Archive for February 26th, 2009


cancer: free ticket to the ER express lane

February 26, 2009

It wasn’t method acting. I play a stumbling drunk, but I rehearse perfectly sober thank you very much. I was shuffling around with a great big wooden box (go with me here – its theatre) and slipped and fell. Ow. Right on my left knee. I repeat. Ow. But it really seemed like no big deal at the time. I finished rehearsal, had a glass of wine, and soaked in the tub. In retrospect, this was a bad course of action. (Not the wine; that’s always a good idea.)

If you ever take a tumble, even if you think it’s no big deal, apparently ice is the way to go within the first 24 hours. Heat brings more blood to the area and actually increases swelling. Well, whaddya know. By the end of a 6 hour rehearsal the next day, I could barely move. The stairs were a nightmare of pain and I felt like a complete tool. Fine, I’ll ice this bitch tonight and it’ll be fine. Oh no. No you don’t Missy! The following morning I’m shuffling like the Tim Conway old man to the bathroom and totally freaking out. This is now a big deal. Dammit. I called my trusty preggers pal who is taking some time off and ask her to drive my ass to the ER. Luckily, she’s game and doesn’t make me feel guilty or imposing. She’s a peach.

I am now dragging my left leg like Quasimodo in to the Emergency Room at Northwestern. Here’s the think about ER’s for major trauma hospitals. You often see MAJOR traumas come through the doors. It’s a pretty freaky experience. Likewise, everyone in the waiting room looks like a Tim Burton movie. Dour and misshapen due to some horrific ailment that I’m sure I will catch by just sitting on a waiting room chair. It sucks. And, because folks come wheeling in with gunshot wounds to the head, you have to wait. And wait. And wait. You may have it bad, but dude, these folks are fighting for their lives this very minute. Gives you some perspective.

There is usually a peppering of crazy folks as well. Homeless loony tunes who have been discarded by the system and sit in corners waiting for a religious Good Samaritan to pick them up and take them to a shelter with a cot and a bible. It’s a really crappy atmosphere. To top it off, the TV is always tuned to Judge Someone who is presiding over a selected group of freaks fighting over $300 worth of vet bills or some such bullshit. I hate it. But here I am.

First thing they ask you in the ER is your birth date. It must be some quick way to ID you and figure out if you’re remotely lucid at the same time. Then you wait for the triage nurse to determine just how sick you are and where you fit on the wait list to see the doc. This is a person whose ass you should kiss. Big time. So, I politely answer all questions about my fall, dutifully have my temp taken and wait for the big question. “Have you had any recent surgeries?” And…here we go. “Yes, in May of last year I had surgery here for stage 4 colon cancer.” (Pause) She’s a pro. Collects herself in a mere second and goes on with the necessary questioning that is now required. I go through all the gory details, meds, treatments etc almost by rote now. I can spit out “six months of folfox with avastin” and such with complete detachment, like it’s what I had for breakfast. I get a wristband and a wheelchair and I’m in the queue.

She parked me in front of the TV. I know she meant well, but Judge Ethnic Ghetto instantly starts working my nerves. It wasn’t five minutes before they came and wheeled me into the bay of beds for care! Holy cow! I guess cancer puts you in the Express Lane in the ER. Well, hell’s bells.

One of the nurses comes in first, natch. She helps me wriggle out of my pants and put on the dreaded gown. I still can’t tie the damn things on my own due to my neuropathy. Grrrrrr. Next comes the Almost Doctor who pokes, prods, and asks more questions. Mostly, “Does it hurt when I do this?” And mostly the answer is “Yesdammitstopdoingthat!” I also get the “rate your pain on a scale of 1-10” thing. I hate that. I resist the temptation to be a smart ass and say “Ours goes to eleven.” ala Spinal Tap. If it didn’t hurt really freakin bad, I wouldn’t be here! “I see a lot of bruises here; tell me how you fell again?” I go through the whole story again. Wooden floor, giant box, slip and fall. “And you only fell once?” I assure him I did. I start to realize he’s working up the nerve to question me about domestic violence. Oh, lordy. And here it comes. “Everything you tell me is confidential, right” “yes.” “So, as we ask all of our patients this, I have to ask – did someone do this to you?” I recall the image of Marc sleeping every night in my hospital room for a week. Emphatically, I say “no.”

The nurse comes to visit again. She nonchalantly asks me if I know about their confidential domestic abuse counseling program, just in case I want to tell my friends. I thank her, but assure her I’m not in need. Now, I’m glad they screen for this kind of thing and I know abuse victims come in all walks of life, but I’m starting to get creeped out. Fix my leg!

Finally, Doctor in Charge comes in and checks out my gimpy limb. He does some different poking and prodding which hurts less and seems more productive somehow. I have to say all the docs and nurses and helpers I saw in the ER were fantastic about explaining what they were doing and why. It’s just a sucky experience, no matter how good the crew. Then Big Doc says, “If I ask you a question, do you promise to tell me the truth?” Oh, Mother of God… I nod. “Is anyone hitting you?” “No, doc. I just fell. I’m really clumsy.” As the words stream out of my mouth, I realize that I’m damn near quoting every Lifetime movie about abused women. “I understand that you have to ask, and I’m glad you do, but I just fell in a rehearsal and I seem to bruise really easily since the cancer.” I don’t think he’s convinced, but he moves on to my knee and it’s green and purple hue.

While I’m waiting for tests, a nice preppy-type guy asks me if I will participate in a survey to see how the hospital can better serve their cancer patients in the ER. Sure, what else do I have going on? He asks a bunch of questions about transportation to appointments, difficulty breathing, depression, and whether I think the doctors listen to me or not. As per usual, the questions seemed primarily aimed at geezer patients and not the 30 somethings. I told the guy about my frustrations that have nothing to do with wheezing and hailing a handicapped accessible cab.

After x-rays and much conversation, they docs conclude that I have no broken bones, there is no glaring cancer that may have spread to the bone, and that I just need an ace bandage and some crutches. Yea! I couldn’t imagine having to leave the play I’m in due to a stupid slip and fall. It’s the first productive thing I’m really enjoying post chemo and I would be devastated if I had to quit. It seems odd in retrospect. I was more worried about quitting a play than finding cancer in my bones. Weird.

I am dispatched with great care and well wishes, but I’m pretty sure they think my hubby is a raging maniac. I called my friend Sean to commiserate. I knew he’d say something funny and insensitive to cheer me up. “You should have said: No, my husband doesn’t beat me. I always have dinner ready right on time!” I burst out laughing in the lobby of the hospital. I knew I could count on Sean. Seriously. Last night, my husband fluffed a pillow under my knee, prepared an ice pack, poured me wine, and served me soup on the couch. Not exactly the wife beater type. Despite my bum knee, (and the whole cancer thing), I feel very lucky. I hope Marc doesn’t have to visit the ER anytime soon. They’ve got their eye on him.