A&Me: Another 6 Hours With Death


Accident and Emergency

You may – or, more likely, may not – remember that I spent six hours in A&E last September due to passing out twice, hitting my head, tearing/straining a jaw ligament, having a seizure, etc. Those six hours were among the worst of my life. A doctor laughed at me. The receptionist sent us somewhere we weren’t meant to be and then told us off for going there. The other receptionists stood gossiping and ignoring us while I sat in my wheelchair throwing up and being held in so I wouldn’t fall out with the dizziness. The triage nurse was an a******. They all assumed, without basis, that I was drunk.

I vowed never to return to A&E; I’d rather lie on my bedroom floor and die. So, last Tuesday – December 23 – I ventured back to A&E. Not entirely by choice. So here’s my whine story:

For the past 8-10 weeks, I’ve been fairly unwell: weak; dizzy; easily exhausted; I lost 7kg in about 5 of those weeks; I’d wake up with the room spinning and my heart hammering. So after a few weeks of feeling back to normal, last Monday night I woke up with my heart fluttering as though I were nervous about something. I went to the bathroom only to find myself becoming light-headed and tunnel vision creeping in. After discovering that splashing cold water on myself didn’t work, I lay down on the (very cold) floor so that I wouldn’t hit my head this time when I passed out. Luckily, doing so caused all the unpleasant feelings to abate.

The next day I went to the doctor. She decided, after an ECG, that I should go to A&E. I considered not going, but the feelings of the previous night were just the feelings that I’d hoped to avoid by never going to a hospital again, so there didn’t seem much point if it would only happen again.

This time, I had to go to the hospital in Letterkenny, Ireland, because I live in the Republic and therefore am not covered by the NHS even with my UK passport. Ireland’s healthcare is similar to America’s – though not quite so bad – in that you pay through your teeth for everything (including a €100 fee for needing A&E). But thankfully, a few days earlier, my medical card had arrived, meaning that I wouldn’t have to pay.

Letterkenny turned out to be vastly more pleasant – if that term can possibly be used for a hospital visit – than the A&E in Altnagelvin, Derry. The doctors and nurses seemed to care about me and even treated me as though I actually existed! Though the entire thing turned out to last six hours, just like the first time round, it didn’t feel like it. Several nurses asked me questions throughout the wait, and took my blood pressure, and even turned on the TV for us and came around with tea and biscuits. Unfortunately, one also took my blood. That resulted in me lying on a bed with an oxygen mask, shaking violently all over.

Sadly, what they didn’t do was diagnose what’s wrong. Another ECG showed nothing (the GP’s reading, which said something about an anomaly, went missing somewhere between the reception and the triage nurse), the chest x-ray showed nothing, my blood showed nothing (except that my potassium is back to normal). The doctor wondered if it might be TB for a while, but she must have ruled that out because she never mentioned it again.

So, after six hours and another blood-related ordeal, I was given the choice of being kept in over Christmas with a heart monitor, or coming back some time after Christmas to be fitted with one for 48 hours. I chose the latter.

And that is the story of why I’m no longer allowed tea or coffee.


A&ME: 6 Hours With Death

Ok, the title may be ever so slightly exaggerated, but do you want to know what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The former spends six hours sitting in A&E, shaking and throwing up.

Ok, I may be a bit stoppable.

I should point out now that there’s no real point to this post other than to detail what happened for no particular reason at all. It’s also long.

At about 4pm last Wednesday, my mother called me to say that my grandmother had fallen out of her wheelchair and hit her head. I had to go and watch the shop while she went to the hospital. About half an hour later she called me again to say that my grandmother was fine, and just had a black eye and a small cut on her head. I didn’t like the idea of going to the hospital at all, so after closing the shop I went back to the tech to wait in my office.

At 9pm, the tech closed and my mother had to come and pick me up. My grandmother was still in A&E, waiting for a doctor to come and discharge her, so we had to go back there. I followed my mother through A&E, avoiding contact with the sick people, lest I contracted their ailments. Finally, we came to my grandmother’s cubicle. Inside I found my grandmother lying in the bed sporting an impressively aubergine-coloured eye and a pretty small cut.

For the next half an hour, we sat and tried to decipher what she was saying (it’s not easy when she has no teeth, and doesn’t make much effort to pronounce words any more) and idly making smalltalk. At one point she told me that her husband had died the previous day (he died several years ago, but she never seems to remember that). Then the doctor finally arrived. He asked her some questions and we tried to translate. Then he checked her heartbeat and checked for pains in her neck. Then came time to clean the cut so he could get a better look at it.

I’ve never been good with blood. I used to get very bad nosebleeds pretty often and never had a problem with them, so I’ve never understood the issue. But at the sight (or extended talk ) of blood and other things such as broken bones and generally things that aren’t meant to be, I sometimes start to feel lightheaded and sick. So with that in mind, I stood outside the cubicle and occupied myself with just watching the nurses coming and going. I thought I’d be perfectly fine, since it was only cleaning the cut.

I was mistaken.

It wasn’t the blood this time, because there was none that I could see. It was more my grandmother’s panicked reaction to the pain of his not exactly gentle cleaning. She was kind of half-crying, half-giggling and trying to bat his hands away. My mother had to go in and hold her hands so the doctor could finish. Still I thought I was fine, until suddenly the world began to very slowly turn.

I concentrated on breathing deeply and looking about me at normal stuff such as a grumpy man reading a newspaper. It didn’t work, and I continued to feel more dizzy and lightheaded, and finally sick. I decided I would have to head for the exit to get some fresh air. I heroically struggled down the corridor while my vision closed in around me in a dark tunnel of doom. Or something. What I could see began to take on a reddish tint and my stomach began to crawl towards my throat.

Finally I made it out to the packed waiting room, where every eye turned to me, and finally out into the ambulance drop off bay…thing. Here, I headed across to the other side of the road to get away from the cigarette smoke, and sat down on a ledge there. I began to feel a little better in the cool air, but then I became aware of people at the door talking about something – possibly a broken arm. I realised I needed to get further away still, until I could be alone and away from talking.

I headed along the road and down the steps towards the car. At the top of the next set of steps, I stopped and sat down on a low post. It was quiet and peaceful. Cool and lightly drizzling (Irish rain). I watched the stars and contemplated the meaning of life. Or considered that I should have brought the car key. I forget which. The very unpleasant feelings of sickness and lightheadedness went away and I felt comfortable and content, sitting in the rain in my waterproof jacket. I turned to watch some people coming down the steps.

Then the feelings came back. Suddenly, I was being rudely awoken from an odd, but warm and comfortable dream.

‘Are you okay?’ an unknown man asked from somewhere nearby.

I wondered why there might be a strange man in my bedroom, but I quickly realised that instead of my warm, soft pillow, only cold, wet, spiky grass and hard dirt pressed into my face. Blood was rushing to my head. I was lying on a dirty, grassy slope beside a path. On the path was a young man holding out his hand and asking me if I was ok. Clearly something was amiss, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Then I realised. Lying on dirty, grassy slopes at the side of paths is not generally considered the done thing. I took the man’s hand and thought about how to rearrange my face into a more suitable expression than confusion. I smiled and laughed. Only a bit. I didn’t want to seem crazy. I couldn’t think up a better excuse for lying in the dirt than the truth and so I told him and his girlfriend, with a touch of embarrassment. Most likely to make me feel better, he told me he was the same with blood. His girlfriend offered me some of her Coke. I declined on the grounds that it wasn’t Sprite.

After assuring them that I was ok, and didn’t need them to go and get a doctor, they waited for the old woman they were with to catch up (I assume they must have run when they saw me drop, because they were all together coming down the steps) and left. I decided it was safest to sit down on the steps (which they’d thoughtfully told me I was lucky not to have fallen down).

I took a minute or two to reflect on how odd the whole thing was, and how the last (and first) time I’d passed out was in secondary school, when I shoved my hand into a cardboard box and got one of those big staples down the inside of my fingernail. Then, I did what any tough, strong man would do: I called my mum. I’d begun to shake a bit, the side of my face stung for some unknown reason, my opposite ear was numb and my waterproof jacket was covered in dirt. Unfortunately, she’d turned off her phone ten or so minutes earlier.

I tried again, but the sudden deluge of calls didn’t cause her phone to realise that it should turn itself on. After trying to cry in self-pity, and failing, I decided that I might as well go back inside. Then I realised how lucky it was that I hadn’t fallen on my phone and broken it. I waved at my would-be saviours as they drove past. Or rather, I did that thing of seeing them, turning my back on them and then waving backwards at them.

I heroically struggled back up the path and inside. It was too hot inside, which was odd since it had been quite cold half an hour before. I decided I’d just get the car key from my mother and sit in the passenger seat to wait. After getting slightly lost in the (two) corridors, I found the right cubicle again. My mother was just turning her phone on in case I needed to call her. After an ‘Oh dear, what happened to you?’ she handed over the key and I left. As I entered the main waiting area again (taking time out of my shaken daze to smile at a blonde sitting on the floor), I considered my appearance. My coat was dirty, my white t-shirt under that was stained with mud and grass, and so were my jeans. Surely these people thought me some kind of noble warrior, who had been outside fighting off Viking invaders. Or something like that.

Outside, and once I was away from prying ears, I tried out a couple of self-pitying whimpers until I found one that suited the situation. Whilst whimpering and sniffing back non-existent tears, I became more aware of stinging and a kind of swelling sensation all down the left side of my face, particularly around the temple. I determined that I must have hit said face and temple on the ground. Then my awareness switch to my right ear, which now felt as though an ice cube was being forced inside it.

Finally at the car, I realised that my mother had followed me because I was ‘acting strange’. As I took off my jacket amid a burst of heat and climbed into the car, she asked if I might not be better inside, just in case. I said no and passed out.

For the second time, I found myself rudely awakened from my odd but warm, comfortable dream. This time by my name being called, along with ‘Speak to me’. Once back in the land of whatever the opposite to nod is, my mother ordered me not to leave the car, shut the door and ran back up towards the hospital. Two women stood at the side of the car park, whom she asked to watch me. They turned out to be nurses, and so they went back up to prepare for the arrival of their lor…to prepare for my arrival, and my mother came back. She drove up and around to the ambulance drop of bay…thing, while I threw up out the window a few times. There’s still a bit dried on the side of the door, but it’s been raining today so hopefully it’s gone now. In my mild delirium, I managed to take out my phone and put it in the glove box, for fear of falling again and this time breaking it.

The nurses were waiting with a wheelchair. Unfortunately, just like every time you go to the supermarket, they’d managed to get the only one in the place with crappy wheels. So with much jerking and wall bashing – which is not beneficial to someone who is dizzy and nauseous – they took me inside. All eyes in the waiting area turned to me again. Their noble warrior had fallen. Actually their noble warrior had fallen twice and hit his head and thrown up a lot.

The second nurse gave me a cardboard tray thing just in time for me to throw up in it. The next ten minutes or so is blurry, but I recall giving the receptionist type woman my name and date of birth in between bouts of throwing up and wishing they’d turn me to face away from the sick people. I also remember her telling my mother, when she came back from re-parking the car, to take me through the double doors to the next waiting area. She did so, and we sat beside the reception in there for about two minutes before any of the three people decided we were worthy of their acknowledgement.

It was the doctor who had been ‘treating’ my grandmother. In fact, I’d walked past him when I went inside to get the car key. Covered in mud and grass stains, and he glanced at me and walked on by. At the reception, he asked what happened. My mother proceeded to explain that I’d passed out two times, the second of which I had also had a seizure of some kind. Which was news to me.

The doctor laughed.

Now, I’ve since laughed a couple of times at the whole situation myself. However, with the person sitting in a wheelchair, shaking, drenched in cold sweat, throwing up into a cardboard tray and having to be held back due to dizziness, I felt that laughing was not quite the appropriate response. If I’d had something hard to throw at him, and the strength with which to do it, I would/should have. Perhaps I should have thrown my vomit at him. And then laughed.

The nurse then told my mother that we shouldn’t be there and that we had to wait outside in the main waiting area. She wheeled me back through the door to where the receptionist woman told us we shouldn’t have gone through the double doors to which she had earlier directed us. Then we waited. Beside the blonde sitting on the floor. I didn’t make eye contact. But I didn’t throw up again either.

I vaguely recall telling my mother three or four times that I was not ok to be left while she checked on my grandmother, but nothing else besides the heat and the shaking and the disturbing lack of oxygen in the air.

Then, after a much shorter wait than I expected, a nurse called us into a side room. He took over control of the unruly wheelchair and promptly knocked me into the door frame and made me feel highly nauseous again. Then he told me off for not answering him when he asked me my name. I was at that moment trying to determine the reason for the agonising pain that felt like a combination of a hammer and knife being taken to my eardrum when I opened my mouth to speak.

I realised later that just about every member of staff in the place assumed that I was either drunk or on drugs. And when I was asked if I had a history of either, the emphasis was in the wrong place. As though they’d already got to the bottom of the issue and that was it.

After managing to force out the answers to his questions and explain why I was having trouble answering, but stopping short of explaining what manner of hole he was, he told me to get on the bed. Lying down and having my legs up felt much, much better. Then then he got out the needles and suddenly I’d have rather been out in the corridor.

Upon getting annoyed with my deep breaths and ‘sighs’, as he called them, he told me to relax myself and blamed me for his missing the vain the first time. He also told me I was hyperventilating. Eventually he got one of those blood taps, or whatever they’re called, into the back of my hand. That thing that they can get blood and plug a drip into if necessary. For some reason mine had a longish little tube hanging from it in which I could observe my blood. Thoughtful of him, after hearing what seemed to have caused the ‘incident’. He also shoved a needle into my arm to get blood. I’m not sure why.

Eventually I was wheeled into the smaller waiting room. Here, I began what turned out to be a six hour wait for the doctor. I shook a lot. I felt sick for five of those six hours. I felt lightheaded for five of those six hours. I nearly threw up a few times, but that was narrowly averted by a sudden desperation for the bathroom. For which I had to get out of the wheelchair and stagger weakly through the midst of the assembled sick people in the main waiting area.

It was a highly unpleasant five hours, during which I tried not to fall asleep, in case of concussion (something, I might add, the nurse did not check for or even warn against, even after I asked if that might be the problem, and him agreeing that it might), and tried in vain to find a comfortable position in which to sit and also not feel nauseous. Eventually, at the four and a half hour mark, I found that bending over and resting my head on my knee was the only position in which I didn’t feel sick. I’m fairly sure that having a length of metal piping shoved up inside my vain the whole time was part of the cause for the prolonged nausea.

After five hours, an old man with heart pains (who had been waiting about nine hours already) joined us in the tiny waiting area. Then not long after, an old woman – also with heart pains – was brought in. They started talking to each other, and to my mother, and telling stories and remembering the old days and joking. After ten minutes of this, I no longer felt sick or dizzy, and came round enough to laugh at said jokes and partially explain to them what happened to me. Two old people had done what the doctors and nurses hadn’t been able to (and, to be fair, hadn’t actually tried to either). His daughter came in with a flask of tea, which the rest of us politely turned down. I would have liked some, but I didn’t fancy throwing up again.

The old woman was obsessed with her slippers, which she was adamant were not hers. And not the ones she’d been wearing when she was taken out to the ambulance. It was a source of much mystery to her and amusement to the rest of us.

At five and a half hours, the old man was finally taken away by the doctor. The old woman summoned a nurse to ask for three cups of tea for us. The nurse said she’d check our charts to see if we were allowed anything and then get someone to find us tea. She never returned and the tea never materialised.

Finally, I heard my name called. The doctor was, thankfully, not the same clown who had laughed at (and arguably caused) my predicament. I followed him to a cubicle, which I was sad to see had been empty the whole time. Lying down had, after all, lessened the nausea considerably. He asked me questions. Then he shone a light into my eyes. Then he poked my face. Then he stroked my face, which was very pleasant. Then he hit my joints with a hammer, which wasn’t very pleasant. Then he shoved a thing into my ear to look for blood. Then we played a game in which he’d move his finger about and I had to tap it and then my nose, and back to it again. I must have won the game, because he decided to move on to the x-ray of my jaw area.

After another wait, which thankfully turned out to be brief, I had an x-ray from two different machines. I went back to the waiting area for a few minutes while the doctor looked over the x-rays and my blood test results. He eventually called me back into the room to tell me that the x-rays didn’t show anything, and that I probably tore or strained the ligament on the right side of my jaw when I hit the ground. He also told me that my potassium levels were a little low, and gave me some potassium tablets.

Then, at the six and a little bit hour mark, I was free to go home. After the most painful part of the night: removing the blood tap. That was very sore, thanks to the little hairs, and a week later, I still have a large bruise on the back of my hand.

So, all-in-all, an unpleasant six hours, but nothing serious. Some very tiny scratches on my face (including one on my lower eyelid that makes me think I was quite lucky there). A painful jaw, necessitating a diet of soup. A bruised left hand. A cut right hand (although cut might be an exaggeration). Bruised and stiff knees. And exhaustion. That’s about it. I have found myself a little bit confused a few times since (including twice just this morning). Only forgetting words in the middle of a conversation and not being able to tell if I’ve spelled words right, but I always did that anyway. Perhaps not quite as completely as this, but still… The only lasting problem is tiredness and occasional mild headaches. But that will go.

I will not be returning to hospital to visit anyone.

Anyway, I have successfully written a stupidly long post and refrained from attempting to write any more of my book, and now it’s time to go home. So I leave you with two unnecessary pictures. …The End.

EDIT: I’ve removed one of them 🙂

My poor hand