Wren’s ER adventures

I’ve been a little low the last couple of days, so I thought I’d write and share some memories from my last, fascinating week to distract myself. Think of it as entertainment for those who find such things entertaining. If you don’t, I won’t be hurt if you move along…

  1. Setting: A Veteran’s Administration Medical Center ER, a week ago Saturday – I’m here an hour or so after Logan bit me. Hand is gory, self-wrapped clumsily in gauze pads and bandages left over following my synovectomy five years ago. My hair, which needs washed (and I was going to get to that today, really) has been scraped into a clumsy ponytail for me by my daughter. I’m wearing no make-up and dressed in my weekend grubbies. Lovely. The consolation? The other patients look about as spiffed and put-together as I do.

I’m holding my hand up at about shoulder-level, as if I’m in school, shyly trying to get the teacher’s attention. It hurts a lot more if I put it down. They haven’t got a cubby for me – it’s Saturday and the ER is full and there’s (inexplicably) only one harried doctor on duty – but being kind folks, and professionals, they didn’t want to leave me sitting out in the waiting room in a bloody makeshift bandage. So the triage nurse sat me on a cot in the ER inner-sanctum hallway, my legs hanging off the side. I’m watching all the activity and listening to the nurses chatter. Blog fodder. I wish I could take notes.

After a while, one of them comes over. “I’m John. What happened here?” he asks. He’s a chubby, cheerful fellow, early 30s, with a buzz cut, a gold ear stud and a friendly smile. He missed a few places shaving this morning, and has tats here and there. He pulls on a pair of navy blue surgical gloves.

I tell him my dog bit me.Your own dog?” he asks, surprised. I explain. “Man, that just sucks,” he says. I agree. “Let’s see that,” he says, and unwraps the bandages. He starts to pull the gauze off. I yelp. “Sorry.” He pulls it off anyway. I grit my teeth and blood wells up.  “Yeeeow,” he says. “That looks … stay right there.” No problem, I think, eyebrows raised. Where would I go? He trots off. I study my hand. There’s a bit of gristly-looking flesh hanging out of the wound on my palm, which makes my stomach flutter. I look away. Nurse John returns with the doctor, a tall, slender, serious black man in a long white coat and gold, wire-rimmed spectacles. He takes a quick look. “Mmm. Let’s soak it for a while,” he says, turning my hand from back to front with gentle, gloved hands. Navy blue. “You have pain? What level?” He doesn’t bother with the one-to-ten spiel (maybe I look like I know it by heart?); his voice is soft and deeply accented and his nametag offers an African name starting with an “O”, but not “Obama.” Dr. O, I decide. It’s easier. “Um, about five,” I say. This is a different kind of pain than rheuma pain, which I’m used to. I really want to say “eight” or “nine,” but that seems embarrassingly excessive, even if my hand is stinging and throbbing and hot and really, really hurts. And honestly, I’m not actually writhing or anything. I know I look far calmer than I feel. It’s my usual demeanor, actually, one I take some pride in. I’ve always been pretty cool under pressure. But mostly, I don’t want this busy doctor to think I’m a terrible wimp, or worse, angling for drugs, because if it turns out that I need them for the pain, I don’t want to have to beg. I do have my dignity. “OK,” he says, and hurries off.

Nurse John finds one of those rolling tables that looks like an old-fashioned typewriter table (maybe because that’s actually what it is) and gets a plastic basin, Betadine and several bottles of sterile water. He dumps them all in. “There. Put your hand in that. We’ll just soak it for a while.” Right. I gingerly lower my crabbed hand into the cold, rusty water. The pain level shoots up because of the new, lower position of my hand, but I don’t say a word. I can do this, I think to myself. To get my hand all the way down into the shallow water so it covers both wounds, I have to sort of hitch my shoulder up and hold it there. I hope I don’t have to do this for very long because I know for a fact my shoulder is going to complain. Loudly. John asks more questions and starts telling me about a dog he used to have that suddenly bit his uncle on the lip when his uncle was down on the floor playing with him. John’s uncle sued him. “How’s that for family?” he asks with a laugh. He had the poor dog put down. Sad. “He was a really good dog, too, but, well, you know.” Yes, I do know.

I sit there, right shoulder wrenched up, my hand throbbing angrily in the basin, for about an hour. Surely, I think, they haven’t forgotten I’m here? I’m sort of hard to miss, even if I am out of the way, stuck in the hall. Nurses pass me frequently without making eye-contact. (It reminds me of the day I gave birth to my daughter, almost 29 years ago. The military hospital I was in didn’t have a labor room immediately available, so I was left standing in a hallway while the nurse went off to do something about it. I stood there for the best part of an hour, holding the back of my hospital gown closed and breathing through the first phase labor pains. I was quite calm. I didn’t want to bother anyone …) The pain level in myhand has definitely risen, and it’s not just from the position change. I’m still not writhing, though. I’m not moaning or carrying on, just whimpering a little under my breath now and then. But I sure wish they’d get on with this. After what seems like an eternity, John happens by again. “How’re you doing?” he asks, and lifts my hand out of the water. It’s Betadine orange now and swelling alarmingly. “I’m OK,” I say, but my will breaks. “It does hurt a lot more now,” I say apologetically. “Can I maybe get something for that?”  “You bet. I’ll ask the doctor.” John-the-grinning-biker-nurse sticks my hand back in the water and trots off. Another eternity later, he returns. “Let’s go to x-ray and see if anything in there is broken,” he says. He carefully wraps my hand in a thick towel and tapes it closed, explaining that he’d rather not alarm the other patients by leaving it bloody and exposed as I walk by them. “I don’t think there are any broken bones,” I say, feeling like an idiot. “Yeah,” he says happily, “but it can be hard to tell just by looking. Come on, I’ll take you over.” I hop off the cot, wincing a little because my hips and legs have gotten stiff from sitting. They’re not happy with me at all, but my shoulder appreciates the change in position. My spring allergies have been acting up and my sinuses are clogged; I sniff without thinking. He wheels around and peers at me. “Are you crying?” “No!” I say, startled. Me? Cry? I realize what caught his attention. “Oh. It’s just an allergy. I’m not crying!” It’s vital to me that he doesn’t think I’m a big baby, for some reason. I was directing fighter jets against simulated Soviet bombers way back when you were wearing diapers, junior, I think to myself. I kept you from growing up to be a Russian-speaker and calling your colleagues ‘comrade.’ Me? Cry? Nurse John, of course, is oblivious. “Great,” he grins. “Come on, this way.” I follow him out of the ER and over to x-ray. Pictures are taken of my hand. He leads me back to my ER hallway cot, but another nurse tells him a room has finally opened up. “Put her in Three,” she says. Cubby #3 turns out to be a bit cozier and more private, but I get the same typing table for the basin, and back my hand goes into it. My shoulder is protesting quite adamantly, now, even though the little table has been cranked up as high as it can go. At least, I think as John darts out again, there’s something to look at in here. I gaze at a poster that shows the musculature of the body and read the text on another one that instructs veterans how to avoid metabolic syndrome. “Loose weight. Stop smoking. Eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Drink sparingly and exercise at least three times a week …” Got that drill down pat already, I think wryly. Another poster offers info on how to get hot-line help from the VA if you’re contemplating suicide. It strikes me as a sad thing to see tacked to the wall of an ER cubby, but I know, too, that veterans generally do have a pretty high suicide rate. Particularly those from the Viet Nam era who came home from their service overseas with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, only to find themselves accused of malingering. These men were left to their own devices, untreated, for decades. For some of them, suicide was the final cure for their misery. What an awful thing to do to someone who’s risked his life for his country, I think. And now there’s a whole new crop of young vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with all manner of mental and physical injuries. I hope they’re getting better care, now; perhaps that poster is one indication of it. I go back to my anatomy poster. My hand pulses. Will someone come do something?

Another taffy-like stretch of time passes. Dr O sweeps back in just as I’ve almost dozed off. I sit up straighter, blinking. “X-rays came back; there are no broken bones,” he tells me, and snaps on new gloves. Navy blue. There must have been an overrun on that color and the VA bought 600,000 boxes to save some money. “I didn’t think anything was,” I say. He takes my hand out of the freezing orange water and dries it carefully with the towel. Looks at it. “Mmm. There could be tendon and ligament damage, though,” he says. “That wouldn’t show up on x-rays.” He presses around the wound firmly with his gloved fingers. Blood wells up again. “Does that hurt?” Do bears shit in the woods? “Yes,” I say calmly from between my gritted teeth. My tummy flutters unhappily. He presses some more, asking if it hurts here, or here, and how about here? I say yes. Yes. Oh yes. “Put it back in the water,” he says. Oh, Lord help me. I obey. He turns to zing out again. “Might I get something for pain?” I ask, raising my voice a little and stopping him in his tracks. “It really hurts a lot more now.” I’m getting a bit testy in spite of myself; my calm, cool façade has developed some cracks. He looks at me. I gaze back at him unblinking, shoulder up by my ear, my lips tight. “Of course,” he says. “We’ll get you some Toradol.” His eyebrows are raised, as if he thinks I might protest his choice of painkiller. “Thank you,” I say, and he vanishes. As I try to get comfortable again I wonder why there’s only one ER physician working today. Was it a scheduling mix-up? Did someone call in sick? I feel a little bad for Dr O. He’s going to be wiped out by the time he gets off work, presumably sometime late tonight.

A new nurse comes in. She has a hypodermic syringe in her hand and a deadpan expression on her face. She gives me the towel, which now has rusty stains all over it, rolls the table with the basin away, tells me to pull my pants down halfway and then to lay on my side on the cot. “Do I really need to lie down? Can’t I do this standing up?” I ask hopefully. See, I haven’t been told to lay down for a shot in something like a hundred years; it’s very undignified and I figure I got to stand up for my previous, very rare shots because I’m an adult now. Laying down is just for children. “No,” she says. “it’s easier to get it in the just right spot if you’re lying down.” Well, I can’t argue with that logic, so defeated, I do as she says. It’s a bit awkward to yank your pants down and clamber back onto a cot with just one hand, I discover. But by this time, I really don’t care. I just want my hand to stop feeling like it’s going to explode any second, because if it does, I will cry. “A little sting,” she says, and injects the Toradol. I barely feel it, so I say “You’re good at that! Thanks! I remember shots I got as a kid that felt like they were administered by frozen ice-pick.” She laughed. “Oh, I do too, honey.” She pushes the table and basin back over.“You’re very welcome. You should feel a lot less pain soon.” And off she goes.

She’s right. Within just a few minutes, the Toradol makes my pain level drop several notches – and without making me feel woozy. Cool. By the time Dr. O returns – after another eternity (and I’ve committed the various names of the muscles in the forearm, shoulder and hand to memory and started on the leg and foot muscles) – my hand feels so much less painful that I’m wondering if I was a dork for rushing to the emergency room and wasting their time. After all, I could have soaked my hand in Betadine water at home, you know?

My hand is now a sickly sweet potato color. It’s swollen, and my fingers have turned into short, fat sausages with nails at their tips. “We’ll put this in a pressure dressing,” he says, pushing around the wounds again. I just gaze at them. The pressing hurts, but so what? “You can go home, but I’m putting in a referral to orthopedics – they’ll want to look at this. Unless they call you sooner, come back here on Monday morning. I want to check it again.” “I will,” I say. He asks me once again how it all happened, so I tell him. His manner softens, and he tells me that he’s never owned a dog himself, but he’s taking care of one right now for his daughter. “I was surprised. I really like that dog,” he says in his deep, accented voice, and he smiles. It’s the first smile I’ve seen on him, and it transforms his face, making him look younger and less careworn. “Everybody in the family always asks me for money, but that dog, he never does. He just wants to love me. I might keep him.” He laughs. I join him; I can’t help it. I agree that dogs are, indeed, great that way. All they want is love and attention. And regular feedings.

Back to business, Dr O tells Nurse John how he wants my hand dressed and wrapped, and in what position he wants my fingers. Then he’s gone. John does the job, chattering about his late Rottweiler, the one who bit his uncle’s lip bad enough to require plastic surgery. He has a new dog now, he says, a great dog, loads of fun, adopted from the pound. The new dog, he tells me, is a pit bull. I wonder about his intellect, but keep my thoughts to myself. After all, he’s an RN. That training takes some serious smarts. And besides, I remind myself, not all pit bulls are savage, homicidal maniacs. They just have a really bad reputation. When he’s done with my hand, it looks three times its normal size. It’s down in there somewhere, though, lost deep under all that gauze and stretchy bandaging.  As I get up to leave, Nurse John gives me a tip: Come back as early in the morning as I can on Monday so I can get here before the busses carrying crowds of ailing vets arrive. Dr O won’t be in until 10 a.m., but any other doc can look at my hand. I thank him for all his help, and I go home.

  1. Setting: VA ER, Monday morning, 8 a.m.: I’m a little surprised; we haven’t beat the crowd, which makes me wonder what Nurse John’s perception of the word “crowd” is. Nearly every chair in the waiting room is full, and there’s a line four deep at the reception desk. Every American skin tone and culture is represented here. Some are grungy, grizzly old vets with scraggly hair who look like soap and water are foreign to them and their last decent meal was a bottle of Thunderbird. Then there are the ones (my age and older), many of them with enormous potbellies, who’ve dressed for the occasion in baggy sweatpants and stretched out, silkscreenedT-shirts with flags and eagles, and service caps on their heads crusted with tiny enamel military emblems or embroidered patches. Sometimes both. They’re proud of their service and tell the world. Most of these guys have, at least, showered within the last week, and many of them have ponytails, too, (often thin and gray). To me, ponytails always clash a little with right-wing-super-patriot-America-love-it-or-leave-it paraphernalia, but thankfully, long hair on men doesn’t automatically mean “Dirty F*cking Hippy” these days. The rest of the chairs are filled by younger men who are slim and healthy-looking, dressed in jeans and sports team or band T-shirts. They’re much better groomed, even if they’re not feeling very well. Another incongruity to me, a child of the 60s and 70s: almost all of the young’uns, if they’re white, have buzz cuts or are shaved bald as a cue ball. What comes around goes around, I guess. Military service is mostly a man’s world, so the room is almost exclusively filled with males, except for a couple of wives or girlfriends sitting patiently next to their mates. A few guys flip through ancient magazines; one or two are actually sleeping upright on the pleasantly upholstered but strangely uncomfortable chairs. One of them is snoring peacefully. (I always envied those guys in the service who could snooze off anywhere, anytime, almost instantly; they had a place to hide from boredom for a while that us more jumpy, wakeful types couldn’t access.) Fox News blares on the big-screen TV in the corner, the right-wing talking heads earnest and outraged by turns over the latest scandalette. I take my place at the end of the reception line, feeling short and conspicuously female. I wish I had earplugs. All that idiotic, televised shouting, coming from the pie-holes of well-paid, sleek “personalities” with the brains of pigeons – and who even so should know better – rub my fur backwards. I try to ignore them.

I check in, slipping my VA ID card through the narrow slot in the bullet-proof glass and intoning my “last four,” the last four digits of my social security number. I tell the bored clerk why I’m there. She taps at her computer keyboard and tells me to go sit down. The triage nurse will call my name in a while. I join Mr Wren, who’s already sprawled in a chair, glum and sleepy, and offer him my iTouch, showing him how to make the games work, how to call up a classic book, etc. He perks up, happier. I don’t blame him a bit for wanting some sort of distraction; I’ve waited in this room both with him and for him several times over the years, often for hours and hours. It’s mind-killingly boring, even when you’re worried and stressed. Mr Wren is quickly absorbed in a game of Solitaire, his giant fingers poking at the tiny screen. OK, I think, the kid is safely occupied. I settle down, open my Kindle, and discover the battery is flat. It’s gonna be a long day. In desperation I pick a magazine out of the fanned display on the side-table. It’s a Newsweek, dated July 2008.

Fortunately, the triage nurse calls me in faster than I expected. My last four, she said, had been flagged in the computer. She takes my blood pressure (normal), my temperature (slightly elevated) and asks me all the same questions I was asked on Saturday. She updates to today: pain level? Six, I tell her. It’s the truth, but it still makes me feel a little guilty. Noncommittal, she nods and sends me back to the waiting room. I settle down again, wishing I knew how to take an upright nap without drooling on myself. It’s now about 8:30 a.m. My stomach grumbles. That thin slice of wholegrain toast I wolfed down before we left the house seems like I ate it a week ago.

Movement catches my eye, unusual because once checked in, hardly anyone moves at all again until they’re called to the ER’s inner sanctum. It’s like we all grow roots into our chairs. It’s a young man doing the moving, dressed in a jet black, unadorned T-shirt to his knees, a short, silky black windbreaker, baggy black trousers and thick, oversized black athletic shoes. He’s near the triage room. I didn’t see him come in, but he doesn’t look at all like your typical veteran. He’s slightly built, no taller than I am, and looks to be about 19, with beautiful, beaded dreadlocks that fan out from his head like the undulating fins of a lion-fish as he moves. His skin is smooth, dark chocolate. He’s strikingly beautiful. And he’s dancing. I can’t see an ear-bud or a wire to an iPod hidden in his clothing, but he’s clearly hearing captivating music the rest of us mere mortals don’t. He dances slowly back and forth, oblivious to our curious eyes, lost in his body’s grace, his face as serene as a Buddha’s. He’s a very good dancer; his control of his body makes me think of ballet training, though that’s not the type of dancing he’s doing. Maybe he’s a professional. Or perhaps he’s mad, living in some other, colorful dimension than the muted gray one that holds the rest of us captive here in the ER waiting room. Mentally unstable vets are pretty common here. After a few minutes (during which I watch him dance, fascinated) an old couple comes down the hall from the main hospital, as slow and stiff as cold molasses, the heavy man limping and supported by his wife on one side and a cane on the other. They don’t say anything to the young man; indeed, they don’t even seem to see him, but he dances out the sliding doors after them as if connected to them by an invisible leash. Do they know him? Are they his grandparents, and they’re so used to being accompanied by a mercurial young god with dancing feet that he no longer enthralls them? I’m intrigued and sorry to see him go.

Time passes. The millennial version of “Let’s Make a Deal” comes on the TV. Someone must have changed the channel, which was nice, though the game show annoys me almost as much as the animated Fox News mannequins. I try to concentrate on an article about the upcoming presidential election in my elderly magazine, even though I know the ending, instead of my throbbing hand. A nurse in dark blue scrubs appears and calls my name, and she takes me through the magic electronic keylock ER doors to a miniscule cubby. There’s barely room to turn around inside it. I wonder how a doctor will fit in here with me. But a moment later, a brisk woman in a white coat, about my own age, comes in and somehow does the impossible with ease. Smiling, she introduces herself. Dr. D is her name; Dr. O won’t be in until 10. She asks me to fill her in on what’s happened, so I do, and she unwraps my hand. It looks horrible, both wounds weepy with pus, misshapen, dark red and sore to the touch. We’re both a little shocked. Did I change the dressings on them after they applied Saturday afternoon? she asks levelly. “No. They told me to leave them put,” I tell her. “Does it hurt?” Oh, yeah. I explain, like I did to Dr. O, that I’ve been taking rheumatoid arthritis drugs that suppress the immune system for the last two years. I stopped taking them the day I got bitten, though, as I was a bit fearful of infection. “Too late,” she says. “You have one.” I nod. While I couldn’t see it under the bandages over the weekend, my hand didn’t feel like it was healing. “Don’t worry,” she says, then smiles again and asks me to tell my rheumatologist “hi” for her when I see him next. They worked long hours together in the ER several years ago. She tells me what a wonderful, caring doctor he is and how he’s a genuinely nice man, and how lucky I am to have him. I agree wholeheartedly and we both talk him up for a while. Then she gets serious again, back to business. She sticks s hand out the door and snags a passing nurse, tells her to get a basin, Betadine and sterile water, and to set up another soak for me. I sigh. “I’m going to call orthopedics in to look at this before we do anything else,” she says to me. “Just soak it in the meantime.” I lower my hand, which is still crabbed – I can’t straighten my fingers without yelping – into the chilly water, wishing they’d at least warm it a little for me. But I don’t say anything. They’re clearly busy, and warm water isn’t a necessity, just a small comfort. Dr D leaves me. I wait. And wait.

I’m memorizing a new anatomy poster, this one showing a naked, half-skinless, bloodless man’s skeleton, muscles and internal organs, when one of the most handsome men I’ve ever seen pokes his head in the door. “Ms Wren?” he asks with a devastating smile. My heart melts right there. You’re here to see me? I croak an acknowledgement, then remember to smile back. Yet another young god (two in one day!), he’s wearing a long, open white coat over neat green scrubs, and he has a bandanna-like surgical cap over his jet-black, short hair that has little skulls and crossbones all over it. This doctor has fashion sense and a sense of humor. He’s blooming with vigorous good health; his skin is a gorgeous, reddish-cinnamon color and his dark brown, almost black eyes are tilted up a bit at the outer corners. He’s probably just three or four years older than my daughter, but I’m not too old to appreciate beauty when I see it. “I’m Dr. Melody, from orthopedics,” he says. What a fitting name, I think. Dr Melody. Like a song. He definitely is that. He sits on the rolling stool in front of me, which puts us almost eye-to-eye and knee-to-knee. His voice is soft, low, smooth and soothing. Women of all ages must faint dead away all around him in social settings. How could they not? My trance is broken when an even younger doctor in a short white coat and light blue scrubs squeezes in behind him and introduces herself. She’s clearly a medical student; she looks like a teen-ager. I find myself envying the fact that she gets to follow the gorgeous Dr Melody around all day. This is a teaching hospital, staffed with earnest students from the UC Davis medical school, so given his young age, Dr Melody is probably still a baby doc too. But it’s obvious he’s quite a lot further along in his schooling than she is. “Dr. W is still in surgery,” he says, “so I’m going to take a look at your hand for him. What happened here?” Once again I tell the story about how Logan bit me. He takes my hand in both of his (oh be still, my beating heart!) and examines it carefully, pressing a warm fingertip here and there. I catch my breath and bite my lip. “That hurts?” Yes, yes it does. Quite a lot, actually, but don’t mind me. “How about here?” he asks. Press. “A little.”

“OK,” he says, and releases my hand. It feels lonely. “I’m going to talk with Dr. W, but I don’t think you’ll need surgery.” Surgery!? No one said anythin’ about no stinkin’ surgery! “We do need to clean them out, though,” he continues, not noticing that all the blood has drained from my face. “Can you bend your fingers?” I demonstrate that I can (you don’t need to operate on my hand, you lovely young man. See? Everything still works!) but not without some serious discomfort and a little difficulty, mainly because they’re sore as boils and fat as hot dogs. “Canines have really dirty mouths,” he says. “Not as dirty as human mouths, but still. Since you’re taking immunosuppressant drugs for your RA, it’s not a surprise that the wounds got infected. Dogs’ teeth are coated with bacteria, and when they bite, they insinuate the bugs deep into the tissue. So the first thing we need to do is get those wounds as clean as we can. We’ll do a blood draw, too, and a start a culture. I’ll be back in a little while. Sit tight.” Dr Melody puts my hand back into the Betadine water. He and his med student shadow leave me. I’m twitterpated.

A mobile phlebotomist arrives with the paraphernalia of her profession: that ouchy rubber tourniquet; a little box of glass tubes and a strip of labels; needles in various gauges fitted with small, brightly colored butterfly-wing props. Ever the stoic, I greet her and smile. I’ve had so much blood drawn in the 22-plus years since I was diagnosed with RA, the prospect of having it done yet again doesn’t faze me. I do, however, really appreciate phlebotomists who’ve elevated their vampirish skills to the level of high art. The ones who can stick me just once, with a minimum of ouch, fill as many vials as they need and then withdraw the needle and tape a cotton ball over the puncture in practically one smooth, painless move make me very, very grateful. So grateful, in fact, that I’d like to call their supervisors over and rave about how exquisitely skilled they are, how efficient and friendly, how gentle and precise and obviously knowledgeable. They should get a raise or at least an extra large Christmas bonus. But since they’re all usually in a big hurry, with lots more leery patients to stick after me, I don’t. I just thank them, profusely and sincerely. As this one sits down across from me and lays her equipment out, I point to the inside of my right elbow. “That one works better,” I say. “You can see the veins. They’re easier.” She shakes her head and gives me a regretful look. “I can’t draw from the injured side,” she says. “I’m so sorry.” Darn. I offer my left arm for the sacrifice. She ties the tourniquet on over my bicep (I hate those things more than the damned needles, to be honest – they hurt!) and I make a tight fist without being asked. She taps the inside of my elbow with her navy-blue-gloved fingers. No veins show anywhere near the skin. Even before I gained weight, they didn’t; it’s like that arm has always been vein-free. Now I expect it’s even worse, although I’ve lost a lot of those extra pounds over the last year or so and my flabby arm is somewhat less chubby than it was. To her credit, she taps and taps from elbow to wrist, trying to find that hidden font of blood, but finally shakes her head. She turns my left hand palm down and gazes with triumph at the thin, snakelike veins standing up, like neat, narrow pipes, just beneath the thin skin on the back of my hand. “I’ll have to draw from here,” she says. “Sorry.” The backs of hands are a lot more tender and pain-sensitive than elbows, but at least the target is clearly visible. You’d have to work to miss it. “S’okay,” I sigh, steeling myself. She swipes the area with alcohol and slides the needle into the small, now-bulging vein just south of my “birding” finger. To my relief, I hardly feel it and silently give thanks to the Gods of Blood-Draws for sending me a skilled, graceful phlebotomist today. She slips a vial onto the needle and it starts filling. Slowly. “Hmm,” she says. “That’s pretty sludgy.” Lovely. I’ve had my blood refuse to show up out of shyness or stop, coyly, within 15 seconds of starting, but it’s never been sludgy before.  “The vial is filling,” I say hopefully. Please don’t stick me again? “The vein hasn’t collapsed, has it?” “Well, not yet.” I look up and see Dr. Melody standing in the door, watching. He leans down and looks closely. “Wow. I’ve never seen blood that sludgy,” he says. I want to ask how and why my blood is like this today, but I decide I really don’t want to know. Gloppy or not, it’s still my blood and the only supply I have on hand (pun intended. Forgive me?). The apologetic phlebotomist changes the now-full vial for another. Come on, I think. Just keep flowing. Don’t stop, please? Don’t make her stick me again. The flow is a dribble but it doesn’t stop, and finally, she’s done. Two vials are filled with dark maroon blood and labeled. Justlikethat she slips the needle out and does the cotton ball and tape thing. Not even a drop spilled. No pain. This young woman is a maestro. An expert. A true and gifted artist. I babble my thanks as she releases the tourniquet, gathers her stuff up and says good-bye.

Dr. Melody takes her place. I’m still babbling and he’s going to make it worse, so I shut my mouth…

I’ll write more later, if anyone is interested. I realize that a minute-by-minute account of my ER adventures probably aren’t as interesting to you as they are to me, so I’ve set up a special page for long posts, and I’ll move this one there in a couple of days.

It’s getting close to the time for the veterinarian’s visit to Logan. Writing has been a welcome distraction from the inevitable, but now I must prepare myself, and him. I’ll post later if I can. Hope this finds everyone feeling well and finding joy in life today. I’m doing my best.

6 thoughts on “Wren’s ER adventures

  1. Dear Wren,

    What riveting, amazing writing! I’d give you ten dollars for the line “taffy-like stretch of time.”

    The mark of good writing is when the personal becomes universal. You’ve got it, girl!

    I’m so sorry for this whole situation–especially your loss of Logan. I’ll be thinking of you and wishing you speedy healing on all fronts–hand and heart. And peace, too.




  2. I was fascinated right until the end! Even though I know how it works out (antibiotics for the infection, no surgery, etc.) I still want to read the rest of the story. Very engaging, descriptive writing. I, too, find writing to be a cathartic escape. Perhaps it will help after the vet visit, too. Sending you my best.


  3. Oh, I loved your story. I know it wasn’t a story-story, but it felt like one. More, please, when you’re ready to continue. 🙂


  4. That was wonderful! Felt like I was right there – you’re a terrific writer and I loo forward to the next installment (did you by any chance snap a photo of the intoxicatingly-sounding Dr. Melody??).

    So sorry about Logan. Thinking of you.


  5. Keep writing, Wren. It’s fascinating. So sorry about Logan. I can’t imagine how hard that must be for you… L


  6. Pingback: wren’s er adventures, part 2 « RheumaBlog

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