St. Agnes ER – Chapter 105

Something like that if this were a book. I think I’ve saved them all.

We’re going off travelogue topic here because this is worth a story, though as a travelgueish, blogish kind of thing, it sort of fits. No pictures but there were certainly opportunities. I’ll have to go with the thousand words option. You visual voyuers can drop out now. This is the longest one so far.

When you travel and need immediate medical care your options are somewhat limited. Last year we both had minor issues that urgent care resolved very quickly. Cudos to urgent care. Now, thinking you might be facing surgery, the dreaded emergency room is the ‘upgrade’ option.

So, this hip pain thing just went on too long and became unbearable. I was sure I had a hernia that was causing the hip pain. With my internet doctorate, the femoral hernia diagnosis trumped (can’t we eliminate that word from Webster’s?) the cracked bone guess. Again, using the internet (in a stupidly limited way), I found the best hospital in Fresno, about 50 miles south of our RV park in Bass Lake. We packed up for the possibility of staying the night. Unfortunately, when we walked in the best heart hospital in Fresno, it became very clear that the lovely surroundings did not cater to us street people. But, they were very nice and directed us to St. Agnes, a few miles away. Tip, when you need an ER, lower your standards – and check to be sure they have an ER before you drive an hour.

Well, remember the TV show ER? I don’t either. But somehow, memories came pouring back today. Are all ER rooms cliches? Come with me now to St. Agnes, a lovely hospital in an upscale area of Fresno, CA.

I missed the first video op about an hour after checking in. Andrea had just gone back to the car to walk Luna when two big security guards walked over to a man wearing a surgical mask who seemed to want to talk to anyone around him. The security guard, “Sir, would you come with me?” Fitting the-profile-man cliche he says, “Is there a problem?” SG, “Yes, there is, you are trespassing, come with me.” …Argument ensues, Profile Cliche, “I’m calling 911” and reaches for something in his pack. SG lunges at PC and a very violent struggle develops. I’m wondering, “Uh Oh. I’m ten feet away with a perfect view but if this guy has a gun, this might go very bad very quickly.” But then I’m in the TV show, an extra in a drama. And then again, this is real and I’m probably an idiot for sitting here. Over the PA system I here “Code Red ER, Code Red ER” – wait, this is TV – and out of every door come security guys. The bad guy is subdued and walked out into a police car.

Welcome to St. Agnes. Andrea comes back in a few minutes later and her reporter gene kicks in hearing every conversation around us. In minutes we have the telephone game story. Drug addict comes in hoping for a fix brandishing a knife near others awaiting care. I saw and heard everything after the security guard approached so I can’t comment on the knife. I never saw it and I clearly saw the guy’s back as he was roughly walked out, two hands locked firmly by the guard and no knife visible. Funny thing is, the story inside the ER by nurses is that the guy initiated a fight. The confrontation did NOT go down that way. He may have been a drug addict and he may have had a knife but he did not start a fight. His argument was actually quite good. Reminded me of Judge Haller in My Cousin Vinny: “That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection.” But… apparently there was something more to this. I knew we were going to be there awhile and I wasn’t fucking up my time there to be George Clooney. Sorry moralists. Bottom line is I’m a pragmatist and a Darwinist. By the way, we ran into loads of candidates, hold on, not just candidates but guaranteed future award winners. The kid across from us might not make the news but he seemed to be a nice kid doomed to the Darwin theory. Let’s call him Darwin Kid, DK. In that first waiting room we learned he hurt his leg and had severe pain. He was fretting over spending so much time there. The 55+ lady with the 50 tattoos that were not aging well on her sitting next to him tried to get his attention and finally said that it takes a while to get in here. She’s been in this place before. DK responds, “Oh, I know. I got shot in the ribs last year and I waited a long time.” There were some Wal-Mart fashionistas. A woman, actually rather slender, was wearing a black, sumo wrestler diaper, but in a tour-de-force Walmartian display, decided not to tie it around her groin, or whatever we call the junk area, but let it just hang from her waist. Two 6-8″ wide pieces of cloth hung across the front and back. Bare legs up to the hips that were worth looking at said look at me. And her face told that story. Oh, please. She looked like her face had been on fire and it was put out with an ice pick (I stole that description from my friend Ted when describing his 3am bar left-overs), but they missed the nose. Pinocchioesque. And as we contemplated the Felliniesque (I like that ..esque thingy) play unfolding around us, God spoke, “Brian Carlin” – our saviour calls.

Ah, relief from the madness. A bed inside the actual ER room. With curtains still open, no George Clooney or Julianna Margulies to be found. Not even that hot little blond who showed up with the Trump family, the one that reminds me of the slutty daughter (my favorite character) on Married With Children. Please. Shut up. So, I got a bed and the 2016 version of Clooney – no, he looked a lot like Chris O’Donnell – comes to us to begin the process of figuring out what to do with me. Chad is the on-duty, managing RN, a straight shooter with a wry sense of humor and all the pragmatism that I admire, and so far, keeping personal judgement tucked away as he listens to my history and tries to process the current symptoms. Among the ocassional screaming and crying, we know that Fellini is back inside, though the environment is perhaps only 50% less chaotic. Chad leaves and we wait thirty minutes for Julianna Margolies. Alas, we get Monk, albeit playing a doctor. Wait, what TV show are we in? Tony Shalhoub in ER. Maybe a little Donnie Osmond or Erik Estrada mixed in. I always call my doctors by their TV look-alike. My favorite doctor, Anderson Cooper, retired right after I did. My current one, who I more recently call Bitch, is a prissy Donna Reed. In Texas I had a young Woody Harrelson. But today I’m going with Shalhoub’s Fred Qwan from Galaxy Quest. More questions but the good news, I’m getting a CT. AND, Chad comes back and hooks up an IV thingy and gives me a shot of Fentanyl. Whoop, there it is! That’s not really what I came here for but holy buzz. I came for a picture. Fuck the crazies. This is what I want. This is Good. Doc thinks it’s an infection brought on by the cold. Great! A new guess. An open mind after telling him I thought the hernia was the key.

A half hour later I’m off in a wheelchair in my stunning, tie-in-the-back, dignity-be-damned hospital gown to the CT room. But, oops, we stop at a waiting room. I was not able to communicate with the other wait room occupants. I’m seriously considering taking the Rosetta Stone course this summer. I’d really like to be able to speak to more Americans that I meet in emergency rooms, guys that wash our RV, and National Parks visitors. Ooooooh. Get real. I’m not kidding. Especially if we decide to go Deep Retirement and move to the Andes.

So, I get the CT scan and upon returning to the ER, get dropped off in yet another waiting room. Tulare (something weird like that), a human being lacking in dignity and, perhaps, the ability to resist an addictive lifestyle, was lying on the floor, crying about her pain and the time it was taking to process her broken elbow. A little while later, Chad passes by and told her, by name – guess she’s a regular, to get off the floor or leave. I like Chad. Minutes later her boyfriend arrives. She starts crying her story louder to him. With her voice rising, screaming profanities at the place, I’m calmly watching Walker, Texas Ranger, rescue dignitary Erik Estrada (or was that Donny?), a nurse answers her back, “Lower your voice and the profanities”. She gets louder. We’re not yet at code red but two more security guards appear at which time her boyfriend, Spike Lee, tries to calmly defend her and finally the floor supervisor arrives and speaks to him. Spike, “I wanted to speak to the supervisor”. Halle Berry says, “I am the supervisor”. Spike lights up, starts his appeal, seems pleased with her response but before she can leave to get the ball rolling he starts telling her his story, about his $35,000 medical bill and whatever he can talk about. I’ve been in enough bars to know a move when I see one. He’s hitting on Halle Berry. OK now. Grey’s Anatomy here we come.

Soon after, a very aging Suzanne Sarandon comes in and tries to sit down in the recliner on rollers next to me. After a few Lucille O’Ball slapstick attempts I hold the chair steady and help her lean back. She starts talking to Tulare – I don’t have a TV image – wait, a very ugly Melissa McCarthy. You know how she throws a shit fit? Then Suzanne comments on a Paul McCartney concert ad on TV – “You know I heard that floor seats were going for $2000. He was a hero in my generation.” Tempted, I still didn’t engage. I am the fly on the wall, MYOB in my oh-so-attractive nighty with the IV thingy sticking out of my arm. They all think I’m really sick and give the old fucker some respect. Then Suzanne gets called and I have to lift the back of the recliner to get her up and she almost flies out of the thing. I knew that was going to happen. Spike prevents her from a face fall. At some point, Lola, one of those Brazilian dancers from an old Abbott and Costello movie had come in – I suppose that would make her about 110 now, about right, and she hasn’t trimmed her six inch fingernails in a while – with her husband, Guillermo, Jimmy Kimmel’s sidekick, who has a one year old hip. Truth be told, Andrea had come in, after feeding Luna, and initiated the conversation. I think I said my first five words in this room after half an hour. Young Chris Evert with the pinkie that turned the wrong way sat across from us. She and her mother seemed normal. Then the Darwin Kid came in. He, Michael Jackson at 15, had broken his leg when he jumped off his bike before the car hit him. He showed it off to everyone. “Don’t make no difference to me.” Earlier in the day he had been mugged. Tough day. Don’t worry, DK, you’re not long for this world. There’s a Darwin award in your future. Yeah, I’m awful. I was tunnel-visioned and just want my damn hip fixed. Finally, called to a consultation.

We were again right across from the central nurses/doctor island and got to see the constant flow. It may seem like everybody waits forever but for the amount of work they do in the the time they do it, well I think it is pretty great. We did have the suspicion that the nicer you are, the higher up you move on the prority chart. Screaming Tulare had been there an hour before us. Anyway, Chad the RN comes in followed by Dr. Fred Kwan and the scribe – ok, this one’s a stretch, picture a thickly bespectacled Scarlett Johansson in a blonde, waist-length braided ponytail – maybe, but I liked her smile and she was nice and now you have a face for a character. And man, can she type, like Cousin Sal at the Costco returns counter.

So, the CT scan shows more of the same back problems with an emphasis on stenosis. Calling David Wright – how are you playing baseball, Studly? But now we’ve added some signs of arthritis and osteoporosis. What the hell is this hip thing? He believes it to be “a bout of sciatica on steroids”. Wants me to get a spine doctor. Orders an injectable steroid before we leave and two prescriptions, one for MethylPREDNISolone (steroid) and Vicodin. Chad pipes in with a goodbye as his shift is ending. He wants to thank us for being normal and shakes my hand. He had chatted with us at various points in the process about our life on the road and wanted to emphasise how relieving it is to have normal people for a change. Scarlett Johansson stopped typing for a moment and adds, “normal is the new abnormal here”. It was a nice moment. They all wish us luck and leave. A few minutes later Cheech Marin, the evening shift chief RN, brings in a couple of vials of steroids and shoots me up. He also delivers a packet of neatly compiled info with the prescriptions, my diagnosis, and a few generic pages on sciatica and spinal stenosis. A few minutes later he gives us a disk with the CT images and sends us off into the night. Total time, about five hours. I think, ‘great job’. I got my pictures and some relief in sight. Good night, St. Agnes ER. We thanked one of the security guards on the way out wondering how he does the job. He made peace with the screamer.

It’s Thursday now. I can walk. Not great and the limp is still there, albeit less pronounced, and I’m not afraid to take a step in the RV without grabbing something for support. I’m buying into the sciatica thing but I still don’t get the hip being the center of the problem. Maybe it’s the new arthritis evidence. I’ll give it some credence. And, Mae, thank you, I’m trying glucosamine.

Many thanks to Dr. George Alam and Chad.

Now it’s time for the Vicodin. Whoop, here it comes.

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