Thursday, 9 August 2018

Heart palpitations led to a trip to the hospital

On Saturday, I walked out the back of my building on the way to the bookshop and the shopping centre, and as I was walking across the park my heart stared to hammer with heavy beats interspersed with a regular rhythm. The irregularity of my heartbeat continued for a good minute or two and I was so concerned that I turned back. I started to feel light-headed.

Going back into the building I calmly went upstairs in the lift and entered my apartment. Seated at my desk, my palms sweating, I called triple-zero to summon an ambulance. An operator answered my call and asked me which serviced I required and I told her. When the ambulance operator answered and asked me where I was calling from, I told him and he then asked me a series of questions to ascertain the nature of the complaint. I confirmed my address and telephone number twice and told him I would go downstairs to the building’s lobby to wait for the ambulance to arrive.

In the lobby, I sat down in the armchair that is located there and waited with my hands resting on the chair’s arms. Within a minute, I started to hear a siren, and so I got up from my seat and went out the front doors onto the street. The ambulance came around the corner followed by a station wagon with ambulance markings. Both vehicles had their beacons flashing. The ambulance stopped further up on the road, and I walked to where it halted. The front door opened and a young woman with dark hair in a ponytail wearing a paramedic’s uniform got out onto the pavement. She said, “Are we here for you” and I said, “Yes.” She asked me my name and I told her, then she opened the back door of the vehicle,

As we stood there on the pavement she told me that there was a crew making a TV show about paramedics that was filming and asked if I minded being filmed. I told her it was ok. She brought down the folding steps. Inside on the seat a man sat with a video camera held to his face that was pointed at me and the paramedic. He got out of the vehicle holding the camera in his hand. The paramedic with dark hair told me to get inside.

I sat down in the chair the videographer had used and the paramedic got into the ambulance and started to ask me questions about what had happened, as well as details of medications that I take. She got me to open the top buttons of my shirt, and applied sticky pads to the skin so that she could connect me to the electrocardiogram machine mounted in the vehicle. She used a blue disposable razor – which she dropped on the floor, and picked up again – to remove hair from my chest so that the pads for the electrodes would stick to me.

The driver had come around in the meantime and she used a small device with a pin in it to put a hole in my finger so that she could take a reading of my blood sugar level. The pin pricked the skin at the end of the index finger on my right hand, and the driver used a strip of cardboard with a wicking element to sample the blood that appeared as a result. She saw the reading and told the paramedic with the dark hair what was displayed on the device with the cardboard strip attached to it. “Seven point nine,” she said.

Then she stood next to the ECG machine looking at the black display with its green wavy lines like little mountain ranges that moved across the screen from right to left. The lines represented my heartbeats and the first paramedic I had spoken with told me that everything was looking fine. A sheet of paper spooled out of the machine with wavy lines printed on it. I asked her if I could go but she said she wanted to take me to the hospital where they would be able to carry our more tests. She motioned for me to get onto a gurney that was installed in the back of the vehicle. I lay down facing the rear of the ambulance and she strapped me in with seat belts across my chest and legs. We started driving through the streets in the direction of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown.

When we arrived there, the driver opened the rear doors of the vehicle and the dark-haired paramedic manipulated the mechanism on the gurney and pulled it out onto the pavement in front of the building. She pushed the gurney around to a door where several more gurneys were lined up waiting for admittance. A number of paramedics were milling around the entrance. A woman with a uniform came over to me and asked me to fill out a form she gave me that was attached to a clipboard. A pen was attached to the clipboard by a cord.

I started filling out the form and at one stage had to get my mobile phone out of my pocket in order to find the phone number of an emergency contact in case it was needed.  I asked the paramedic if she could undo the strap across my chest so that I could move my arm, and she helped me but also said that I could fill out the form once I got inside. The driver used an automated blood-pressure machine to take my blood pressure (the other paramedic had already taken it while we were riding in the ambulance).

In any case, I did complete the form standing up by my bed just after the gurney I was on arrived in the emergency ward, and I had been installed in an unoccupied bay facing the middle of the large room. The form asked for your Medicare number as well as details of your private health insurance.

A nurse told me to take off my shirt and put on a hospital gown. I went to put it on the normal way you put on a shirt, with the opening at the front, but the nurse motioned with her hands and mouthed some words, making me understand that the opening had to go at the back. After putting the gown on I lay down on the hospital bed and soon people were busy connecting me to another ECG machine. The doctor came and started asking me questions about what I had been doing that morning, my medications, and about any history of illness in my family. He had short, orange-dyed hair and was in his early 60s and was slim. He wore a purple shirt and glasses.

The questions went on for a while and I answered them all, then he went away but came back to ask a few more things that had occurred to him. A nurse put a catheter in my left hand to take a blood sample. Later, another nurse, wearing a light-blue uniform, wheeled my bed through some nearby hallways to another room and made some X-rays of my chest. She got me to stand up, place my chest in front of a plastic-coated rectangular apparatus, and hold my breath while an image was made. She took one from the back and one from the side, with me using the same breath-holding procedure each time.

While I waited for the nurse to get ready to make the images, I watched her talking with another nurse wearing a different (dark-blue) uniform. The second nurse was also young and was also from an Asian background. My nurse soon returned to take me back to the ward, where she left me and I lay there for a long time waiting and scrolling through Twitter looking at recent messages. I made a couple of retweets and sent a Facebook message to a friend who I had agreed to meet the following morning.

The bay next to mine was soon filled by a Chinese woman who had heart problems, her husband, and someone I assumed was their son. The woman was born in 1937 and spoke in Mandarin and the Asian nurse who had connected me to the EGC machine came over to talk to the group, telling another nurse there that she spoke Chinese. The young, blonde nurse who was sitting there asked the Asian nurse what languages she spoke and she replied that her father was from Taiwan and her mother from Vietnam so she spoke Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese. And sign language. The blonde nurse was impressed and said so.

An orderly came around with a trolley that had food in triangular plastic packets sitting on it. One nurse told the orderly to come to my bed (bay four) and I was asked if I wanted a cheese sandwich or a beef-and-tomato sandwich. I chose cheese. She also asked me if I wanted some apple juice and I said, “No’ but she asked ma, “Are you sure you don’t want some apple juice?” and I assented. She handed me the two plastic packets and went away.

I watched the other people in the bays in the ward. Opposite me just to my left was a man in his sixties who at one point said to someone within my hearing that he had been in the Navy. He was wearing a hospital gown and had blankets covering him completely as he lay sleeping, before he awoke and ate a sandwich (cheese). To his right was a young man who had been shivering when I arrived but later woke up, and a young man wearing casual clothes arrived to visit him. This man worked on a laptop in his lap as he sat in his chair next to the bed. Next on the same side was a young woman in the bed who was sleeping. When I had arrived there had been a nurse sitting cross-legged on a chair next to her bed watching her sleep. Later, two policemen arrived to visit her.

To the left of the ex-Navy guy was an older man who had three family members visiting him during my stay. An orderly came over to his bed at one point and washed his hair. Another orderly came around each bay emptying the rubbish bins and putting refuse in plastic bags from the bins next to the beds into a canvas container that was set on wheels. He used a dustpan and a long-handled brush to sweep up things from the floor, which was mostly spotless.

Lying and waiting, I was visited by the same Asian nurse who spoke Chinese, and she connected me to an ECG machine again. It took her a while to get all the contacts to sit snugly on my skin so that an accurate reading could be taken. When she ripped a pad off my left ankle I said, “Ouch!” and she said, “Sorry mate” before putting a new pad there with one of the wired contacts attached to it. Not long after that the doctor came by and gave me a letter to give to my GP. He said they could see nothing wrong after all the tests but that I might want to have an ultrasound taken of my heart. He said if I needed help again I should come back.

A nurse came by who had a beard and he took the cannula out of my hand, undid the band that had been repeatedly taking my blood pressure, and took off the remaining ECG contacts. He told me I could go so I got up and put on my shirt and jacket, which had been put on the bed frame in the space behind the raised mattress. I couldn’t see my shoes so I asked another nurse who was standing there where they had been stowed. He activated a mechanism on the bed to raise it up and took my shoes out from beneath the mattress. He put them on the floor for me to put on my feet.

In the entrance I went to the toilet and remembered that I had forgotten the letter from the doctor and so I asked a nurse who was in the waiting room if she could help me get back in. Just as that moment someone came out of the automated doors to the ward pushing a wheelchair and the nurse I was addressing said, “It’s open” and I walked past the woman entering the lobby and went through the doors, then entered the emergency ward, passed by its front desk, walked by the two policemen who were still standing next to the young woman’s bed, and picked up the doctor’s letter that was sitting in its envelope on the bed. I put it in the pocket of my jacket then left the building and went to the street and hailed a cab, which took me home. The driver said nothing and we sat in silence listening to a radio station taking a signal from the south coast of NSW that was broadcasting club rugby league.

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