Reflections on the Twists and Turns of My Small Bowel
Episode 1: You’re going to need a bigger boat, nurse!
By Patrick Doyle
I should have called an ambulance. It can’t be too serious I thought. Ambulances are for really sick people. Instead I called a taxi.
Big mistake. A mistake that would have profound consequences.
Usually I like nothing more than chatting with my engineering PhD driver and finding out about the far-flung, war-ravaged regions of the world and getting stuck into a political debate about American imperialism. Not on that day. Not on September 29, 2011.
My stomach continued to swell. And swell. I kept putting my hand across my abdomen, vainly trying to stop the ballooning. It looked – and felt – like I was going to deliver a baby in the back seat. I should point out that I’m a guy, and while may have looked like I was pregnant, a baby was not on the way. The only other similarity to me and a woman in labour was my use of profanities as we hit another pothole and when we went airborne going through the Dundas-Greenwood intersection in Toronto’s east end.
The problem with not taking an ambulance in an emergency situation – as I would find out – is that you are not really treated seriously. I stumbled in, doubled over and managed to explain what was going on with my stomach. So not too serious. But because I didn’t arrive in an ambulance, I had to stand. There were no stretchers or spare gurneys. I pleaded for something to lie down on. I literally could not stand the pain. I was about to collapse.
And this is when the first of my many insanely Kafkaesque hospital moments happened. I was told, with a straight face, by the emergency department nurse that my best bet was to call an ambulance.
Come again, say what?
“But I’m in the emergency department”, I exclaimed!
“What are you saying?”
But that is exactly what I did. I took out my phone and dialled 911 and explained that I would like an ambulance. Please.
Yes. It’s an emergency.
Yes. I’m outside the hospital emergency.
Yes, I need to go to the emergency.
It’s an emergency-type situation.
After finally explaining this Alice in Wonderland situation to the EMS standing in front of me, I took what has to stand as one of the shortest ambulance rides ever. 10 meters on the gurney. No actual ride in the big white van necessary. No siren for me.
But if you think that was crazy, imagine my reaction weeks later when I got a bill for $45 for said ambulance experience. $45, I kid you not.
Once inside the emergency area, as anyone who has spent any time there will attest, whether accompanying a loved one or on your lonesome, it is without doubt one of the most depressing places on earth.
This is misery central. The place where we pack into a small room and wait for hours: the sick, the injured, the homeless, the bleeding, the vomiting, the hallucinating, the inebriated, the beaten-up, the mad, the screaming, the scared, the worried, the terrified, the confused and the lame. And that’s just on a quiet day!
Where else do we assemble such pain and suffering all at once?
Where people are at their worst and most vulnerable.
It’s the ultimate leveler in society. You think your pain is bad until your eyes are drawn to the next blood-soaked victim of a road accident being wheeled in. Where there is no first-class carriage for the beautiful Julia, who, clutching her Louis Vuitton purse, is sandwiched between a still high or drunk bleeding-from-his-nose teenager who needs his stomach pumped and a 30-something year old roofer who, still covered in black asphalt, fell three stories earlier that day – not for the first time I’m guessing, such was his indifference to his contorted body.
Meanwhile, my abdomen continued to swell. The wait seemed interminable. I became numb to the pain in an odd sort of way. But then the nausea started. I felt really sick. I felt the worst I have ever felt. I was overcome by the need to throw up. And I did. The nurse gave me a cardboard kidney-shaped dish into which was supposed to hold the putrid bile pouring forth.
“Nurse, you’re going to need a bigger boat,” I mumbled, as my body convulsed in pain. There was definitely more from where that came. I was now in a cold sweat. I was feverish. I was trembling. I was scared. What the hell was happening to me?