Six Hours In the ER


I went to my doc for my yearly physical with one troubling symptom: nasal drip. Five weeks of some kind of allergy – explosive sneezing and a box of Kleenex a day.

The standard EKG heart test startled her – there was a dip where there should have been a rising. I had zero symptoms for any kind of heart trouble, but it troubled her and she sent me one building over to the Santa Ynez Cottage Hospital Emergency Room. There they gave me another EKG with a similar finding and also a blood test that was inconclusive. I was told to report to the Santa Barbara hospital in the morning for a stress test and another EKG.

Went to the SB ER and waited. Checked in with several units including nuclear medicine and waited and waited, had a new test. The test was inconclusive. They needed me to wait two more hours and take more pictures of my heart at rest. By this time (it was Friday) the ER was filling up. A storm of voices was rising slowly around me, rolling beds clamoring. All rooms were filled, so I was placed on a gurney in a hallway with many other patients.

I’m sitting on the gurney, comfortable, clothing on, blankets if I need them. I’m given a box lunch chicken sandwich with Jello for dessert, and I’m eating and using my small note pad to play a word game to pass the time.

But then, I hear in the gurney behind me, the desperate breathing of a woman who sometimes whimpers aloud, sounding terrified. I can’t turn all the way around and see her, but I hear her, and meanwhile the hallway is becoming more and more crowded with emergency patients. I feel guilty. I’m just waiting there and having my Jello. They are scared and in pain, some of them critical. The staff keeps hurrying by (good, staff, caring people). I’m eating the last of my potato chips and now I’m writing down both my word game and the bits of sentences I hear all around me in the ER.

In the word game I play I try to find the number of words within a word and see if I can win by finding more words than there are letters in the word. Paranormal has ten letters, but I find eleven words there: Pa, Par, ran, a, an, normal, no, nor, or, norm, ma; so count that a win, while moving around me I hear the voices.

“I can’t sign this. I can’t read it! They took my glasses away!” “Are you able to draw blood in 12?” “I fell. At home. I live in an apartment and.... Down I went. It hurts a lot!”

“Pathfinder” has ten letters, but I can find only ten words there, so it’s a tie: pa, pat, a, at, path, fin, in, find, finder, er.

“And we need your urine.” “You’re obviously very upset. You’re hyperventilating. You may black out. Let me give you something to help you relax.”

A teenage girl is sitting in a chair, not a patient, and next to her I can see only the arm of probably her mother who holds her close as the girl weeps loudly, shaken, weeping on and on as the woman holds her. Is the girl weeping in fear for a sick or broken friend, a relative? Is she weeping over a death that is just down the hall?

“Sparking” is a win. Twelve words within a ten letter word: Spa, Spar, Spark, pa, par, park, a, ark, parking, kin, in, king.

The test was given. My heart-at-rest showed that I was not in danger. I was sent home. I had been there half a dozen hours, waiting, lives crashing around me, maybe ending. Ending: en, end, din, in, ding. Not a win.

Copyright Gerald DiPego 2015-2017