• author
    • Kelvin Wade

    • April 14, 2013 in Columnists

    Gaining my health, losing my mind

                “The world is a vampire… Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage.”
     — “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by the Smashing Pumpkins

    One recent Tuesday at 10:30 p.m., my swollen inflamed left calf screamed of a yet another attack of cellulitis, a skin infection which, left untreated, can lead to blood poisoning and death. I have incurable chronic lymphedema and frequent outbreaks of cellulitis just go with the territory.

    It felt like someone put my calf in a vice while overinflating it, all under a heating lamp. On a scale of 1 to 10 it rates it an Oh My God. My girlfriend, whom I refer to as Nurse Cathi during these times, rushed me to the hospital because we were concerned it might be a DVT (deep vein thrombosis).

    We found an ER that was surprisingly jumping for a Tuesday night, with three dozen occupants awaiting treatment.

    I checked in and Beavis and Butthead behind me staggered to the window next.

    “Dude, my friend took like 10 valium.”

    “Was he trying to hurt himself?”

    “No man, he was trying to get high.”

    I wish they’d told him to go home and try 10 more. The pain spreading up my leg was quickly draining the milk of human kindness from my soul.

    They took me back to draw some blood and then conducted an ultrasound of my left leg. Afterwards, I asked if I could stay on the gurney, as a lengthy stay sitting in the ER would make my leg worse. They said no, but promised some pain meds would be forthcoming. The check is in the mail.

    So while I sat in the ER, and a painful microscopic battle raged within my skin, my solace was the soft hand of Nurse Cathi sitting next to me.

    That solace was shattered by the surreal: a cornfed white dude decked out in red bursting through the ER doors shouting that he was a ‘validated gang member” who was just jumped by a rival gang. Validated gang member? Do gangbangers have little punch tickets where they get preferred parking at the ER or something?

    Through clenched teeth, I propped my searing, tight, swollen leg up on another chair. Meanwhile an impossibly thin woman wrapped in multiple layers of clothing slumped across two chairs argued with the security guard about the lack of food vending machines in the ER.

    There was a man who looked like country singer Trace Adkins, only twice as surly, whose wife kept racing to the restroom to puke. He spent his time barking at an Asian woman sitting six feet away from him who periodically would cough in her sleep without covering her mouth.

    At midnight, I was handed two Norcos that I gulped down like M&Ms but by then, it was like trying to slake your thirst with a Dixie cup. My leg was tight and stiff all the way up through my thigh.

    I sent my girlfriend home at 2:30 a.m. Why should we both wait it out? As the numbers in the ER dwindled, I kept asking attendants how much longer, and if I might find some other accommodations that lessened gravity’s destructive affect on my leg. I had nothing coming.

    Finally at 5:30 a.m., an attendant led me on a grossly swollen leg and cane limping past health care professionals, chirping machines and curtains to an empty gurney. When I lay down upon it, I stifled tears.

    But the relief of lying on a gurney was tempered by the gentleman behind the curtain to my right screaming at a nurse for morphine. When a doctor denied his request, he carpet-bombed the area with F-bombs and threatened to bring in a news crew to film his mistreatment. Did they know who he was? They’d hear from his attorney!

    Behind the curtain to my left a nurse and an aide attempted to cath a woman who sounded like she was battling an ax-wielding Jason Voorhees. Her screams made my head throb and began loosening the tentative grip I’d had on my sanity.

    Perhaps I just needed sleep.

    The morphine seeker was wheeled out strapped to a gurney and replaced with a 94-year-old demented man who moaned and wailed as loud as his ancient lungs allowed him to, while his granddaughter tried to keep him quiet. For some reason even I’m not clear about, I pulled my cell phone out and shot haunting video of my own bewildered face as the man caterwauls in the background.

    Looking down between my feet at the wide-open entrance to my curtain, a shirtless man on a gurney was wheeled into view with an EMT performing CPR on his chest. The various doctors, nurses and EMTs maneuvered him into the space across the hall from me and they went to work on him. Meanwhile two women, loved ones, huddled close to each other, their fingers tapping their lips in a rhythmic metronome of worry.

    I heard him flatline. I closed my eyes, but could hear the doctor explaining to the women that they’d done all they could do. I was surprised by the warmth in his tone and the skill in which he spoke with the loved ones, keeping them from descending into complete hysteria. Still, I wished I could shut off my ears. The rawness of the moment, the profoundness of that last private moment, didn’t belong to a stranger’s ears.

    A nurse came in and started an IV in my left arm and then administered morphine to give me some relief against the fierce streptococcal armies invading my limb, but the adrenaline of the surroundings wouldn’t allow sleep even though it had eluded me all night.

    At 5 p.m., I was assigned to a room, to complete my first day of eight.


    • Wow. Amazing column. Reminds me of a lot of times in the ER with Kathy. But at least I could step out on my own to collect my sanity. I’m hoping you are better and don’t need to go back EVER again.

    • What you went through to get medical care is CRIMINAL. This shouldn’t happen in America.

    • I can’t believe how long you waited. Is this a big major hospital? Obviously you were right to go but almost 24 hours is a long time to get treated, sort of treated. Hope by now you are feeling better and plans are underway to try and minimize this happening again to you. Stay well.

      • Kelvin

      • April 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm
      • Reply

      I’ve waited in an ER all night before but this was only the second time I’d waited that long for a private room. Yes, it’s a very large hospital/trauma center. I once had an experience in the ICU years ago (not same hospital) that was so unreal the hospital should’ve been closed down. Now the nurses were awesome. I love nurses. But this first 17 hours were so memorable I knew I had to write about it.

      When I hear people putting down other countries’ healthcare systems (my brother and fam lives in Saskatchewan and he’s a Canadian citizen) I think, “These critics obviously haven’t spent a lot of time in our own system.” Vie had great experiences and I’ve had nightmares.

      • Maya North

      • April 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm
      • Reply

      Any mother who has been to an emergency room with an anguished toddler (earache, norovirus) and has had to deal with her baby’s misery as miscreant after miscreant gets seen totally gets it. Nonetheless, I wish I’d been there. Nurse Cathi could take care of you; I’d be going all Mother Bear on their asses. 🙁 🙁 🙁

      • Jesse

      • April 14, 2013 at 9:14 pm
      • Reply

      The ER is a sick carnival. Glad you got a room. It sounds AWFUL!

      • Angela

      • April 16, 2013 at 9:01 pm
      • Reply

      I stumbled across this article. Your title caught my attention. Our health care system is definitely broken. At least they finally admitted you & gave you medication. I have no insurance. I have gone to the ER a few times in recent years due to health issues and medical emergencies, I was treated very indifferently and rudely by doctors that didn’t run rountine blood tests, heart monitoring (BP was 175/116) and weren’t even going to prescribe any type of medications upon discharge. I am a single mother of two children, Health care is treated more like a corporate business, than true health care and service.

        • Kelvin

        • April 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm
        • Reply

        You’re absolutely right. Whoever thought to set our system up this way should rot in hell. Healthcare as a business. The business of affording life and death. It’s sick.

    • If you had shared it earlier I would have shared my experience with you and the remedy that worked for me. Though you seems to be recovered but still its always better to get an anti bacterial soap spray immediately.

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