Sunday, October 4, 2009
A trip to the ER
I've been told that I have a high threshold for pain.
Well, I shattered that ceiling into 18 million pieces on Friday night when the pain in my mug and my head became just too much to bear and my routine Extra-Strength Liquid Tylenol remedy couldn't make it go away and let me get some sleep.
To make things worse, I got a good look in the mirror and saw that my facial muscles were really wreaking havoc on my appearance.
I was tempted to blame this all on the full moon, but in an email to a friend I mentioned that I was considering going to the emergency room. My friend, who is something of a wise guy but also genuinely wise, replied, "If your body is telling you go to the ER, don't ignore it."
So early Saturday evening I threw my things together and drove to the emergency room at Kaiser Sunset.
I was expecting to walk into a room filled with wailing babies, weekend athletes with sports injuries, a gunshot victim or two, and Kaiser patients using the ER for treating conditions best addressed by their regular doctor. I expected a long, miserable wait and nearly tossed a blanket and a pillow into my backpack before leaving the apartment to go to the hospital.
Instead, practically no patients were sitting in the emergency room when I arrived, and there was no one in line ahead of me. I sailed through the check-in process and the following station, where I handed a note explaining my condition to a Kaiser clerk. And less than a minute after picking a seat in the waiting area, I heard my name called.
A nurse in Winnie-the-Pooh scrubs led me to a room where she took my vitals, and asked me how severe my pain was on a scale of 1 to 10 (I told her 9, because I think 10 should be reserved for women in labor).
Minutes later, the nurse led me to a private exam area, handed me a gown, and told me to change out of my street clothes and wait for the doctor.
About 15 minutes passed before the attending ER doctor arrived, but I think that was because he was reviewing my electronic medical chart, which has expanded to Dickensian length over the past year.
After Dr. Schoeman asked me questions about how I was feeling, he tried to pry open my mouth with a tongue suppressor, with little success. He said he saw in my chart that I had been seen by the Head and Neck Department earlier in the week, and would be having my first appointment in Maxillofacial Surgery on Monday. And then he said he would try to get in touch with Dr. B1 to let them know that my pain had suddenly escalated and to ask his advice.
He didn't reach Dr. B1 but was able to speak with another doctor in the Head and Neck Department. They decided that the best thing to do was to give me a prescription for pain and release me.
I was happy with that. I was even happier that the ER adventure —from the time I left the apartment to the time that a pharmacist handed me my prescription— took less time than the average wait for a table at Cheesecake Factory.
The prescription is for acetaminophen —the same ingredient used in Tylenol— boosted with codeine. I'm leery of taking any drug that is celebrated in a Rolling Stones lyric ("Torn and Frayed," 1972), but the codeine does seem to dull the pain and make it possible to sleep.
Monday after work, I'll be taking a new step in this adventure: seeing what the Maxillofacial Surgery Department can do for me.
I know I should try to shave to look as presentable as possible for the office tomorrow. But frankly I don't have the courage to spend any more time staring into the mirror and besides, the surface of my facial skin right now goes places where no razor can follow.
Don't know what Lon Chaney would do in my situation. I'm just going to keep taking my meds and hope that Maxillofacial Surgery has a miracle or two up its sleeve.