July 24th, 2014

“This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper.”

-T.S. Eliot

So, one minute you ‘re tearing along astride your 1200 cc motorcycle, wind in your face, hand on the throttle, feeling like the most interesting man in the world, and the next thing you know you’re in an ambulance, bound for the emergency room.

Did I get into an accident? No. I made the mistake of consulting my physician regarding an unusual pain I was experiencing whenever I drew a deep breath. “I suspect it might be pleurisy,” I said—repeating a word I’d learned while perusing the Internet. Doctor Belknap listened to my chest, then sent me down the hall for an X-Ray. When I returned, he ‘d been joined by still another doctor. Both wore long faces.

“We’re calling an ambulance,” said the second doctor. “You’re going to University Hospital.”

“What?” I said. “Ambulance? Good grief, the hospital is only four blocks from here. Why don’t I just ride over on my motorcycle?”

“No way. We can’t take that chance.”

“Then why don’t I just walk over?”

“Sorry, Richard, the ambulance has already been called.”

Presently there arrived three stout EMTs pushing a gurney. “Do you think you can climb onto this thing, or shall we lift you?” asked the fattest of the three.

“Why don’t you get onto it,” I said, “and I’ll help push.”

First lesson of the day: Humor is no defense against organized medicine. Crack wise and someone will write on your chart that you’re not only having chest pains but are delirious.

Still raving, I was strapped down and wheeled out through the waiting room, an object of great curiosity. In the ambulance, a needle was inserted into my arm, electrodes glued to my chest, an oxygen hose attached to my nose. The fat guy sprayed something under my tongue; he said it was nitroglycerine.

The ambulance did not have to rush me to the hospital; I mean, it was a distance of ONLY four city blocks! There I was wheeled directly into the emergency room, neatly circumventing the waiting room with its huddled masses of wretched refuse waiting to be treated. How much is all this going to cost me? I wondered.

All the examination rooms were occupied, so I was transferred to a second gurney and parked in the hallway, precariously close to a section reserved for psychiatric patients. A nice nurse apologized for the inconvenience and asked if there was anything he could do for me.

“Can you give me an update on today’s World Cup semifinal?” I asked.

“Germany is ahead by five goals,” he said.

“Holy shit!” I craned my neck in search of a television set. Down the hallway I could see a nursing station with several monitors; however, all the screens were turned away from me, so I couldn’t watch the match—which I presume is what all the doctors and nurses there were doing. No, all I had to look at was a vital signs monitor, which beeped at intervals except when it would suddenly begin to beep continuously, in which case a nurse would appear and smack the instrument hard on one side until it simmered down.

Hours passed. Doctors and nurses and various technicians came and went. Blood was drawn. Twice, I was wheeled away for X-Rays, and additional “buttons” were affixed to hairy parts of my body. Pretty soon I was wearing twelve such buttons, each attached to a wire—so many wires and tubes now that I couldn’t roll over onto my side without upsetting the vital signs monitor. By and by my wife showed up, looking very concerned.

“Germany has scored seven goals against Brazil,” she said. “Can you believe it?”

“It’s the end of the world as we know it,” I said. “You might as well go home and watch the rest of the match. There’s nothing can be done for me right now. Or Brazil.”

Six or seven hours later—I was beginning to lose track of the time—a room finally became vacant and I was wheeled into it. A young woman doctor appeared, holding a clipboard onto which was affixed my chart.”

“Do you think you can walk, Mr. Menzies?” she asked.

“Of course I can walk,” I answered. “I can walk anywhere—except from the Madsen Clinic to University Hospital, evidently.”

We went for a stroll around the ward, the doctor holding my arm in one hand and my IV drip in the other.

“Well, you seem to walk pretty well,” she said. “Tell me, do you always use oxygen?”

“Only since eleven o’clock this morning,” I answered.

“Well, according to the monitor, you’re under-oxygenated. “

“I’ve not been breathing deeply,” I said. “Whenever I do, I get a sharp pain in my chest. I think I have pleurisy.”

“There is something pleuristic about it,” she said, using an adjective she’d learned in medical school. “But we can’t let you go until you blow at least 90. Right now, you’re at 86.”

So I started breathing deeply, until at last the monitor hit 90. Each deep breath was killing me, but all I cared about at the time was getting out of the hospital. It’s all I ever think about whenever I’m in the hospital. And I’m here to tell you, nothing in this world feels better than walking out the swinging doors of the emergency room, unencumbered by wires and tubes. Freedom!

Two days later, online, I received a final diagnosis. Radiology indicates a partially collapsed lung. Also, a healed fracture of the posterior lateral eighth rib. Funny thing—last time I went to the Madsen Clinic complaining of what I suspected was a broken rib, I was told I have no broken rib. It was determined at the time I was just another guy from off the street looking for opiates. Hugs and drugs, as they say.

Good news is, my heart is just fine. And it no longer hurts when I breathe, so I’m guessing my lung has magically reinflated itself. What have I learned? A new word: atelectasis. Also, that a four-block long ride in a Gold Cross ambulance costs $1, 699.94! And here’s a useful tip to all my fellow septuagenarians: Think twice before consulting your physician about ANYTHING, lest you be transformed instantly from the most interesting man in the world to just another 71-year-old male with chest pains.

-Richard Menzies