Won in the Emergency Room

Won and I spent a lot of time in Emergency rooms over the last 10 years.

Take for example the time last Winter when she slipped and fell in the bathtub while taking a shower. She hit her head really hard. She was on the blood thinner Coumadin to support her mechanical heart valve, and she had quite a bump on the side of her forehead.

So, once again we rushed to the local hospital. I've timed it - it takes about 4 minutes for me to get to the local ER in my own car. If she was mobile, we always did it that way. Our medical bills were crushing - we tried to avoid the expensive ambulance co-pay.

So, we got to the hospital at 8pm on a Friday. The nurses glanced at Won as she walked into the door, then continued on with sicker people. A few minutes later Won went through triage, and then we settled down to wait. We were old hands at waiting in the ER and knew the drill...
  1. Don't touch anything, and wash well with soap and water if you DO touch something. The hospital is full of germs, and Won had a compromised immune system. A little germ paranoia helped a lot.
  2. Bring bottled water or buy it from the soda machine in the hall. Dehydration after several hours of sitting in the hospital is a problem.
  3. Get the lightweight blanket out of the trunk of the car. Use it as a pillow, or as a cover when napping in the hospital waiting area.
  4. Bring the book, iphone, or other media player you have handy with you. Won had an MP3 player with her favorite music on it. I had a phone that doubled as a media player. It's going to be a long wait.
At about midnight Won was finally admitted to a room, thirty minutes later she saw the doctor. We explained what happened, and our worry. She's on Coumadin, and hit her head really hard. See the bruise? Is this a problem? Are we right to be so concerned?

The ER doctor wasn't overly concerned. But because of her medical history he had her do an MRI. Another 3 hours to get into the MRI and back to the room - where the doctor said Won was okay, and we could go home without worry. He gave advice about her bruise, and we agreed to follow up with her regular physician.

About half of Won's emergency room visits were something like this. Something would happen that worried us due to Won's chronic illness, but it would thankfully turn out to be nothing at the ER.

But there was that time when things got really bad.

On December 3, 2007 Won said she felt like she was catching a cold in her chest. It didn't seem serious at first, but by the 8th she said it was like a really bad chest cold. The morning of the 9th (Saturday) she got up early because she was having trouble breathing. I got up with her and was worried. She didn't look good. So, once again we got ready for another trip to the ER.

We expected the same sort of treatment on arrival. Triage, endless waiting, followed by an ER Doctor visiting her. But this time almost the moment Won walked wheezing through the door an ER nurse was at her side. She was pulled into triage while I stayed behind to do the necessary paperwork.

When I was done with the papers, I walked past a crowded ER waiting area, and was ushered back to the ER room where Won was being held. She got a room already? We started getting nervous. Just how bad was it this time?

In a very short time she got an ECG, then the ER doctor came in to listen to her heart. An hour later she had an MRI. Then her regular doctor showed up in the ER to give us the news... her organic artificial heart valve was failing, it would fall apart very soon. Her "chest cold" was the buildup of fluid around her heart as it slowly failed.

The hospital admitted her that night, then she was transferred to another hospital downtown to be stabilized for the long ambulance ride to her heart surgeon in Redwood City. I scrambled to get our pets into the kennel, and to arrange for time off to go to Redwood City to be with her.

But before all of this, I had a few free moments in the ER. I asked the admitting nurse, one of the two who flew to Won's side as she walked in the door. "How did you know?"

"Oh honey," the nurse said kindly, "It was OBVIOUS!"

Thank you to all the medical workers, and those in the ER, whose abilities and dedication make life better for us all.


Unknown said...

One of the few things I've learned from one too many visits to the ED, if you're having trouble breathing or look like you may be in anaphylaxis, you fly through triage. Pain and sickness are annoying, but trouble breathing could mean dead in a few seconds.

I'm right there with you in my gratitude for wonderful ED staff.

Scientia said...

You're right, Mark; that's amazing. Thank you for noticing, and for thanking those who helped you. (As a future doctor, I've heard far too many stories on the other side--from both patients and doctors.)

I hope you're doing okay. Warm wishes to you from Tennessee.