THREE DAYS AND TWO NIGHTSby
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CHAPTER 4: THE GOLDEN TICKET
Just getting into the ER was a struggle. Hospitals are so huge that it is hard to know where to enter, even under normal circumstances. With COVID being such a concern, which leads to controlling who goes where, and doors getting locked all over, things are even more difficult. Furthermore, in the case of Mount Sinai, there is a ton of construction going on. All over the place. So there is extra noise, and traffic, and bulldozers, and barricades, and ad hoc signage, and people in hard hats, and in general dusty chaos pretty well everywhere. I walked halfway around the building, feeling sick and in pain, before finding what I thought was the ER. Lucky for me, it was the ER. Signs had indicated the entrance I was using was for ambulances only, but they let me in. On foot. Well, they almost let me in, anyway.
There was a small lineup almost out the door. There were a few people just inside, then two people in the vestibule entrance, then me, just outside the building. In a few minutes I made it inside the vestibule, where I spoke with the security guard. He confirmed this was the ER, and I think I told him I thought I had an appendicitis. I don't really remember our interaction, but the bottom line is, he put an orange sticker on me, and let me stay. What the orange sticker meant I did not know. And I never did find out.
Gaining entrance to the building is like reaching the first milestone. I was still many steps from the ultimate goal: getting a diagnosis and/or getting admitted. But the process had officially begun: Achievement #1 unlocked.
Eventually you get to talk to someone "on the inside," and they either say you get to stay in the ER waiting room or you don't. Getting to stay is another milestone. When I spoke to the intake person -- I am not sure whether they were a nurse or what -- it was determined I would get to stay. I received a slip of paper -- my Golden Ticket -- with a number on it, and was told to go and sit, and listen for my number to be called. Achievement #2 unlocked. Now is where the fun begins. Not.
ER waiting rooms are pretty bad, even at the best of times. But again, COVID makes everything so much harder. Every third seat or so had a sign on it, saying something like "don't sit here" with a message about social distancing. As time went by in the waiting room, it filled up, and began threatening make keeping a safe distance difficult. But it never went over the limit, fortunately. (Maybe they make sure it doesn't, and eventually there was a big lineup outside, of which I was unaware? But I have no idea. I was in a zone once I got in and wasn't aware of what might be happening more than 10 feet from my own nose.)
I will say this about Mount Sinai's ER: It is way better than St. Joseph's, in my experience. St. Joe's ER sucks donkey dongs. I was there two years ago when I broke my hand. It was horrible. But Mount Sinai’s, the facility itself, as well as how it is organized, is pretty good; many levels above St. Joe's. I think they just built this one, or recently overhauled it. (Like I said, there is construction going on, all over the place.) It is clean, the layout makes sense, and the chairs are pretty comfortable. But here is the thing: I needed a bed, not a chair. Since morning I had been experiencing waves of nausea and pain. Needing to sit up just didn't feel good. At home, when I lay in bed, at least I could twist in those odd angles, as needed, and mitigate some discomfort. And regarding the nausea, at some points I thought I was going to vomit. Not often, but sometimes. How can you have people in danger of throwing up sitting in a waiting room? What would happen if I did throw up? They couldn't just clear everyone out and open up another room, I am sure? Plus there is only one bathroom. What if two people get the shits or need to throw up at the same time? Surely this must happen on occasion?
For the most part, waiting in the ER was not noteworthy or fun. And I was sick; also not fun. But there were a couple characters that I observed while there who have stuck with me. And remembering them, now, is kind of fun. Or at least interesting.
The first character I want to introduce is someone I’ll call Granny Munchausen. She was a cute, chubby, golden bear of a woman, who looked like she could be the Crocodile Hunter's great, great grandmum. (God rest your soul, Steve Irwin. Death by stingray barb; that sucks.) Granny Munchausen looked sweet, and she looked innocent. She appeared, in short, grandmotherly. But I am pretty sure Granny Munchausen was and continues to be a complete crackpot, and she has no business being in an ER and taking up valuable time and resources. And she sure as hell had no business reprimanding me! Which is just what she did, out of the blue, while I was minding my own business. Whammo! It was like getting hit with a stingray barb.
While I was sitting in a kind of fetal position, clutching my sore belly, in a hoarse (smoker's?) voice Granny Munchausen demanded to know why I was sitting on a seat that had a "do not sit" sign attached. "That's not where you are supposed to be sitting," she scolded me, waving at me dismissively, with a golden paw, buried under fifty billion layers of sleeves and coats. Just the tip of her wrinkly claws stuck out, when she did this. (Ok, maybe not, but that is how I remember it, anyway. Her claws had come out!) Jeez, this woman was not friendly like Steve Irwin. She was a crab apple.
I was in no position to argue. Not because I was in the wrong. I was completely in the right. But I was in no position to argue because I felt too lousy. My nausea and pain were oscillating between 4 and 5. So I was not going to get up and move when I felt rotten, just because some nutjob had their nose out of joint. However, I didn't have the energy to explain why I was "conscientiously objecting" to the signs, though I will do so here, in a moment. But I did manage to say something like: "I am just... *rasp* trying to... *rasp*... be safe," and then I put my head down and pulled my hoodie further over my face, trying to ward the witch off. I could feel the old curmudgeon glaring at me, right through my hoodie. And I ignored her. I would see this nutter again, later on, and she would again surprise me with her outrageousness. She was like Doug Ford, really: How can people who are so gosh darn cute be such assholes?
Here is why I was sitting in a chair with a "do not sit" sign. The fact is, mathematically, it is impossible to make people sitting in chairs in a big room perfectly equidistant from one another. At least this is the case for the Mount Sinai ER waiting room. The chairs here were arranged in an odd fashion, not like the same-sized rows of fixed seats in a movie theatre. (There you could do it.) This room was oddly shaped, and the chairs were in clumps. And the setup was further complicated by this fact: Someone was throwing the system a little out of whack. Someone had effectively brought their own chair into the mix, which was obviously not accounted for when they laid out the signs. This someone was using one of those weird sitting-walker things that old people employ. So they were not in a designated chair at all. And this someone who was throwing off the system and causing me to in turn change my own location, for safety, was none other than: Wait for it... the idiot I am calling Granny Munchausen! Can you imagine the audacity of this crusty barnacle? Complaining to me that I am in the wrong spot, when I am only in the wrong spot because she brought her own idiot chair into the mix, and threw everything off? I mentioned early on there would be some heroes and some nutters as my story unfolded. Well, Granny Munchausen is not of the hero variety. That is for damn sure.
While hanging out in the waiting room for hours, I would catch snippets of Granny Munchausen talking to other people. On her cell phone, she sounded quite sweet. With staff, she also could sound sweet, and sometimes pleading, but she could turn, and become combative too. At one point I heard her complaining on the phone that she had been here the day before, and had finally been kicked out at around 10 p.m., and now she was having to come back and do the whole damn thing all over again. And what a bother it all was. Now, I don't know what kind of "emergency" someone can have that would require them to enter and re-enter the ER day after day, hoping to finally get treatment. But it sure as hell is not appendicitis! She is a total nutjob. And, if it is daytime when you are reading this, she is probably in the Mount Sinai ER waiting room, again, at this very moment.
Another character I came across is someone I will call Pan. He was not a nutter, just a regular person, making his way through the ER. I call him Pan because his appearance made me think of that god from Greek mythology, with the curly hair and horns, that is half goat from the waist down. He was healthy looking, in his 20s, with a fantastic shock of wavy brown hair. I am not sure why he was in the ER; he looked fit to me. Actually, when I looked around the ER waiting room, the vast majority of people looked pretty decent. I guess if you are really off the rails, they just shoot you right in, but I don't recall ever seeing that occur? (But again, I was out of it. So maybe that happened and I didn't notice?)
Anyway, Pan was ahead of me and had his number called. When your number is called, you are summoned to come speak with a doctor (or nurse?) who is behind a glass window located very close to a Big Door that leads into the interior of the hospital. There is a security guard nearby as well. Behind that Big Door is the Promised Land. And getting behind that door is another milestone; not everyone gets in. When your number is called, it is a Big Event, because that is where you get to really plead your case. When you do so, you also need to provide some more information about your situation, including what prescription medicines you are currently taking. Lots of personal details get shared too, right then and there, in front of anyone within earshot. It just so happens, when Pan was making his case, I was within earshot. And I was shocked to hear Pan, with his full head of gorgeous locks, mention he was taking a drug called finasteride, among some other prescriptions I can't remember.
Finasteride is a medication used to treat hair loss and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) in men. BPH is more commonly known as having an "enlarged prostate." Now, I have read quite a bit about finasteride, because in my mid-40s I started getting both hair loss and BPH. So you would think I am a perfect candidate for it. This kid, meanwhile, is highly unlikely to have BPH; he is far too young for that. So he is likely taking this powerful medication for one thing: hair loss. And you know what? It is probably working. The dude has a glorious head of hair. And if you are a man destined to experience male pattern baldness but take finasteride before the hair loss really kicks in, it really can prevent or very much delay it. For many people, it can be a magical drug. But!
Finasteride can have some God-awful side effects. When I did my research several years ago, I discovered it can have irreversible sexual side effects in a small percentage of people. As in "erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, and ejaculation disorder." I came across some internet forums where people had taken the drug to prevent hair loss, and now were considering suicide because their wangs no longer worked. At all. And, cruelly, these horrible side effects lingered even after they stopped taking the drug! So, for me, taking finasteride for hair loss, and in my case BPH, as well, was simply not worth the risks. So I started shaving my head. And in taking this approach, I am happy to report, my sex life is still great!
In any case, overhearing this young buck casually mention taking finasteride, it made me kind of shake my head. Does he even know what I know? Is he a googler like me? But here is the thing. Someone once said: "to be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid." This poor kid doesn't have the wisdom that I do, at 51 years of age. To him, at his early stage of life, having a great head of hair is probably a really big deal. Hell, he may very well know what I had come to discover, and yet still decided to roll the dice. (Or here is a crappy thought: Maybe he is at the ER for some of the horrible side effects I mentioned above, and does not yet know the culprit? Yikers.)
Anyway, I wish him well, and I did not see him later on, unlike Granny Munchausen. He may not have made it into the hospital interior, at all.
In any case, sometime after Pan’s number was called, mine got called. Thankfully! I am a worrier (more on this later), and it is always on my radar that "I might fall through the cracks." Well, I didn't. Probably within 90 minutes of first entering the ER, I was called to make my case to the Person Behind the Glass.
I can't even remember who I spoke with, but I know after they listened to my case, they told me to have a seat again, and that someone would soon draw some blood. It also was at this point that I was enrolled in something called www.mychart.ca, which is a website that allows you access to your own medical records. It is awesome! In theory. But in execution, Mount Sinai gets a fail here. I told the person who signed me up for it that I was already signed up and wanted to use my existing account. I mean, that is the idea, right? Have everything in one central location? They told me they didn't do it that way, and I would have to make a new account, just for them. What? Either this person was poorly trained or the system is broken if this really is the case. To this day, I cannot even figure out how to login to my new account, and so I have never seen any online information at all from my short stay at Mount Sinai. There is a 1-800 number I have to call for help logging in, and I haven't bothered yet. Meanwhile, I can easily log in to the same site, using my "old" credentials, and I can see all of my previous medical history. Google Chrome has saved my username and password, so one click and I am in. Why the heck can't I be using this same account? Fail.
Eventually my blood is drawn, out in the waiting room, off to the side, and again I am told to wait. Another half hour goes by, or so, and at last my name is called. Not my ticket number, but my name. I rise and am brought to the Big Door that will give me access into the hospital interior. Achievement #3 unlocked: The door is opened, and I enter into the Belly of the Beast.
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