Buckle up, because you are about to read all about my crazy adventure to the ER, right in the middle of a pandemic. This story is a little bit scary, a little bit heartwarming, and looking back, it’s even a little bit funny.
I had been having some lower back pain for a few months. If I stood for more than 20-30 minutes, I had to sit or lay down. You may know that I suffer from anxiety disorder so the idea of walking into a doctor’s office, or a hospital during a pandemic was the furthest thing from my mind. I would rather just lay in my bed for weeks with an ice pack on my back, accepting the great deal of pain I was feeling, then go anywhere near a germ factory.
Of course, the back pain wasn’t all I was suffering from. I started feeling these sharp pains in my abdomen suddenly. They started on the left… moved to the right, and then back to the left. I had gone straight to Dr. Google, as I tend to do, and found 10 different ways I was about to die. Panic set in. It was my appendix. It was an ovarian cyst. It was one of 12 types of cancer. Dr. Google can never just provide results like “you’re totally ok, just breathe.” Even if you have a tiny bump on your hand, Dr. Google will make you believe you only have an hour to live.
On the second day of these sharp pains, my husband recommended that we go to the ER. He had taken our 11 year old, a few months ago after she sliced her knuckle open and needed stitches. They both told me how empty the ER was and how friendly the staff was. I thought about it for only a minute or so before I burst into tears. There was no way I was going in. What if something was really wrong? What if they had to admit me? What if I needed surgery? During a pandemic, they don’t allow visitors. I didn’t want to be alone.
Of course, there was the part of my brain that was trying to convince me that a week or two alone in a hospital would be like the vacation I’ve been craving. Being fed three meals a day that I don’t have to cook, watching whatever I wanted on TV, no one asking me for juice or a snack. I guess being locked up in your home for seven months can make anything look like a vacation.
But my anxiety took over and convinced me that I would be better off just dealing with the pain. I drank a lot of water (because in my head that’s the cure for everything). I laid in bed, didn’t do anything strenuous and binged a Hulu series that I’ve been wanting to watch. The more I thought about it, the more anxious I became. Eventually, I was so nauseous that I put a bucket by the side of the bed, just in case. I fell asleep that night with the promise to myself that if I was still in pain that following morning, I was going to the ER. While that nausea could have been anxiety related, it could also mean something was really wrong.
When I woke up, I had accepted my decision and I told my husband I was ready for him to take me to the emergency room.
We masked up and headed to our local ER. It’s a fairly new, smaller facility, which made me feel better about being in an ER during a pandemic.
We walked in and were greeted by 5 staff members, standing behind a giant plexiglass shield. They all had masks on. There was no one in the lobby. One of the nurses asked us to stand behind the red line and asked what I needed to be seen for. I shared quickly and was hoping they would just bring me back to a room before I changed my mind. She then asked my husband to wait in the car, because
“we have COVID patients coming in.”
If my legs hadn’t gone as weak as they did, I would have run out of that door and straight back to the car. But by the time I snapped out of it and looked behind me, my husband was already outside and the nurse was waiting at the door for me to come in.
She took me back, through a large empty area with covered computers. It looked almost like this facility hadn’t been used in a while or they just got their equipment. It was quiet and I began to feel like I was in a zombie movie. I didn’t see any other patients in the rooms we passed. The nurse took my blood pressure (which was high, as it tends to be), checked my temperature (which was normal) and asked me a number of questions including how much I weigh. And though I hadn’t weighed myself since March because snacking was what was keeping me sane for seven months, luckily the bed was a scale, so she could tell me just how much weight I had put on. Awesome. Remind me to go on a diet STAT.
The doctor walked in just minutes later, asking all of the questions that I had just answered. He pressed down on my stomach, listened to my heart and commented on how fast it was beating. I wasn’t planning on telling them that I suffer from anxiety disorder, just because when I do, they tend to dismiss most of what I’m feeling as being “in my head”. But considering he looked concerned about my heart rate, I told him and that seemed to satisfy him.
He ordered bloodwork, a urine test and a CT scan. He also told the nurse to start an I.V. and to give me something for nausea (probably because I told him about the night before).
Walking into the restroom, I was careful about how much I touched. I washed my hands twice… once for the pee and once for the possible germs.
The bloodwork was a breeze. I didn’t even feel the needle. She couldn’t get the I.V. in the same spot, so she wound up asking another nurse to get the I.V. going on my other arm. He was even more gentle than she was. He gave me an anti-inflammatory for my back and zofran for the nausea. So far so good.
My two youngest daughters FaceTimed me to make sure I was okay. I showed them my IV and tried to show them that I was smiling behind my mask.
I closed my eyes for a bit, to try to relax. By then, a few other patients had arrived. The staff was still walking around with a very chill disposition. Considering what they have to worry about and deal with on a daily basis, during a pandemic, I found that very comforting.
Moments later, the doctor returned…
“Did you know that you’re anemic?”
No. I’m not anemic. At least I don’t think I am. I’ve never been told that before. He proceeded to read the results, stating that my hemoglobin levels were extremely low. He said that would explain why my heart was beating so fast. Though, at that moment, it was beating even faster because now I began wondering how I’m suddenly anemic and how that’s going to affect the rest of my life.
He started asking me if I’ve been bleeding recently. No… I’m sure I would have noticed that. He said he would need to run some tests to figure out why I’m losing so much blood.
And that’s when my panic truly set in. I just kept thinking he must have gotten it wrong. This has to be a mistake.
They still hadn’t allowed my husband to come in, though they told me that they would bring him back inside after the bloodwork. I wanted to leave. I wanted to just pretend I had never gone there, pretend they didn’t find this new condition, pretend this was all a dream. But I couldn’t. I was hooked up to an I.V. and the nurse was already on her way in with a gown, asking me to take off everything from the waist down because the doctor was going to do a rectal exam.
A rectal exam? Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is.
I’m in the ER because my back hurts and I have pains in my abdomen, but I was getting a rectal exam because suddenly I’m anemic. I asked the nurse if she has a “worse case scenario” when she goes to the doctor, because I’m pretty sure I was experiencing mine. She then told me about a tube that they stick down your throat, all the way into your stomach which is much worse than what I was about to experience. I’m not sure if that was meant to distract me from what was about to happen, or what, but it did take my mind off of things, at least until the doctor walked back in and put his gloves on.
Once this worst case scenario was over (I can tell you it wasn’t as awful as I imagined but also wasn’t something I’ll be rushing to do again anytime soon), he took the test to the lab and told me they would be in to take my CT scan shortly.
I sat there with my eyes closed, accepting that I was anemic. Thinking that maybe that was the reason for a number of my anxiety-related symptoms. So much made sense suddenly. But I was also trying my best not to google “anemia” for fear of what I might read.
What seemed like an eternity later, my husband was escorted back to my room. I think he could see it in my eyes that I was ready to leave and if not, I made sure to tell him a number of times. I caught him up on everything. If he was concerned about my newfound anemia, he didn’t show it, though I do think I caught him praying at one point. All I kept telling him was that I wanted to go home. I wanted them to unhook me and go back to my own bed. I wasn’t prepared to be given news like this, or to have a finger in my butthole, but here we are. I was done. I had had enough. I was ready to leave.
Just as he was trying to talk me down, my escort to the CT scan arrived. He explained as much as he could before we left. He also shared that my pregnancy test (which I was unaware that they even did) came back negative (which was no surprise since I had my tubes tied nearly 8 years ago). I noticed his demeanor… mostly because if I was ever in the hospital and needed serious x-rays or a CT scan, he was exactly the person I wanted to be in control of those tests. His voice was calm and reassuring. He even spoke directly to my husband to let him know that he would take excellent care of me and that we would be right back.
As we walked over to the CT scan room, he continued to explain the procedure. He said when he injects the dye, I would feel a warm sensation that starts in my throat and makes it way down to my stomach. He said although it would feel strange, it would only last a minute. He walked me through every single aspect of that test, constantly asking if I was comfortable, if I was okay and if I was ready for him to proceed with the scan.
His calm tone and kind words were exactly what I needed.
I’ve got you. You’re safe.
That warm feeling he told me about was definitely strange. It felt like someone had injected warm liquid into my ears. I could feel it making it’s way down my chest, into my abdomen and then I had a sudden urge to use the bathroom… but then it just disappeared, just as quickly as it started.
When the scan was over, he walked me back to the room. He asked me about my weekend and told me that he worked most of his. We talked briefly about how different things are right now, because of the pandemic. He hooked my I.V. back up and let me know that the doctor would be in, in about 30 minutes with the results.
I stared at the clock. With every minute, I knew I was closer to going home. And then the Dr. walked in. He went around to the left side of the bed and said the CT scan showed nothing abnormal, which was great news, but also not good news because that meant they still didn’t know what was causing my pain.
Then he did something that I wasn’t expecting. He apologized.
Turns out, the blood test results that he read to me weren’t mine. Their computers were down and he was handed what he thought were my results, but in fact, they were someone in another room. I am not anemic. In fact, my levels are completely normal, aside from a mild UTI. It was relief, followed by an apology.
I’m sorry about the rectal exam.
Well, I was sorry about it too, but at that moment, I was just so grateful that I was healthy that I didn’t care that I got a complimentary finger in my butt.
Side note: While I was typing this, I stopped to read it out loud and I can’t stop cracking up. My teenage daughter is sighing very loudly next to me, over and over again. I’m not sure she wants her friends to read this part. Listen… it’s something most of us will have to experience at least once in our lives and well, it makes a great story now that I can laugh about it.
Anyway, back to the story. After writing a prescription for an anti-inflammatory, an antibiotic and some strong ibuprofen, I was told I could get dressed and head home. Still no answers as to what I have been feeling. But also, nothing so serious that I couldn’t go home and wait for it to pass on it’s own.
I left the building grateful for the outcome and having learned a few things:
- Wearing a mask for 3 hours was awful and annoying, but it doesn’t compare to the medical staff that have to wear them for long shifts, without breaks, every single day. Stop complaining about having to wear them, and be grateful for these incredible people who are putting their health (and their family’s health) at risk for the health and benefit of their patients.
- I need to stop putting myself and my health on the back burner. While this time turned out to be something that isn’t serious, I took it as a lesson learned. It is important to get regular checkups and if something doesn’t feel right, don’t wait to get it checked out.
- That ER was cleaner than the grocery store, during a pandemic. The staff is doing everything they can to ensure that they keep things safe for everyone. If you have to visit an ER, a hospital or a doctor’s office, don’t be afraid to go.
And that’s the story of my trip to the ER during a pandemic. A day I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.
Have you or your family had to go to the ER during the pandemic? What was your experience like? Comment below and let me know!