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Sunday, 8 September 2019

Back in the hospital again

On the Wednesday in the last week of August, a week after the previous hospital visit (see post for Sunday 25 August), I had returned the Holter monitor to the pathologists’ at the GP clinic and had come home to eat breakfast. My heart started going fast and I called an ambulance. When the guy arrived I recognised him as he had come about three weeks previously on a similar call. As before, this time he had come on his motorbike, and he carried two bags up in the lift from the street.

Smithy (one of the ambos who came to help me a couple of days alter told me his name) pasted my skin with contacts and plugged the leads into the electrocardiogram (ECG) machine he had in one of his bags, then printed out the results, which were normal. He said it was fine now but asked whether I wanted to go to the hospital. I told him about the week before and he got me to sign a form to say I didn’t want to go to the hospital, then he asked me about the new hotel planned for the casino – we could see the skyline of the city out the eastern windows in the apartment – and I explained to him that a new tower would partly block the view from my place.

After he left I sat down to the computer and then a bit later ate a sandwich I had bought in the morning from the café next to the light rail station. When I had finished eating my heart was thumping heavily in my chest (but not going fast) and then I felt a stabbing pain in my abdomen where the lower intestine is, on the right-hand side. An echoing pain appeared in my chest on the right-hand side and I felt the same thing a few moments later. This kept going for a minute or two then subsided, but came back again about five minutes later. I had a heavy feeling in my chest on the left-hand side. I called triple zero again.

The ambos who came this time were in a team, and one of them, the tall one, asked me some questions as the other one (who was shorter and had a beard and grey hair) connected me to the ECG monitor. This ambo took a blood sample with a pinprick to check my blood-sugar levels while the other guy talked to me about my history of heart problems. It was two hours since the first ambo had come. The short ambo asked me about dad’s ensign which is framed and hanging on the wall behind my couch. I explained what an ensign is and how it had been used at the back of the sailing club’s tender during races on weekends.

The ECG printout showed that nothing was wrong but the tall ambo said it was a good idea to go to the hospital because and ECG might not tell the whole story about the heart, so I got ready with my keys and jacket. The short ambo got hold of my medications from the entertainment cabinet, where they had been sitting, and put them in my green satchel, into which I had already put a phone charger. I also had an umbrella in there just in case it rained. We went down in the lift.

Outside, the short ambo was still talking about sailing and I said that I had sailed in my youth but had stopped. The tall ambo asked me what I did and when I said I write he said that he could never do that. I got in the ambulance. The tall ambo strapped me into the seat and sat down opposite me with a ruggedized laptop on which he tapped away while we drove to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. When we got there at just on 1.15pm I walked inside and sat down in a seat while the tall ambo told a nurse about my case. I had to correct some details in his delivery and he asked me a few additional questions while we were in the hallway. Then they took me into the resuscitation ward.

The tall ambo got a chair for me to sit down and he placed it next to a security guard. A young woman who was sitting nearby, in another seat, was complaining about being given medications that she said didn’t agree with her, and added that she wanted to go out to smoke a cigarette. A nurse came over to her and explained that in her condition – she was agitated and very vocal – they wouldn’t be able to let her go outside. She agreed to calm down and spoke in Greek to a woman sitting beside her when the nurse, a man, went away.

A different nurse came over to me and took me to a bed in the ward where I lay down before she connected me to an ECG. Then when that had been done they took me next-door to the emergency department. I lay down on another bed. A young woman who appeared to be aged in her twenties was lying in the bed to my left. She was covered by a blanket and I heard someone say that she had had a seizure. The woman’s brother came in later, talked to her, and went back out of the ED. He bought some food from McDonald’s and came back and gave it to her. She ate the food sitting up in her bed. He sat down in a chair in the ED to wait.

A doctor who introduced himself as Dr Chin came to see me and I answered some questions he asked. Soon, a small Asian woman came and took me to get an X-ray done. This would be done in a room near the ED and, when the woman started to move my bed, I said I could walk. She asked the ED nurse if this was ok and the latter said it was, so I got up onto my feet. In the room where an X-ray was installed I had to take off my jacket and shirt to get the thing done. Then when that procedure was over at 2.24pm I came back to the ED and, once I was back on my bed, at 2.45pm a nurse put a cannula in my arm at the elbow and took some blood for testing. A couple of minutes later I heard the PR system announce, “Doctor Chin to resusc bed two.”

To my immediate right in a bed lay an old lady who had fallen over in the street due to low blood sugar and low blood pressure. She was aged 89 and the police had taken her dog back to her place. A man who might have been her son or brother was standing next to her bed and he said, “I might bring you back to our place for a bit.” They were talking about Smackos, but I wasn’t following the conversation closely. At 2.53pm I heard a nurse say to the old woman, “We’re going to move you upstairs to our short-stay area. It’ll be quieter there.” The nurse who spoke to her about the planned change of location told her she looked good for an 89-year-old.

A little later I saw one of the ambos who had brought me into the RPAH. It was the short one with the beard and grey hair. At 2.57pm I felt my heart beating heavily but not fast and I mentioned this to one of the nurses. I started talking about the cardiologist and other things and she cut me short, saying, “If it becomes pain let us know, ok?” An Aboriginal woman named Melissa who was accompanied by a nurse holding an intravenous drip was ushered into a wheelchair near the ward’s door and was then moved to another part of the building.

At 3.09pm I saw the other ambo who had brought me, the tall one. By 3.45pm the ED was much quieter. A man with psoriasis was wheeled, on a bed, past my bed. He was lying on his stomach. A man in a black suit bumped fists with the security guard who had been in the resusc ward when I was there, then they split up and went separate ways.

A nurse came up to the bed in which the young woman who had had a seizure was lying and spoke to an older Asian man as he took hold of it. “She’s going to EMU, Brian,” she said, referring to the emergency medical unit. Not long after this I saw the bearded, grey-haired ambo again. A nurse came to my bed and took my blood pressure, my temperature, and my pulse. “Everything looks good,” she said when this was all done. The other nurse came up to me and started to move her hand to my wrist strap, saying, “We’re going to go up to ... Oh sorry not you.” She meant that someone would now be moving the woman who was in the bed to my right.

Later, another elderly woman was moved to that berth in the ED. “You’re covered aren’t you?” asked a middle-aged woman standing next to her bed. “You’ve got ambulance cover?” It was 4.29pm by this time. The old woman’s name was Maria and she was Greek. She had had dizziness as well as pain in her leg over previous few days. The ambo who spoke to the nurse about Maria was named Rowan. “ECG was unremarkable,” he said, but he said the woman had a long list of chronic health problems including hypertension and high cholesterol levels.

A social worker who looked like Tilda Swinton spoke to an old woman in a bed two beds to my left. This woman had been crying earlier, and had then been moved to a new berth. A nurse had been trying to find out where she lived and it appeared that she couldn’t remember her address. From across the ward I had watched this poor woman trying to get her left arm into the sleeve of her jacket, her face crumpled under the influence of anxiety or despair, it was hard to tell which. She looked very alone.

At 4.39 Dr Chin came to see me and told me I could go home. He gave me a letter for my GP and shook my hand. As the nurse came to take the cannula out of my elbow, a woman in a grey suit came up to the frail, old woman lying now in the bed to my immediate left, whispering urgently, “Mum, mum. I’m here.” As I got up and started to walk out of the ED I heard her saying, “Matt’s on his way.” She was bent over the old woman holding her hand. I walked to the lobby and used the toilet then walked outside and went to the cab rank. I was home by 5.02pm.

Two days later I saw my GP and he said that the Holter monitor result showed no problem with my heart. The range of its beating during the monitoring period was within normal boundaries. There was one ventricular ectopic beat during the 24-hour period. Later that same day I saw my cardiologist and he said the same thing: there was no problem with my heart. That was on the Friday. On Saturday I lay down after lunch to have a nap and had palpitations again that didn’t go away when I got up to sit at my desk. I called an ambulance and even though the ambos monitored my heart lying in bed the symptoms didn’t recur when they were in my bedroom. I let them go.

The following week on the first Tuesday in September, I saw my psychiatrist and he said he thought getting me on a new medication would fix the problem. He gave me a script which I took to the pharmacy to fill, then went home, but I would be back in the hospital again the very next day.

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