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Friday, February 27, 2015

Crisis Moves to the Hospital

Joe broke the silence in the little cabin, announcing we’d be landing soon. “I’ve asked for their van to meet us to take you to the hospital. That way, you can lie down and not have to pay for an ambulance--unless you think you might need the ambulance?”

“Oh my goodness, no, I don’t need an ambulance,” I said to the kind Hospital Board Chairman who’d been called into service to transport me to the regional hospital. “This is just so much fuss for my ornery neck. I’ll be fine in the van.”

The jolting of tires-to-tarmac shot pain through my head but soon settled into the familiar pressurized-ache. I waited for Joe to do the required pilot checks, all the while wondering why those colored lights never stopped flashing and obscuring my sight. At least, I could see them, so I couldn’t be blind.

I’d driven the distance between the airport and the hospital enough times to realize that the endless duration of the bumpy ride on the backseat of the van had nothing at all to do with geography. The ache in my head had increased significantly; I feared I’d vomit in this stranger’s van.

At last, the “We’re here,” rang out from the seat ahead of me.

“Oh, thank. You. So. Much,” I said, taking quick breaths between each word.

The sudden metallic clang signaled the side door had opened. Strong arms pulled me off the bench and set me down in a wheelchair. “Do you need the gurney, Miss?”

“No. this. Is. fine. But. I. need. The. Basin,” I said, as he whirled the chair around and my stomach rushed into my throat. I’d just finished my plea when I heard the electric doors of the Emergency Room snap closed behind us.

“Basin. Please. Emesis Basin. Now,” I said, but the exchange between the nurse and orderly obscured my whispered desperation.

At last, the nurse leaned her head down to put an ear close enough to hear me. I pushed her away just as the reason for my plea launched across the footrests of the wheelchair. “Oh, emesis basin,” said the nurse. “Sorry.”

I heard her shout for a gurney and felt myself being lifted out of the chair. “Her projectile vomiting isn’t a good sign,” the nurse told the duo of helping hands. Turning to the Ward Clerk, she continued, “Call Dr. Roberts*. Stat.”

“No, it’s Dr. Southerville* who said he’d meet me here. Call Dr. Souther—“I said, but my soft whispers had died in the hurried chatter of the professionals. What in the world made them think I needed a neurologist? I wanted to shout the whole thing had been a problem with my neck; they needed to call the orthopedic man not the brain guy.

In a blur of activity, one nurse removed my clothing, replacing it with the open-backed hospital gown, while another recorded vital signs and shouted out all kinds of orders over my head. When the dust had settled, I discovered the pillows at my back had tipped me to the side; an emesis basin had been placed between my two hands. All this drama over a sore neck? I thought.

After a short period of time, I heard the familiar voice of Dr. Roberts. I knew that strong voice well, because I’d transcribed hundreds of pages of his dictation in this very hospital not that many months prior to this official visit. He’d understand the mix-up, and I hoped he wouldn’t be upset at having been called in error to see me.

“Hello, there. Before you say anything, I just talked to Dr. Southerville. He asked me to come see you; he’ll drop by later.”

“Oh, good. I’m so sorry to bother you, Dr. Roberts,” I said, trying to smile as the nurse assisted Dr. Roberts to reposition me on my back.

The movement caused a wave of nausea, but I controlled it with deep breaths. I felt the rubber reflex hammer at my elbow, picturing the report of this well-known specialist’s routine examination. I’d pounded out the words to his reports many, many times.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” said Dr. Roberts.

I squinted my eyes, concentrating straight ahead at the spot where I’d heard his voice. “Actually, I can only see colored lights, Dr. Roberts. There are so many chains of them that it’s all I can see.”

Suddenly, I felt the hand of Dr. Roberts grip my forehead, his black curls flipping down to touch the top of my own forehead. I knew he’d begun to examine the backs of my eyes with his ophthalmoscope, but his unruly locks tickled me so much I giggled. The nurse grabbed my hand, preventing me from moving his hair.

“It’s okay; Dr. Roberts is just checking your eyes. He’ll be done in a minute.”

I felt the neurologist move from one eye to the other and back again. His examining light had begun to bring a burning pain. “Sh*t. You’re blind,” he said.

I laughed and said, “No, I’m not blind, Dr. Roberts. I can see dozens of colored chains of light and the background is white. Blind people see only black.” My breath bounced back at my own face, because the doctor’s face remained so close to mine. He repeated his examination, breathing against my cheek.

When the rush of cooler air registered, I realized he’d moved back. His deep sigh near my bed came from a spot high enough to let me know he’d stood. I smiled up at him, glad to have the painful eye examination over. “It’s my neck, Dr. Roberts. It’s been bothering me for several months now, and Dr. Southerville--”

“It’s not your neck. Did anyone ever look at your eyes?”

“No, you’re the first one.”

I heard a deep sigh again. Next, the tickle of his curls preceded the pressure of his hand on my forehead. The burning pain returned as Dr. Roberts repeated the exam one more time. Then, I felt a rush of cool air, followed by silence. I pictured the neurologist running his hands through his hair. The scene had often accompanied his string of expletives when frustrated.

“The last time I looked at eye grounds like that was on a corpse. Living people don’t have eye grounds like that.” Dr. Roberts took a few deep breaths before continuing. “Where are your parents?”
“Both of them are working today. I thought I’d call them later, when I knew they’d be off work. They live fifteen miles from here. Everything happened so fast; they don’t know I’m here yet.”

“Do you have a friend in town you could call? I want someone with you right now. Your friend can call your parents.”

How comforting it was for me in that confusing time of crisis to realize that one of my very best friends had only months earlier moved to a home half-a-block from this very hospital. The words of the nurse, “She’s on her way,” felt like warm salve on a fresh wound.

*Names changed.

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