Ringing In The New Year In The E.R.

How one night in an emergency room brought new perspective on being mindful about one’s health and stress factors.

“What kind of roller coaster ride did I sign up for?!!”

That thought ran through my mind as I was in the midst of an episode of vigorous shaking and tremors, the result of a reaction to a drug administered to me as I was under observation in the emergency room last week. As I began to calm down, a river of sweat coursing from my head, I took stock again of where I was. It seemed as if I was another of the episodes of chaos although brief that take place all the time in environments like this, especially given the fact that we were four days into the New Year and a serious snowstorm was roaring up the Eastern Seaboard with New York City in its cross hairs.

How did I get here?

Looking back, I can look at it primarily as the culmination of a few things that
welled up inside of me to the point where I felt something wasn’t quite right. New Year’s Eve, I wasn’t feeling too hot — my blood pressure spiked, and wouldn’t come down. Even trying to rest proved to be difficult as I felt my heart race a little too much to my liking. I had some dread, wondering what was going to happen. I couldn’t shake it for hours. My eldest sister, a nurse, had come by. She advised that I remain still and don’t do anything. A good friend called me and when I related what was going on, she helped me with guided meditation. I eventually got out of that zone and rang in the New Year calmly at home. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning — a week ago today- that I felt that same feeling of unease. I was determined to find out what the issue was, suspecting it could be this newer blood pressure medication I had been on for all of seven months and had complained about to my doctor to no avail.
My sister came by and I asked her if we could go to an urgent care. This was mainly because I was just concerned about my pressure and some weird tingles I was feeling along with another slight burn in my left shoulder that came and went.

We drove to one urgent care I was familiar with only to find it closed due to a sewer pipe break in the office. We found another one and on being admitted, found that my pressure was elevated. Not to a crazy level but still up there. The doctor gave me an EKG and then came to me and recommended that I go to the ER, asking me if I wanted an ambulance. That…threw me a bit. “Is it that serious?” I asked. He said no, but that it was a precaution. He discharged me to the ER, giving me two baby aspirin. My sister and I drove to the one nearest to home, where I had been last year for a check. I got registered quickly and had another EKG taken. It seemed that things weren’t as dire as was first presented. My pressure had gone down slightly. I was given a bed in the ER, although I had to sit and wait on it a bit. Literally.

My main concern was, I just want to find out what the hell is going on with me. I repeated that to my sisters, my brother and my mom who joined me there soon after I was registered. The TV above me wasn’t working. So I spent the time waiting, as one does for results. In that time I noted how the nurses and orderlies moved about to different cases in there. The woman to my left actually had a sign on the curtain drawn around her bed denoting that there was a possibility of a viral contagion. The guy to my right had a little too much to drink and topped it off with 1200 milligrams of Motrin which ended up with him throwing up blood. I noticed that there weren’t a lot of IV hookups present. In fact, I got fluids and injections mainly through the same tube that they would use for my CAT scan. It didn’t dawn on me that it was due to the short supply of them nationwide thanks to the fact that the place that manufactures the bulk of them is still suffering from the impact of and the neglect afterwards in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria.

I saw the doctor on staff who was kind, and highly attentive despite the teeming mass that filled the hallways and rooms of the ER. I told her about my aches, and she prescribed a muscle relaxer known as Reglan. She advised me to stop taking magnesium, which I had done on my own to counteract the tingles and nerve twinges I was feeling. She explained that the rise in pressure was definitely related to the holidays with eating and other stresses that could arise. I thought about it and did realize that to be true. I had been running around helping out with getting things ready for Christmas, checking up on my folks. I had been thinking heavily about the sudden and tragic death of Erica Garner from a heart attack and how so many things happen to people of color that are compounded by racism. I thought about the fact that I had been in a commuter van a couple of weeks before where the driver had gotten into a beef with another driver to the point where they were trying to run each other off the road and subsequently got into a fistfight. I had an uncle pass on Thanksgiving, and another cousin’s wife pass shortly after due to pneumonia. All of these things, stored away. Kept suppressed by food and drink, and less rest. The tendency seems to be for brothers is to soldier through it, to be seemingly impervious to pain. It’s what we get handed down to us as a mandate from when we’re young, and we don’t realize how that has to be discarded as we get older. Because it doesn’t equip us to seek help and be more in tune with what affects us as we move on in life. We take on a lot from others and the remnants of that stuff gets embedded in our systems without a lot of flushing out.

I sat in the ER, and thought about what it must be like to be in a place like this with no one with you. There was a heavy-set woman in the corner who had an abdominal issue. Every so often she’d cry out, in Spanish. At one point she was yelling constantly in pain, and had once ripped out her respirator. The dude on my right was on his phone for the most part. He actually had me cracking up, with his whole demeanor straight from the ‘hood. He sounded like he knew the 120 with no problems whatsoever. It seems like being in a place like this makes you more cognizant of time. It makes you more acutely aware of how and why one’s body can talk in ways you can’t decipher. It makes you more sympathetic to the suffering others chronically go through. And more insightful about the inevitability of life and the later years.

So, about that shaking I went through. It turned out that I had a reaction to the drug given to me to help ease the aches in my neck and shoulders, and it prompted my body to go through shivers. My teeth were chattering at one point. They took my blood sugar which turned out to be spot on with no problems. I had informed my nurse that I hadn’t eaten or drank much since 3:30 in the afternoon repeatedly. It took my sisters going to the nurses desk and getting cherry juice for me to settle down after nearly twenty minutes. Thankfully my other sister brought in a bun and cheese sandwich, which I shared with my mom. All of this while waiting for a CAT scan after blood work. During this same period, I noticed that there was blood on my sheet. I looked down and saw more of it on my gown. It turned out that as an orderly had changed my gown and was putting the leads on my chest for the heart monitor, the venal insert for the scan had been ripped out without detection.
Swell. I was told soon after that my blood work checked out fine.

After that, things seemed to quiet down greatly and it was all about waiting on the scan. I finally went in at 1:30 in the morning, hours after it was scheduled. I noted the difference in temperature as I was wheeled out of the ER to the CT lab. It was soothing, as much as it can be in a hospital. The guy running the scan was gregarious, someone who I felt could’ve been right at home in an episode of “Boardwalk Empire”. After that scan, I was put back in the same bed and waited again. Finally, after another 90 minutes I was given the green light to go home. The final prognosis was that I had a sinus infection and headache.

I walked out with my mom and my brother and looked at the ER. It had lessened a bit in terms of patients — the dude next to me was being admitted(despite his protests — he actually told a resident she needed to fix her face and speak her peace when he wanted to discharge himself) and the lady in the corner was already upstairs in a room. If they had lingered with results for another hour, I might have been left in the hospital due to the snowstorm just beginning to ravage the area. I noted how silent everything was outside. How crisp the air was. I guess when you walk out of an environment like that, you tend to pay more attention to little details in life you tell yourself you have no time for when you’re rolling on your routine. We got in my brother’s car and made the short drive home. And I slept. And slept. And slept.

I’m writing all of this down because I do think that it has hammered home three things for me as I move forward in life with an eye on my health. The first thing is that if something doesn’t feel right for you internally, and it’s insistent? Go check it out. For me, I realize that it’s a fine balance as I deal with anxiety that is amplified due to the medication I’m on. But follow your mind. It may not be easy, especially if you’re uninsured. In those cases, start laying groundwork to get help there wherever you can through relatives and organizations. Talk to anyone and everyone you can. There should be no shame in you trying to help yourself and if someone is trying to put that on you, push them aside. The second thing is, seek other opinions. There are far too many cases where folks are undergoing a lot of things based on one diagnosis only for them to find out things are totally different. And lastly, make sure you keep a running record of all your ailments, your medications, your insurance as well as your physicians. I was able to have most of my info with me handily so it cut back on some of the time and delay, if not by a whole lot. (Bear in mind you’ll still have hiccups- I got a call after asking for the name of my primary care doctor even though I had given it in the E.R.)

It took some doing, but I can at least say that I can move forward in this new year with some peace of mind medically. I only hope those in there with me and all of those in complicated situations across this nation can get that same relief. It isn’t guaranteed.

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Christopher A. Smith

Freelance writer. Author of 3 books of poetry. Raconteur. Queens is the county, Jamaica is the place.