Home is where the heart is

Last week at this time I was with my husband at the emergency room at Cedars Sinai. I don’t know why they call it a room, it’s really a mammoth labyrinth of rooms and partitioned-off portions of hallways filled with doctors, nurses, volunteers, patients in beds, family members pacing. 

It was one of those days you don’t plan for, don’t expect. One of those days that proves ‘life really is what happens when you’re making other plans.’ 

My husband had been having chest pains the day before, nothing major, he said, just twinges. It wasn’t a sharp pain, it wasn’t a dull pain. More of a thrum. Of course he didn’t say anything to me about it until the end of the day because, men. They whine about their cold symptoms but, potential heart attack? Mums the word. 

Mark did finally come out with it, at the same time promising me he had none of the other symptoms that most men experience when having a heart attack. No nausea, no pain radiating out, no shortness of breath, no dizziness, no cold sweats. He wondered if he’d strained a muscle in his upper chest somehow but there was nothing he could attribute it to. I racked my brain, I couldn’t think of anything either.

Despite his ‘Nah, you don’t need to come’ I did, of course, because; wife. We checked in first thing in the morning at which point the mere mention of chest pains got him admitted instantly. It was like a secret password earning him entrance ahead of a crowd of people in various stages of obvious and hidden distress like the older woman moaning and cursing under her breath as she held her jacket up to her ear while her daughter sighed, all but rolling her eyes; the man in expensive black sweats and Sam Smith running shoes, bent over, holding his head in his hands while his wife rubbed his back and the three young women whispering and laughing, watching YouTube videos while they waited, so cheerful it was impossible to tell which of the young healthy looking girls actually had the emergency. So sorry everyone, especially you, lady with the ear ache. I know ear aches are a real pain and I know my husband looks perfectly healthy but you don’t mess around when a man says he’s having chest pains. 

A male nurse took him into a cubicle right behind the partition. I could see him through the glass even though the nurse drew the curtain partway in some sort of pretense of privacy. I’d brought a book with me, thinking we’d have a long wait, thinking I’d want to read but of course, I couldn’t. The book was superfluous as I watched through the window trying to ascertain for myself how it was going. A few minutes later, he stood up, turned and faced me, giving me the thumbs up. Who knew I’d been so scared?

Mark came out and joined me in the waiting room, reporting on the outcome. His heart looked fine they'd told him but his blood pressure was sky high. 172 over 95.  They wanted to keep him around and bring it down. Now it was our turn to wait along with the man in the elegant sweat pants, the woman with the sore ear and the girls now taking turns charging their phones.

That heightened blood pressure still got him admitted before them. A volunteer led us through a maze of rooms with buzzing and beeping machines and hallways lined with hospital beds, patients in hospital gowns in too much pain or distress to worry about lying half naked in a hospital hallway. A couple of cops were posted outside one room, the patient handcuffed to the bed. The volunteer hustled us by, luckily we ended up in the newer wing of the emergency department, and I got to sit in with my husband, in a room of his own. 

We were there all day, much of it spent waiting for the blood pressure to respond to the medication which it kind of never did. But a couple of really welcome pieces of info came out of the experience. I can't really go into a lot of detail—old school big strong husband who thinks his medical issues shouldn't be fodder for my blog (who the heck does he think he is?)—but at the end of the day, the very long day, all's well that ends well. 

If you've had a medical issue that took you or someone you love to the emergency room, you know what I mean. Emergency is a very loaded word causing you to spend a good deal of time half-holding your breath. Notifying family members. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about but I wanted you to know... Is the emergency something that has to be handled stat, an actual emergency? Like a heart attack? A burst appendix. Broken limbs. Gunshot wounds. 

Or do you get to go home to your own bed, a bed that feels incredibly comfortable after spending 12 hours on a hospital gurney with tubes inserted here and there and various technicians coming in and out to check on your progress. 

Is your emergency an emergency that means you'll be eating mushy hospital food or worse, being fed intravenously, for breakfast the next day? Will you be too hot, or too cold, but never quite comfortable as you toss back and forth or shuffle to the bathroom in the hospital gown that feels indecently breezy? Or worse, will you be confined to that bed and have to use a bed pan? Will you lie in your room, helpless as a child, trapped in the bed, isolated in a sea of cold clean linoleum tile floors and the buzzing of the television that sounds like it's tuned halfway been channels? Will you worry that you've been forgotten while you watch the nurses and doctors pass by your half-opened door like you're not even there? Even when it's a first class hospital like Cedars Sinai?

Or will you go home? 

He came home. 

You can imagine how I felt.

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