• Joanne Paulson

An ER can test your heart . . . in more ways than one.



There is no better place to observe humanity than the emergency room. I’m delighted to say I had not been in an ER for myself in years, although I have been in the hospital for various life explosions several times over the pandemic period. Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately, I’m not sure yet — I had occasion to visit the madhouse recently. I suppose I should have known better. I’ve been trying to survive a particularly blue mood over the last wee while, for reasons I won’t list, accompanied by various unpleasant physical symptoms. Why couldn’t this strange sensation be one of them? But it felt different. It felt like someone was crushing my rib cage. Like someone had wrapped a lasso right around my mid-section, and was pulling, tightening. Hard. I wanted to ignore it but simply couldn’t. I’d never felt anything like it before, and I was simply scared. I asked for advice and was told to see a doctor immediately. I did this. The doctor hooked me up with one of those tests and saw a “blip.” So off I went to emerg upon his insistence. “I’m calling in the morning to check on you,” he warned, and called the hospital to inform it of my arrival. I couldn’t really see as I drove myself there. Note to self: don’t do that again. Still, safely parked, I walked in, announced myself, and was immediately triaged. Immediately had vitals taken. Immediately thereafter had my second ECG. And was sent to the waiting room to, well, wait. Some time later, an intern interviewed me. She was sweet and very kind. Then I was sent to the waiting room to, well, wait some more. A considerable time later, I had another ECG. Blood work taken. An x-ray. Then another ECG. Good heavens. How many people were going to see my breasts today? After a certain point, you just bare the body parts and say what the hell. Fling them out there. They’ve seen it all before, I would think. So you have these moments of terror, and moments of boredom, and moments of misery. And you wait. And you watch. And you wonder. A young man came in, obnoxious as hell, bearing three enormous bags (what was in them, eep?) Refused to wear a mask. Continually pestered the staff. Eventually, they threw him out … but security stayed in the entrance and kept an eye out for him. Shiver. The poor guy in the wheelchair behind me was puking. Another guy at the other end of the room was peeing. A young woman with skinned knees across from me was shuddering with pain. An older woman begged me to save her chair when she needed to use the bathroom. A drunk older couple yelled in the corner. Every time a nurse called someone’s name, they would assist in finding the patient. “BRENDA!” they hollered. “EVENING!” Yes, there was young man there named Evening. Speaking of evenings, this one wore on. The nurses kicked out everyone who was not a patient, with a couple of exceptions. There were not enough chairs. Not even close. We sat cheek by jowl in the crowded triage and waiting area. No COVID distancing here. Not possible. The doctor finally called my name and took me to a private room (this was a rarity; people were getting their health news in public, for the most part. Simply no space.) He apologized for the wait, explained that the hospital was full, and said … well, it’s not your heart. By this time, the pain had subsided, so I was clearly not an urgent patient for any other reason by then. I’m going to let you go, he said. By the way, you have a very low risk of heart disease. Somewhere between 0.8 and 1.47 (out of 100, I gathered, but I don’t really have any idea.) More investigation of other body bits may be needed and I will be cranky if I get COVID, but apparently, my diaphragm was so badly in spasm, it had formed a knot in my chest. Hmmm, could that be the source of the pain (duh)? Good thing stress does not cause problems when held in our bodies, am I right? You may wonder why I am boring you with my little health scare story. After all, I am fine. Well, at least my heart is pounding. I have felt of late that I should stop writing, a brain signal one should not ignore. But as I sat for hours in the ER, I realized that I was essentially writing the entire time. A short story about my own experience. Little back stories about all these sick, injured, terrified (and terrifying), disgusting, sweet, kind, moaning, yelling, young, old, and sometimes lonely people. Who were they? Did I care? Yes, I did. I am a writer. I cannot help it. I may be a good writer or a bad writer. I may sell books and articles, or I may not. I may entrance or engage or enlighten or entertain or educate you with my words, or I may not. But I am a writer. If you are a writer or other creative human reading this, and you too are doubting yourself, wondering whether you should continue creating, I hope it does not take a trip to the emergency room to give you the answer. Photo by Maxim Tolchinskiy on Unsplash.

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