Always take a book to Emergency

Dodging a Bullet

First and last, I have to thank Nicola at the Guelph Community Health Centre for raising the red flag and sending me to the ER last Tuesday (November 16, 2010).

When she called, I was just forcing myself to get up for breakfast.

“I was checking back in your chart,” she started.

I missed some of the lead up because I was groggy, something about my asthma being under control up until recently. The phrase pulmonary embolism woke me up. She told me there was a test.

“You need to go to the hospital emergency department. Oh, and take a book.”

“I should go right away?”

Not one of my brighter questions.

“Yes. Right away.”

As soon as I hung up the phone I received a text from my friend John, asking me how I was. I called back.

“Got your text.”

“How are you?”

“I need a big favour. Can you drive me to the ER?”

Never let it be said I didn’t have a flare for the dramatic. I had about ten minutes to prepare.


Brush teeth.


Gather medications.

Put health card and some cash in my card case so I wouldn’t need to take my wallet, credit cards etc.

If I had been doing this for my father – which I had done many times before - I would have added a hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste to the bag. My sister Joey had her own hospital pack, always ready to go. I just had to add her meds.

I considered and dismissed taking an extra book. I’d only just read the prologue of the one I was taking. I meant to take a banana, but forgot at the last moment.

That’s me in a nutshell. I can be too freaked to remembered food; I am rarely too freaked to forget my book... or coffee.

When I had to do the 911 for Dad or Joanne, I always swung by Tim’s for and extra large English Toffee Cappuccino and a snack for later. There was no point rushing to hospital right behind the ambulance. They wouldn’t let me in until the patient was in observation. Besides, once I was there, I never knew how long I might be staying. Naturally, I also always brought a book or two for myself.

En route to the hospital, I considered asking John for a coffee stop, but I got babbling about the test really not being anything to worry about. Then I remembered that it was roughly this time last week that my brother-in-law was driving this same route to take me of the day surgery that started this imbroglio.

I forgot the coffee.

The week before, I had arthroscopic surgery to repair a complex tear of the medial meniscus. (Not only could I just write that without the help of Spell Check or a dictionary, I could say it after my surgery. Almost everything else I tried to say came out a bit garbled.) Blood clots are one of the many risks with surgery, but they are very rare with arthroscopic procedures. It turned out I was one of the unlucky few.

Pity the fool that goes to Emergency without a book.

I was a quarter of the way through the one I brought before I was seen. The doctor, a very charming young man (ye gods I’m showing my age now) explained the implications of taking the test.

If it came out negative, YAY! But false positives were common. If the test was positive, even by just a little bit, they’d have to follow up with a CT scan.  That meant radioactive dye would be shot through my system. You didn’t do that lightly. On the other hand, Leanne had a hunch and I certainly had no desire to check out early on my kids.

I said yes to the test.

As it turned out, I had a blood clots in my left lung and maybe a small one in my right. After being calm, patient and good-humoured all day (it was close to five now and I was in the last quarter of my book) I had a meltdown.

All I’d had all day was an ER sandwich box around elevenses and a few cup of water. I was tired, hungry and my head was splitting with a headache. I wanted to go home and see my children.

“It’s okay,” soothed the specialist. “You’re where you need to be. You’re safe.”

I knew that.

My big issue with going into hospital wasn’t me, it was my kids - my daughter, son and nieces. They’d hung out in too many hospitals already. My sister was in and out of hospitals for three years before she died of cancer. My father had a major stroke followed by a series of heart attacks. He was the miracle man and recovered, but we had several near misses until, at age 85, he had his last heart failure. Between my sister and my dad, we lost my aunt, who was more like a grandmother to my kids, especially since my mum had died when I was pregnant with my son.

But it wasn’t like that was it, I told myself. It might bring back sad memories, but I was going into hospital before anything dire happened.

With my asthma and being on post operative painkillers, the symptoms of pulmonary embolism weren’t obvious. If untreated, the clot might have expanded, multiplied or moved to my heart or brain. That’s heart attack or stroke time.

I dodged a bullet.

Thanks Nicola!

This blog was written in hospital a few days after my big scary day. I'm out now and recovering slowly but surely. I'd like to add my thanks to the staff at Guelph General Hospital, 4 West. In particular I'd like to thank my nurses Martin, Natalie, Gaye, Donna and a couple of others who didn't write their names on my board.