“I’m on the verge of trouble again…”
11/10/2015: No, not really – don’t panic.
Saturday evening, November 7, just as Michael comfortably settled in for a night with his X-Box and I with my iPad, I got a severe pain in my upper left arm that ran all the way to my fingertips. After taking Naproxen and waiting about 30 minutes with no relief, I became increasingly worried. Sometimes I get random cramps and spasms but never in my upper arm before. Not wanting to alarm Michael unnecessarily, I conferred with my friend Laura (who is an RN) via text. She urged me to go to the ER in case I had a blood clot or cardiac issue. Our local ER is not the greatest but I reluctantly asked Michael to take me to the hospital. There was no point in calling an ambulance. We knew from prior experience after my tongue surgery, it would take them 20 minutes or more to get our house and another 30 to get me to the ER. We could drive to the ER in 15. I was happy to see it didn’t look busy when we arrived.
I thought they’d see me right away due to the pain in my left arm being a classic heart attack symptom but the receptionist seemed unconcerned. Triage called me in after about 5 minutes, weighed me and took my BP, which was very high (164/93) compared to my normal. They asked if I had injured myself – no I hadn’t. I mentioned my concern regarding a possible blood clot or heart problem. They asked if I’d ever had either before – no I hadn’t. They sent me back to the waiting room for another 25 minutes before an aide escorted me to a treatment room and gave me a gown.
We were in a room next to the outside door and hit with regular bursts of cold air. Michael put his coat over me for warmth and turned up the thermostat in the room. I waited another 24 minutes (Michael tracked time) for the nurse, Kim, to arrive and ask about my medications and to put a BP cuff on me. I refused pain medication, stating I didn’t want to add anything on top of the Naproxen I had taken just before I came. Simultaneously, an admin asked about our personal and insurance info – she was the first person we encountered who didn’t seem bored. I finally got a blanket. Fifteen minutes later, the doctor arrived, asked a few questions without much apparent interest and felt my arm. She said she didn’t think I had anything seriously wrong but she’d order an EKG and an ultrasound just to be sure. My BP was 169/82. She asked if I take medication for high BP – I told her I don’t because it isn’t normally high. Kim returned and gave me some footies. I was extremely thirsty and asked for water – she said she’d get me some but never did. Michael eventually got me a bottle from the faulty vending machine in the lobby, losing some money in the process.
X-Ray tech, Lisa, the first person who seemed to genuinely care about her job and me, arrived unexpectedly 27 minutes later. She said the doctor decided to cover all the bases. She did her work quickly (less than 5 minutes) and expertly, apologizing for any discomfort she inadvertently caused by moving my arm to different positions. Kim stopped in after 24 minutes more and said the ultrasound tech had to be called in from home.
After another 30 minutes of waiting, I got up and walked out to the nurses station. There was a cluster of cops chatting in the hallway but none of them or the hospital staff seemed particularly distressed or harried. I asked Kim when I might get my EKG and ultrasound. She replied that the ultrasound tech had not arrived but she could do the EKG anytime. I said, “How about now?” She said, “Okay” and followed me back to the room and did it. A mere 23 minutes later, the doctor arrived and told me the X-Ray and EKG were fine but she forgot it was the weekend so no ultrasound could be done – she’d write me a prescription to get one “next week” and I should follow up with my primary care. As she was leaving the room, I asked what she thought might have caused the pain. She said I’d probably just strained a muscle even though I told her I had not injured myself or done anything unusual or strenuous. By then, three and a half hours after my arrival, the pain had subsided. I asked for a prescription for 500 mg. Naproxen, and she raised her eyebrows as though I’d requested narcotics, rolled her eyes, and asked why. Kim arrived with with discharge papers a few minutes later and took my BP again – it was 182/102. She told me to stay until she could ask the doctor what to do.
We waited 10 more minutes and decided to leave. I ran into the doctor in the hallway and asked her about it. She asked when I had my last BP meds – I reminded her that I’d never taken or needed any. She told me to go see my primary care physician next week. It was nearly 1 a.m. when we got home, tired and depressed, our entire evening wasted. The whole experience left me feeling like a hypochondriac because of the way I was treated by the medical staff. If I’d had a clot or cardiac problem, I’d probably have died. Thankfully, I didn’t. My ultrasound on Monday showed no clots. We’ll never know what caused the pain – most likely another of the random ones that seem to be common but undiagnosed among bone marrow transplant patients. I checked my BP at home for a couple of days with Michael’s cuff, and it gradually returned to normal. His, however, isn’t great.