, I staggered into the emergency room at my friendly neighborhood medical center.
The usual suspects were there, packed in like a can of smelly sardines: a crying baby, a cut hand, a broken leg, and a Joe "real men don't use hot pads" grilling accident. (Next time, Joe, try self-starting charcoal or carryout).
At 1:05 they handed me a simple form requesting "Name, age, and reason for visit." Though positive I wasn't having a heart attack, I casually included "chest pains." I immediately received a white pager with a red light like the kind you get at the Outback minus one blooming onion.
Five minutes later I was just curling up in a hard plastic don't-let-em-get-too-cozy chair when suddenly my buzzer beeped. I felt like a scum dog butting ahead of the ailing multitude before me, but after all, I had put down "chest pains."
The nurse, having just noticed those words, promised me a doctor within forty minutes. Rejoining the ailing crowd, I sunk back into my not-so-comfy seat, grabbed a copy of "Chesapeake Bay Life," and prepared for a two-hour wait.
At 1:15 my magical red buzzer re-beeped.
Re-guilt-ridden, I followed the technician to a curtained-off room, put on the funky hospital gown - you know, the kind with built-in air-conditioning - , and lay down. She took my vitals, asked how I was feeling, and said she'd be drawing blood soon. I'm a real wimp when it comes to the red stuff leaving my body.
At 2:30 the doctor came in and asked the usual. "Do you smoke? Do you drink? Ever been reincarnated?" He then gave me the world's most powerful wonder drug: an aspirin. After reviewing my chart, he rushed in a cardiac specialist. In no time I was hooked to all kinds of wire, beeping machines, oxygen and an IV as the red stuff left my body.
My hopes for a quick visit dried up when the doctor said, "We must keep you at least twenty-four hours." Why? Because of the "chest pains," of course.
Soon I was in my own private room, which didn't seem that private - not with the recent eighty-year-old rabid raccoon victim next curtain over beeping, bleeping, yanking off his wires, and yelling for what sounded like "rice dip" (he really meant "ice chips").
Meanwhile Nurse "How you doing, handsome?" Oklahoma kept counting the minutes between red stuff removals just to see me turn pale. I got a late supper consisting of a one-inch square piece of meat, cold rubber broccoli, and milk. Apparently Mister Rabid Ice Chips got my Jello.
By 5:30 they had determined that I wasn't dying, that the "chest pains" were actually in my stomach and lower back. So I figured why not give Mister Charcoal Grill MY wonderful room and let me go home? But "chest pains" was scrawled in blood on my chart. After a stress test, urine sample, more blood work, an EKG, and all sorts of fun things they said it might be gas (or acid reflux).
"What a relief, I can finally go home!" I exclaimed.
"You can't go yet, you said you had chest pains," they laughed as they continued to draw blood (I think they were having a blood drive that day). They also threatened to revoke my food privileges.
Finally at 6:45 PM my lovely wife snuck in, bringing crackers, fruit, and the whole family. A word of caution: Don't let your five-year-old push any buttons that raise and lower your bed, especially if she likes to see the rubber man bend.
It's now 12:45 PM Monday afternoon. I'm wide awake, no doctor in sight to release me. The nurse on duty reminds me that heart patients don't get to go home right away.
However, after much perseverance and nagging ("Let me go home! I want to go home!"), they finally pull the plug on my hospital stay. In fact, they yank the wires with such force I nearly have a heart attack. Oops! Better not mention anything related to "chest pains."
Or I might never make it out of there alive.
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