Monday, January 06, 2014

An Emergency That (Probably) Wasn't....

Every writer knows that there is a multitude of factors that can get in the way of writing; or, conversely, play a part in furthering the practice of the craft. There's the infamous writer's block that I struggle with from time to time. Then there is the computer meltdown that struck at me a few weeks back, when the CPU of my desktop started sounding like a coffee-grinder, striking fear into my ageing heart that the machine would soon be a smoking heap of metal and plastic bits on my workbench.

I'd had that experience once, happily indirectly, when I went to a class at Carleton University here in Ottawa. The class was one in a series of 8-week courses given by the university for old folks like me, called - diplomatically - "Learning In Retirement". It seems that a cooling fan on the classroom computer had seized up and the unit caught fire. The stench of burning materials was both impressive and oppressive, and almost certainly toxic. The class was delayed, and when it did commence, the doors and windows were kept open, to minimise the possible damage to the assembled throng.

A vision of that happening in my apartment was impressive enough that I turned off the machine and called in a repair crew. Unhappily, it meant that I missed my posting that day. I have since taken action to ensure that a similar roadblock will not recur. I have two functioning computers now, the newly-refurbished desktop humming quietly away with a new power unit; and a wireless HP laptop, almost brand new, on which I do most of my writing.

The most recent disruption in my writing routine took place on Friday afternoon, just after lunch. I had started my day more or less as usual, with a perusal of the New York Times Opinion page online, and the printing off of the various articles I wanted to read. After that I went upstairs to my "gym" - a spare bedroom full of exercise equipment - and had an hour's workout, taking care not to aggravate the back injury I incurred some many weeks ago, slinging snow tires into the trunk of my Mustang. ( I am still taking physiotherapy for that.)

I have been working on a short story, which is family-related and not strictly a mystery yarn - well, aren't all families mysteries, really? - and the story's getting to a stage where it is almost readable by some lucky second party. I pulled the story onto the screen of my laptop, and commenced to think and write. But there was a problem. An important part of the screen was occluded by a "light-show" that I quickly decided was located in the vision field of my left eye. The light-show consisted of an oval of jagged bright lights, mostly white, but with some blue and red mixed in. Drawing on my considerable medical knowledge (gained mostly from the internet) I did what any skilled practitioner would do - I rubbed the eye with my thumb, and tried again to read the on-screen text. Unhappily, with no good result.

I got up and walked around my apartment, now and then opening and closing my left eye to see if there was any change. There wasn't. The light-show persisted. After ten minutes of this my mind went into overdrive. What the heck - "hell", actually - was going on? I took my pulse. Twice. It was normal, which for me is about 50. (Pretty good for a 74-year old; all that gym work, you understand.) My next thought was that this interesting light-show might be the prelude to a stroke. Such things do happen; my father died of a stroke, his brother died in the same way, and their father - my grandfather and namesake - also died of a stroke. It was a possibility I could not blithely dismiss. So, my next action was to change into street clothes - I tend to lounge around my apartment in sweatpants and sweatshirts - in case I had to make a dash to the hospital.

As I live in a province in a country with a national health-care system, I had the option of calling a government hotline, Telehealth Ontario, which has a "1-866" number. Within a very few minutes I was speaking with a nurse who opened a file for me, took down all the necessary information, and then provided advice. Get someone to drive me to a medical centre and consult with a doctor. I phoned Suzanne, who was actually driving not far from my apartment building. In ten minutes she was at my front door. My personal physician being unavailable, we went to a walk-in clinic. Within fifteen minutes I was examined by a doctor who suggested I might have a detached retina. He dismissed the likelihood of a stroke - or a TIA, for "Transient Ischemic Accident" - and gave me a referral to the Ottawa General Hospital's Emergency Department.

By now, the light-show was long gone, having departed the scene as suddenly as it arrived. It had lasted about 15 minutes.

So, it was off to the OGH-ED, and into the line-up for examination. Anyone who has been to an Emergency Department knows that they are almost always crowded. Unless you are having a screaming fit and frothing at the mouth, or carrying a severed limb over your shoulder, you have to get in line, and go through the triage system. (The battlefield association is inescapable.) So, I did that. First off I gave my referral paper to a receptionist. Then I sat down for a while and surveyed the people around me. Interesting the people you see in Emergency. Just like everywhere else, in fact. Just folks. Fifteen minutes later I was paged to go to Registration. I did that, and was fitted with a computerised wristband.

Then I sat and surveyed some more. Another twenty-or-so minutes went by. Then I was paged to go to a room with a nurse (unhappily, not the exceptionally pretty one in blue scrubs I had been admiring) to have my heart rate, blood pressure and temperature taken, and to be asked if I had any other symptoms, which I did not. The nurse expressed surprise at my heart rate; it was now 48. As diplomatically as she could, she suggested that this was impressive for someone as old as I am.

"Not that I'm suggesting that 74 is old, you understand, but, you know, 48! Wow! That's really good."

And then it was back to more sitting and waiting.

Thirty minutes later I was paged again and this time went with a small cohort of fellow patients to the ED's inner sanctum where the physicians and speciality nurses predominate. I was now in Nurse Jackie territory and wishing Edie Falco was there to hustle things along. She wasn't, and things didn't. I was the last one of my cohort to get to see a doctor.


(By now, Suzanne had returned to the hospital to check on my progress, and to bring me a book to read, a newspaper to peruse, and a crossword to solve. And her magic iPhone, so I could reassure my daughter, for whom I had earlier left a message, that I was not yet at death's door, or even in the neighbourhood.)

The ED doctor was careful, efficient and attentive. He was willing to discuss my "internet-self-diagnosis" of a TIA and to assure me that I was not about to have a stroke. (Which outcome, 72 hours after the initial fact, I have not had.) He tested my vision, thought about my symptoms, and told me that I had what looked like a migraine; although never having had a migraine before, having my first at age 74 is very unusual. So he concluded, in anticipation of more testing that will be scheduled for this week, that I had what he called a "migraine equivalent". Taking note of my propensity to consult the internet, he told me I could Google the term. I just did, and this is what I found:

Migraine variant (or migraine equivalent) is the term applied to a migraine that exhibits itself in a form other than head pain. Such conditions are less recognized, less common, and less well understood than the typical migraines (both without and with aura) that usually affect children and young adults.

So, maybe that's what it was. I await the further testing. And in the meantime back working on my family-mystery-related short story.

To sum up, it's instructive, and also gratifying, to be involved with a very busy and highly-expert medical system, such as we are privileged to enjoy in Canada. Sure, there are lineups and the system is overburdened, and mistakes are made, and it's expensive, and people fall through the cracks now and then, and it's hardly perfect. But, really, what I will say is that I was impressed, and felt that I was being looked after, and that the people who examined me, really did care about the outcome. And how much did this all cost me? Directly, not one cent. It's the way we do things up here in the Great White North, land of eternal snows, and frequently really bad weather.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

1 comment:

Carol N Wong said...

I have had a computer make that grinding noise before, just before it bit the dust. The technician who looked it pronounced my computer DOA.

I have been having lots of TIAs but never a detached retina. Hope that it has been fixed.