Healthcare: a shitty situation

TL/DR: I’m alive.

So…just to update folks on my last 48 hours (feels like a lot more). If you’re not into TMI, bodily functions, medical procedures and commentary on the state of American healthcare, move along. If you’re a science geek like me – keep reading.

Photo by Pixabay on

Sunday am I have my normal cup of glorious, glorious, life sustaining coffee with cream. This needs to be finished by 9:00 am. After that, I only have clear beverages, broth, and gummy bears minus the red and blue ones (green are my favorite anyway). I finish the evening with wonderful Pho broth my honey lovingly traveled all the way into Portland and back to retrieve. I’m a bit hungry, but ok. All is moving along through my system “swimmingly”. I’ve been drinking close to a gallon of water a day for the last year, so i’m handling the increased liquids fine.

Monday am. Ugh. 5am I wake up, take 3 dulcolax laxatives with a sip of water, and try to lay back down for an hour – no dice. 6 am – i start downing 64 oz of orange gatorade mixed with an entire container of miralax. (again – no red, blue or purple – looks too much like blood in the other end)(next time, I’m going back to lemon). Taste and texture much better than I remember from 5 years ago. No coffee, no tea, no caffeine, no ibuprofen. Mistake #1. Gatorade mix needs to be gone by 8:30am. I succeed in my mission. By 7 am, I’m in the bathroom every 5 minutes. Loose solids give way to water cannon – my favorite part. not. By 8:30 I’m mostly passing orange water and it slows to every half hour. Caffeine headache rears it’s ugly head. (Here is some foreshadowing: if I get a headache and don’t treat it – I get nauseous. The only thing that even touches my caffeine headaches is, duh, caffeine). At 9 I call the doctor’s office to ask if I can take ibuprofen for the headache – leave a message. By 10:30 I can safely take a shower and get dressed. At 11:30, the nurse finally calls back and says I can take tylenol. ugh. i know tylenol never works for me, but I take it anyways, hoping (Mistake #2). At 11:45 I drive to pick up Chris at work ( I can’t drive myself after the procedure, so they need proof that I have a driver  ). I’m hungry, my head really hurts, but I’m ok. I figure the sedatives will help my head.

At 12:30, we check in to Brighton medical center. The Endo center smells deliciously of fresh brewed coffee and I hope I can absorb it through my pores. I tell the check-in nurse I haven’t had any caffeine and I have a headache. She smiles. I sign a consent to treat form. I get sent to my own room with it’s own potty (yay!). I put on my gown, get under the blankey and wait. The nurse comes right in, takes my vitals (keeps trying to use my left arm, even tho I tell her repeatedly that everything needs to happen on my right arm as I have nerve damage in my left). She’s kinda addled.  I sign a second consent form. Second nurse comes in to update my history – none of my meds on file are correct – half of the old ones she doesn’t even recognize and asks me repeatedly what they are, what they’re for and struggles to pronounce them. um….? We finally get that straightened out and a third nurse comes in to insert the IV (mother fucker that one hurt!) and prep me. I tell her I haven’t had any caffeine and I have a headache. Someone has cancelled before me, so I get to go in early – Yay! Chris skeedaddles as he has to get to storage and back before I go home. Dr comes in and explains the procedure and risks, etc. Has me sign a third consent form – you’d think they’d do these all at once?!? But at least they get consent before screwing me! Ha. Bad joke. Bad.

I get wheeled in – they ask about my nerve damage and my titanium rod in my femur – car accident – yada yada. The nurse makes an odd joke about Palermo (where I had my accident) that I don’t get (I’m not even sedated yet). They do a “time out” (which I get a little giddy about having just watched an episode of “The Resident” where they skipped the time out and the doctor removed the wrong testicle). We all get all the answers right – Yay! I tell them I haven’t had any caffeine and I have a headache.

In goes the sedation – I’m mostly awake and can watch the video (I think it’s fun – I’m a geek). The nurse comments – don’t worry, we’ll vacuum up all the excess liquid – this makes me very happy. no accidents.  Lots of orange fluid – note to self – lemon gatorade!!! No polyps, no bleeding, no problems! Yay! (last time – my first colonoscopy – they removed 3 polyps. I was supposed to return in a year. I didn’t.  I waited 5. Bad girl. I was worried this time. I dodged a bullet – I know. No lectures, please). All done – back to the room to nap and wait for Chris. I get ginger ale!

I feel fine, hungry, but fine. No wooziness, no pain from the procedure. Dull headache. I vaguely remember not to take ibuprofen for a week. (Mistake #3 – this was only in case of polyp removal – ibuprofen acts as a blood thinner). I figure getting some food in me and hydrating will help. We head to Micucci’s for a slab! I try to eat it slowly as I’m supposed to eat small meals to start with, but it’s manna!!!

Get home 4:30ish. I’m still hungry, but I manage to wait till 6 to ask Chris to grab thai food and a thai iced tea – yay caffeine! It should make my headache go away and hopefully still sleep tonight. Chris heads out at 6:30. At 6:45 my headache starts pounding, I get cold, then sweaty, then freezing, then hot and clammy. I take three tylenol hoping it’ll help, but knowing better. I strip, go upstairs to lie down where it’s cooler. I feel a bit better. I hear Chris get home and I know tea and dumplings will make everything better. The restaurant was out of tea. Fuck. I want to curl up and die. Chris manages to find some ice coffee in the cupboard. I go lie down in the living room while I wait. Nausea hits and up comes the pizza. I’m hot, I’m freezing, head is pounding. Chris hands me the iced coffee and a seltzer. I sip slowly, holding the coffee under my tongue hoping against hope some of the sugar and caffeine will go directly into my bloodstream. I curl up on the bathroom floor. so not comfy. I go back to the couch and lay down. head hurts. so hot. I head upstairs where it’s cooler. nope. up comes the last of the pizza, the coffee, the really nasty tasting tylenol. Chris asks what he can do. I croak out “water”. When he comes back up, I’ve made the decision to go to the ER. He asks what we need to do in order to go. My response: “I need pants”

We’re not sure where the best place to head is. The two closest urgent cares close in 5 minutes (it’s 7:55pm). I figure we should stay within the Maine Med system as they’ll have all the paperwork from the procedure, so we hoof it to the ER in Portland. We check in and sit to wait – it’s 8:36pm. The waiting room is packed. So many people – only two that I saw the whole evening appeared critical – and even they waited way too long to be seen (ambulance arrivals were ushered in through a different entrance – I had no concept of how many came through there). One woman who was doubled over in a wheel chair apparently had been waiting for 4 hours. Another was visibly in extreme abdominal pain and got in fairly quickly, but it broke my heart watching her have to sit there trying not to scream. A family had a social worker talk with their teenage son. The mother looked like she was at the end of her rope. Was it drugs? Depression? One gentleman was extremely drunk and kept investigating the big potted plant and wandering around stumbling. The others – appeared tired and “normal”. How many of them were just looking to be treated for the flu or an earache or a wound, but because they didn’t have healthcare, this was their only option for treatment. How many worked during the day and didn’t have the luxury of paid sick time? They don’t have a sign around their neck that tells you.

We left at 11:30pm after waiting 3 hours and not seeing anyone. My headache had calmed itself a bit and my temperature mostly stabilized (on the freezing end of the spectrum). Chris had to work in the am and there was no guarantee we’d be seen period. All I wanted was a warm bed and a blanket. A big group of teenagers had just walked in, many visibly upset – was there a bus crash? I assumed there were a few critical cases that had just been brought in and I was no longer critical. We got home, I ate three of the best dumplings I’d ever tasted and crawled into bed with a seltzer.

I feel so much better today. I’ve had my glorious coffee, and I was able to drive Chris into work as we had left his car there yesterday. I’ve eaten, and finally taken ibuprofen for the headache. I truly think it was my horrible caffeine addiction that did me in, along with not realizing I actually could take Ibuprofen that afternoon. It was a shitty situation (no pun intended), but c’est la American healthcare! I’m very lucky to have decent insurance, but the system is broken. People shouldn’t have to rely on emergency services for ailments that could be treated by a general practitioner. The ER is not healthcare. It’s way too expensive, it’s meant for critical care and there is no way people should be waiting hours to be seen regardless of their situation. I don’t know how to fix it, but I know something needs to change.

I know I’m privileged. I used to not be. But I’m very thankful for where I am now. I can’t imagine what I would have done 15 – 20 years ago when I had no job, I had no husband, I had no healthcare. I’m so grateful that Chris was able to take off work to take me to this appt, to take me to the ER, to have a job that provides access to healthcare for his family.

I can no longer imagine being alone through all of that. No one should be.

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