June 1, 2016. The headache that I woke up with yesterday had not subsided and woke me up at 12:51 A.M. I took more of Dad’s Extra Strength Tylenol and then vomited about 30 minutes later. The pain made it impossible to sleep and made me less than productive when I started working at 4:00 A.M. I attended one of my meetings but had to cancel the remainder of my meetings. At 7:00 A.M., I went back to bed.
My husband suffers from migraines, but I very seldom get headaches, so Mom was very concerned. She called her doctor’s office to see if I could see the doctor today, but they didn’t have any openings. We didn’t want to go to the emergency department, so his nurse suggested that Mom take me to an urgent care center. The one closest to the house opened at 9:00 A.M., and we were waiting in the car when they unlocked the doors.
After a short wait, Mom accompanied me to the examination room. After the doctor asked me a few questions and had me walk across the room, he told me that he suspected that I was having a stroke. After the events of the past year, this diagnosis seemed like a bad dream, and I hated that my mother had to hear it. The doctor said that the only way to conclusively diagnose a stroke would be to go to Scott & White, the very place that I had been trying to avoid. Before I left, the doctor handed me a couple of prescriptions for back pain and the headache. Because I was headed for the hospital, I didn’t want to take the prescriptions, but after the doctor all but insisted that I take them, I put them in my purse. After having spent $125 at the urgent care center, we drove a couple of miles to the Scott & White Emergency Department (ED). Dad had a doctor’s appointment this morning, so I told Mom to drop me off at the door and then go home and take care of Dad. If I had learned nothing else this past year, it was that once you walk through the door of the emergency department, you’re there for a few hours.
Unbelievably, the waiting room was empty. Two nurses triaged me and took me right to an examination room. Although this might seem like standard operating procedure (SOP), in my experience with this ED, triage was followed by a lengthy wait in the waiting room. Business must be slow on Wednesday mornings. What was SOP was the blood draw and urinalysis, followed by an hour wait for the test results. While I was waiting, my mother was escorted to the examination room. She and Dad had decided to reschedule his appointment so that she could be with me.
During our wait, the primary ED physician stopped by to tell me that I was in good hands because the ED resident was a neurologist. To my horror, the resident then told me that she was going to order a spinal tap. At that point, I told her that when I had been at the urgent care center, the doctor suspected that I was having a stroke. She was confused by that diagnosis and asked me if I knew how he reached that diagnosis. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but he had been concerned that my walk had been a little disjointed and unsteady. After watching me walk, she was a little skeptical, but she ordered a chest x-ray and a CT scan of my head. After another wait, she ordered a CT scan of my lungs and an x-ray of my head. I could practically hear the bill growing.
May is Stroke Awareness Month. If I had had my wits about me, I would have challenged the diagnosis of the urgent-care doctor. I had no facial drooping or difficulty with speech, and he didn’t check the strength of my arms. Mom had had a stroke on May 15, 2015, so I should have known better.
And then the woman with the traveling laptop entered the room to resolve my bill. After handing her my insurance card, she told me that I had a very good insurance plan for emergency care. My bill had come to $6,000.00 (approximately $1,000/hour), but my out-of-pocket portion was only $2,000.00 (gag). She started to say that if I were to be admitted, there would be some other process, but stopped midsentence and said that I would be admitted. When I asked why, she said that the doctor would return soon and she would tell me. After all of these tests and the pending admittance to the hospital, I wondered what the heck was wrong with me. When the doctor returned, she said that she was admitting me because I had pneumonia. I had spent a lot of time with someone who had had pneumonia twice during the past year, and I was pretty certain that I didn’t have a single symptom that would warrant that diagnosis.
Although I had dodged the spinal tap by bringing up the urgent care diagnosis, I cringed when she said that they needed to draw more blood for a blood culture—one draw from each arm, and they could not use the IV as a source. The worst thing that I inherited from Dad was his veins: we’re both terrible sticks. I told the nurse that she would have a difficult time getting more blood from me. After pooh–poohing me, she tried unsuccessfully to hit a vein in my right arm. She was about to try again when the resident returned, saying that they were not going to admit me. It seemed that I didn’t have pneumonia after all. She said that what they had thought was fluid in my lungs was my diaphragm. They realized their mistake when someone checked the CT scan of my chest.
The good news was that they were going to give me a nice IV cocktail of concoctions that would make my headache go away. Although I was grateful to get rid of the pain, I was not convinced that it wouldn’t return after all of the good drugs wore off. When I asked her if she had any idea what caused the pain, all she said that she doubted my assertion that I didn’t get headaches, which was hugely annoying.
After an hour, the liter of fluid and the good stuff that it contained had drained into my veins. I felt better and Mom took me home. Unfortunately, the good feeling wore off in about four hours.
I was the designated driver for our family-reunion trip to Midland on Friday, but Mom was now having second thoughts about the five-hour drive, and she suggested that we cancel our trip. I reluctantly canceled our hotel reservation and contacted one of my cousins to apprise her of our situation.
June 2. Fortunately, I had the prescriptions from the urgent care center, which we filled after breakfast. Because my pain had started in my head and extended down my back, the urgent care doctor had prescribed one medication to address the backache and another for the headache.
The prescribed pills seemed to do the trick, but they left me feeling stupid and sleepy, which made working almost impossible. I spent most of the day napping.
June 3. Peanut, our female cat, had been ill and Stan had dropped her off at the vet’s office for some tests. I called the vet this morning to get the results. Unfortunately, the news was not good. Peanut’s WBC count was elevated 10x above normal for cats. He said that he was pretty certain that she had bone marrow cancer, and she might also have cancer in her liver. He said that he’d call me Sunday morning before church with another update. During all the terrible times during Dad’s hospitalization, I had cried only once, and then it was for another patient. Maybe it was because of how I was feeling, but this news about our sweet cat was the tipping point for me, and I could not suppress my tears.
I quit taking the medication for my back, but I dipped into the headache meds as often as I could. I don’t know what prompted me to do it, but I pulled out Mom’s yoga mat and ran through some Pilates moves that have helped me in the past with back pain. Before the day was over, I had run through the routine two more times.
Because I had originally planned to be in Midland today, Stan had arrived last night so that he could spend the weekend with Dad. Although our family reunion plans were canceled for Mom and me, I was glad that Stan was here for me.
June 4. Stan relieved Mom today and took Dad to dialysis. He also picked him up at the end of his session, and the two guys ran some errands and retrieved Dad’s lawn mower from the repair shop.
While Stan and Dad spent the day on outdoor activities, I kept running through my Pilates routines and noticed that my headache and back pain had diminished significantly.
June 5. Note to self: the next time that I get a screaming headache and backache, try Pilates before seeking medical assistance. I had had some back problems in the past, but they had never started with a headache. Exercise and stretching were now my first option. When Mom and I went to church this morning, both my back and head were pain-free.
Now Mom, Dad, and I had all experienced the Scott & White Emergency Department. When I went to see my doctor in Houston a week later (as advised by the ED resident), she shook her head, rolled her eyes, and asked: “what kind of medicine are they practicing up there?” I had had the same thought.