My 23 Hour Hospital Adventure

I promised everyone some more details about my recent hospital visit. Start by setting your Time Machine for a couple of months ago. I woke up in the middle of the night with a strange pain in my chest and back. It was right about where my back brace hits me and it sort of felt like a muscle cramp but it was pretty bad. I tried calling dad to wake him up but couldn’t get his attention. That led to the story already told here about the new call button that I designed and built. That night the pain finally went away after about 45 minutes and I never did get him to wake up till the next morning.

Now fast-forward to this past Tuesday. I had a rough night sleeping or rather not sleeping. About 4 AM I hit the buzzer and had dad roll me over on my side. Then my CPAP mask got out of adjustment and that kept me from getting to sleep. Finally going on about 6 AM I called dad again and rolled over on my back. Shortly after that I started getting a little pain in my chest and back like I had before a few months ago. I called dad again and took some Tylenol. After about a half hour the pain had subsided enough that I finally got to sleep a little after 6 AM. I told dad that he should cancel my caregiver Rick. Dad reminded me that he had a doctor’s appointment at about 10:30 AM. So we went ahead and had Rick come and stay with me while I slept and dad went and got his blood test.

I slept pretty well from around 6 AM to about 1 PM and decided to get up. I had only the tiniest leftover pain from earlier in the morning. If I had not been looking for it, I probably would not even have noticed it.

Since it was so late in the afternoon by the time I got dressed I decided not to eat lunch. I just drank a bottle of Ensure and had a chocolate chip cookie. I figured I would eat supper around 5 PM like normal. I had hoped to get a lot of computer work that so that I could show off my latest electronics project on the weekly video chat. It was at 7:30 PM but I knew I would get enough work done to have anything to show by then. A little after 3 PM I started getting the chest pain again. About 3:30 I took some Tylenol but it didn’t do me any good. In fact the pain was getting worse. It was so bad that after another 15 minutes or so I decided to lay down and take off my brace.

As was the case a few months ago when I had chest pains it also included back pain and it was in the location where my brace hits. However it wasn’t on the skin like I had been rubbed raw. It felt like muscle tightness. I don’t know what a heart attack feels like so I don’t know how I came to the conclusion it wasn’t one. But after laying there in bed another 15 minutes or so and it wasn’t getting any better at all I finally said to dad “This is ridiculous. I could be laying here dying of a heart attack in total denial. I think we need to go the hospital.”

Dad called 911 and in about one minute I can hear the sirens coming from fire station 33 just a few blocks from here. Firefighters listen to my heart and said it sounded okay but agreed I couldn’t take any chances with chest pain.

At first they were going to try to wrap me up in my bed sheet and carry me out to the gurney in the living room. I knew there was no way they could do that without banging up my elbows or knees or toes. We have had a gurney in the bedroom before and it took a lot of convincing to get them to try to bring the gurney down the hall. It turned out it fit just fine. They had the gurney sitting up at about a 45° angle which was no good. Then I had to convince them that there was also room to lay it down flat with the bed and just drag me over. They ended up taking the entire contour sheet off the mattress and dragging me over with it. We could put a towel under me or gotten another sheet and it would’ve been easier.

One of the firefighters pointed to the gadget on top of my TV and asked me what that was. I got to give him a very very brief demo of my remote controlled remote control and call button. He commented to my dad as they were rolling me down the hall “He’s a pretty smart guy isn’t he?”

As they rolled me out the door I was looking at the sky and there were about four or five huge black birds circling around. I said to the EMT “Look at those birds up there. I hope they aren’t buzzards. You don’t want to see buzzards circling as you’re being rolled out to an ambulance.” And we both laughed. The EMT said she thought they looked like crows.

Once I was in the ambulance she hooked me up to a heart monitor and said that everything looked okay. She did have some trouble getting all of the leads to stick to be especially with all of my hair on my chest. She also gave me a handful of four chewable aspirin to take. I probably should’ve done that myself already. I guess it was my insistence that this still wasn’t a heart attack and the Tylenol would be good for the muscle pain.

We got to St. Vincent about 5 PM. The pain was still pretty bad and it had been for about two hours now. I did have some problems with the nausea but I never did really throw up. They put me on a heart monitor in the ER and again said they didn’t see anything suspicious. They put an IV line in me although they didn’t look anything up to it. They did a blood draw and gave me a nausea shot and a shot of morphine for the pain. That helped quite a bit but it didn’t go away completely. They gave me another shot and that did the trick. I’m not had any pain since then.

I thought perhaps the pain was from congestion in my lungs but they did a chest x-ray and it came back clear. The blood tests were to check for cardiac enzymes which appear whenever you have a heart attack. They actually did two sets of those tests throughout the evening and another one the following morning on which came back okay.

Most of the time I was dealing with nurses and someone who is called a physician’s assistant. It wasn’t until about 10 PM that I actually saw a real live doctor. He said he wanted to have been seen by a cardiologist. He didn’t really say if they were going to keep me or not but we were pretty sure that they would. I was expecting a cardiologist come in at some point but the next person through the door was a transport technician (that’s what they call orderlies these days) and he said “I’m here to take you to your room.” That was the first I really knew for certain that I was staying.

Dad had packed my CPAP machine and special St. Vincent call button but did not break my wheelchair, my back brace or any clothes. If they had decided to send me home, dad would have had to run home to get the wheelchair and then come back for me. So since it was getting so late it was probably the best that they kept me. I got to the room a little before 11 and dad was out the door by 11 PM.

Unfortunately the residence or whoever the on-call doctor was changed shifts right about the time that I got there. So the nurse told me it would be a while till the doctor came to see me. Of course I can’t do anything without doctor’s orders. Also someone from respiratory therapy would have to hook up my CPAP machine into their oxygen and hook up a humidifier. I didn’t see the doctor until a little after midnight and the respiratory therapy girl didn’t show up until after 1 AM. Under other circumstances I would have been a little bit upset that it took that long but since I had slept until 1 PM I really wasn’t that. The pain was gone and I was doing okay.

Because I didn’t know if I was staying or going or what was going to happen I ended up not having anything else to eat all day. I asked the nurse if she could rustle up a bottle of Ensure or Boost or something similar. She found a carton of something called instant shake.

The doctor mentioned something about a third set of cardiac enzymes being taken. I asked the nurse when that would be interested about 4:30 AM. I chuckled and said “Well I’ve got that to look forward to.” Actually I slept pretty well. They did not have to stick me again to do the blood draw. The IV they had already established (which never did get hooked up to anything) held up pretty well and they were able to get all the blood they needed.

I woke up about 8 AM with the new shift came in to take my vital signs. They have people called PCT which stands for Patient Care Technician who do things like take vitals, give baths, anything that isn’t too medical. Then you also have an RN who gives you medication. Since I hadn’t eaten hardly anything the day before I was pretty hungry for breakfast. I told the PCT then I need to order breakfast. She said she had to check my chart to see if I had a special diet. I had her turn on the TV to watch the Today Show.

A couple of other RNs came in and each time when they asked if I needed anything, I mentioned I was waiting on the PCT to help me order breakfast. It used to be that in the hospital they had a couple of different choices for each meal and you had to pick one of those or you got nothing. These days they give you a full room service menu and you can order just about anything anytime of day. There’s not a particular service time or a set of entrées that you only get a couple of choices. You just phone and what you want and it’s there in about a half hour.

Eventually the doctor came in. She was someone from internal medicine. She said they wanted to do and echocardiogram. I was okay with that but I wasn’t too keen on doing any kind of a chemical stress test unless it was absolutely necessary. The resident the night before had mentioned the possibility. What they do is if you cannot run on a treadmill stress your heart may pump you full of some sort of medication that makes your heart race and then they do cardiogram. I forgot to mention that the doctor that saw me in the ER asked me if the pain got worse “When you exert yourself”. Dad and I almost laughed out loud in his face. I managed to say without too much sarcasm “I don’t ever get exerted. I can’t.” Anyway this new internal medicine doctor said they would do the regular echo first and see what it showed.

The TV system they have in St. Vincent Hospital is pretty sophisticated. It actually some sort of IP TV kind of system with a menu that allows you to watch videos about their services, check your email, I think it even lets you play games. All of that in addition to a pretty good selection of cable channels. Because of a computer-based system with lets them do interesting things which one wishes they would not do. Case in point in the middle of watching the Today Show a message pops up on the screen saying “If you’ve been here within the last 30 days would you like to take a brief survey?” Then it gives you the option to click yes or no. That of course presumes that you have the physical capability of working there remote control which I do not! I laid there staring at this pop-up window blocking my view of an interview with Bill Cosby thinking about what I would tell them if I could take their damned survey.

I plotted that I would lay a really bad trip on them. I would say something like “There I was lying alone in my hospital bed feeling sorry for myself that I was this for crippled man who nearly died of a heart attack. My only enjoyment in life as I awaited the fate of my test results was to enjoy the Today Show which a nurse had so kindly turned to at my request since I was unable to push the buttons myself in my feeble state. And then this pop-up message appeared on my screen asking my opinion. It not only robbed me of my only pleasure at the time (the ability to watch Matt Lauer) but it reminded me of how helpless I was lying there fearing for my life and unable to push a single button. I didn’t dare call the nurse to clear the message from my screen lest I jeopardize the health of some other poor patient who needed her attention more than me.” blah blah blah blah blah you get the idea. I would’ve given it to them with both barrels. People who know me know I’m not the “feeling sorry for myself” kind of guy. But I’ve been around enough of them that I can turn it on for affect 🙂

It was getting close to 10 AM and I still didn’t have any breakfast on order. Or at least I didn’t think I did. Just about the time that the transport guy comes to take me to the echocardiogram, room service shows up with the breakfast that the damned PCT ordered for me without asking me what the hell I wanted! There was a different PCT helping the guy load me on to the gurney. I expressed my disapproval that they had ordered my breakfast without asking me what I wanted. She said “What did you want?” I said, “Well for one thing I wanted eggs. Are there any eggs there?” She said no.

It took me down to the basement for the echocardiogram. Basically it’s an ultrasound test where they watch your heart beating. As a joke I asked the guy if I could get a DVD of it afterwards. He said actually if you wait a couple of days you can order one. It’s part of your medical records that you’re entitled to have. They probably charge you a bunch of money for it. I don’t think I’ll bother. But it would be fun to upload it to YouTube 🙂

You’ve often heard it said of people “Well at least their heart is in the right place”. Apparently mine isn’t. I knew that because of my bad curvature of my spine and my strangely shaped chest that my anatomy was strange. But I didn’t know that my heart was very low compared to my rib cage. He actually got the best picture of my heart by putting the probe below my breastbone. It’s a good thing I wear this heavy chest brace because apparently my heart isn’t covered by my rib cage very well. He had a little bit of difficulty getting a side view but he managed to see everything he needed to see.

When I got back to my room not only was there the pancakes and sausage breakfast that I didn’t order, there was a second tray with a plate full of scrambled eggs. Apparently the other PCT took my offhand comment “I wanted eggs” very literally and ordered them for me. What I really wanted was scrambled eggs, two pieces of white bread toast, and two cartons of 2% milk. There was coffee, orange juice, and one carton of milk in the original breakfast. So I managed to get by with the eggs, juice and milk. Of course when I really, really, really wanted was to be ASKED! By the way I never did see again the PCT who ordered breakfast without me.

When I got back from my tests there was a different RN who helped feed me. She wasn’t my regular nurse. It’s probably a good thing or I would’ve never wanted to leave the hospital. She had to be the hottest looking nurse I think I’d ever had in my life. She was so hot it didn’t even matter that she was about six months pregnant.

I tried calling dad to fill him in on what had happened throughout the morning but he was apparently already on his way to the hospital. All I got was the answering machine. Soon after that a PCT came in to get me cleaned up. She was the one who ordered the eggs. I didn’t really complain because she was trying to do the right thing.

Just as I started the bath, dad showed up. He said he had brought clothes and my wheelchair but had left it all in the van. He had ridden up from the parking lot in the little three wheeled gogo that my mom used to use. He gets around pretty well but for long distances like the hospital, the cart really came in handy. It also brought with him my laptop computer. The last time I had been at St. Vincent a few months ago with a urinary infection, I could not get my laptop to connect to their Wi-Fi system. He had gotten his tablet to connect okay but I think there was something funny about Windows 8 that they weren’t yet ready to support. Fortunately this time I connected okay. He had not left my home computer on. I was hoping to be able to use Team Viewer to login to home. I was able to post a message on Facebook but could not send any emails because I didn’t have anyone’s email address on the laptop. Going to have to make a list for next time.

We spent the next few hours just sitting around waiting for results from the echocardiogram. Dad read a book on his tablet. I played a little Candy Crush on the laptop but was a little bit uncomfortable with the bed raised up so I put away the laptop and we put the bed back flat again. Finally the internal medicine doctor came back and she said that the echo looked okay. She said I should follow up with the family doctor but she was cutting loose.

I called up Acme Homecare to tell them that I was going home and would need Rick back again the next day. I wanted to make sure they didn’t need to do a reevaluation of me. When I was in for three days with a urinary infection they had to send a nurse to ask me a million questions that they already knew all the answers to. Once you are in for more than a couple of days they have to treat you like an entirely new patient. Fortunately with just an overnight stay in an observation room they didn’t need to do all that. Rick was back on the job the next day.

Dad rode the gogo back to the van taking with him as much stuff as he could. That included the laptop, my dirty clothes, and my contour sheet and pillow from home that had traveled with me in the ambulance. He then parked the van at the pickup area in front of the hospital, loaded my clothes in a bag on the back of my wheelchair and rode my wheelchair from the van back to my room. He got me dressed which included putting on my back brace which is tricky for a novice to do. It’s better to have him do it than the nurse. As he returned with the wheelchair I asked him several questions about things he might have forgotten like my shoes. One thing he did forget what the headrest that goes on my wheelchair. When I’m getting in and out of the chair we remove it so it wasn’t on the chair when he picked it up at home. That meant I had to write home in the van without the headrest. We propped a pillow up behind my neck when I was still pretty uncomfortable in my neck was very stiff by the time we got home.

We left the hospital about 4 PM which means my total visit lasted just 23 hours. We were going to stop to give McDonald’s on the way home but I suggested we go straight home because my neck hurt. He went back out afterwards and got the sandwiches.

When I went to bed that night I looked on the floor and underneath my bed with someone’s wristwatch. One of the firefighters are ambulance people must’ve lost it while transferring me on to the gurney. We will probably drop it off at the fire station sometime.

We still have no idea what was wrong with me. It had to be some sort of muscle cramps. My heart’s okay. I haven’t had any pain since then.

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