Emergency Room

One week ago I was in the emergency room.

I woke up early in the morning feeling terrible. I tried to go back to sleep, but it didn’t work out so well. My chest felt really tight and it was hard to breathe, so I took my inhaler. This isn’t totally unheard of for me in the winter months, so I was just bummed that it happened on a work day.

When I actually had to get up I felt worse and worse. I had to position my body in certain ways to avoid pain. I started to have a “shooting star” aura, which always means an awful migraine. Basically I grabbed all the medications that I might possibly need and went to work hoping it was just a migraine, nothing worse.

But I started having increasingly intense bouts of chest pain. I took my inhaler again and did some of my jobs at work sitting down, since it hurt less if I wasn’t moving. Unfortunately, in my capacity as a caterer, there isn’t a lot you can do sitting down, especially carting tons of food and chafing dishes across campus to Mordor (yes, we call the furthest campus building Mordor. Because no one wants to go there, but we have a duty to do it anyway).

So by the time I got my cart to the base of the hill, I knew this wasn’t going to work out. The chest pain was getting worse and I couldn’t breathe properly anymore. By the time I got up the hill, I was literally sobbing for breath. I called my nurse mother and she told me I should go to the ER or urgent care.

I told my boss where I was going and she was great about it. I walked into the emergency room and said, “I’m having chest pains,” and they wouldn’t let me say anything else until I was lying in a bed hooked up to a blood pressure cuff and one of those finger pulse things.

See, I’m used to this whole shindig by now. A doctor came in with a computer cart, and I knew what it was before he could say “12 lead EKG.” He started to explain, so I explained that I’ve had several before. They hooked up an I.V. and I nearly had heart failure because I don’t like needles or things going into my arm or the inside of my wrists being exposed. They had to leave the I.V. hook up in there the whole time I was in the ER, which turned out to be 6 hours. 

Then the main doctor came in, and his scribe was a friend of mine from college! That was really awesome because I know no one at the hospital and they hadn’t let my roommate come back yet. So it was God’s provision that there was a friendly face there.

At this point I felt kind of stupid because the chest pains had receded somewhat. But when the doctor asked if I had any pre-existing conditions and I finally made it to essential thrombocythemia, he was encouraging about my decision to come in. See, one of the main problems for me right now is that I’m a high risk for clotting, and chest pain and shortness of breath could both point to a blood clot in my lungs.

I had to have an X-Ray and a CT scan and a lot of blood tests. Also, a doctor who looked like Santa Clause came in with a paramedic in training to give me a nebulizer treatment. When they put it on me, my roommate (She’s fantastic–I know for a fact she had better things to do with an entire Saturday then listen to my lame hospital jokes for 6 hours, but she did it anyway) said that I looked like Darth Vader. The doctor was a bit shocked, until I started laughing. Then he cupped his hands over his mouth and said, “I am your father!” So that was nice.

Also, my incredible boss came to the hospital, even though it was her day off, and sat with me for pretty much the whole time I was there. Whose boss is that amazing? I don’t know. I just know that God has richly blessed me.

All in all, it was an eventful day. It turned out that when I was diagnosed with and treated for bronchitis two weeks before, I didn’t actually get better. I had this thing called a bronchial spasm, which apparently means that my bronchioles got tired of being the size they were and decided to shrink up a bunch, and then my asthma wanted in on the action so I had a pretty bad asthma attack on top of the spasm.

So no blood clots, no heart attacks, no strokes, and no overnight stay. My platelets have even gone down a little since my last test, which is nice. Actually, this is what happened:
Doctor: “Your platelets are at about 800,000.”

Me: “Oh, good, that’s low.”
Doctor: “Obviously that’s really high.”
We stop and stare at each other.

Doctor: “Because of your ET.”

Me: “It was over a million last month, so…”

Finally they said I could leave, and they gave me prescriptions for things to, a.) clear up the bronchitis, and b.) keep me breathing in the meantime. I was watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at this point, because why not? When the nurse came back to take out my I.V., he did it blind because he was too busy watching Harry navigate the mysteries of Platform 9 3/4, which was impressive and terrifying at the same time. I don’t care how many I.V.s you’ve taken out in your life, I would still like you to watch what you’re doing as you take out mine, sir.

So that was my weekend, my Saturday in the ER. I haven’t written about it until now because I didn’t really know what to say. It was a horrible experience. I’ve had bad asthma attacks before, once while I was mountain hiking in Colorado (combining a scary health incident with my overwhelming fear of depths). But since finding out about the ET, I have to adjust the way I think about things. 

I know what to do if I have an asthma attack. I don’t really know what to do when I have a bunch of symptoms that might be an asthma attack or might be a life-threatening blood clot. There’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety involved for me. Should I go to the ER? Is it nothing? What if it’s nothing and everyone thinks I’m stupid for going? What if I don’t go and I drop dead (in Mordor–wouldn’t that be ironic)? What if I go and I get saddled with a giant medical bill that I can’t pay? What if I default on the bill and I end up in debtor’s prison like Little Dorrit?

Obviously that’s extreme. And things worked out pretty well for Little Dorrit, anyway, so I probably shouldn’t worry so much. At the end of the day it comes back to the fact that I’m not good at trusting God.

I did what I needed to do. I’m okay and I wasn’t stupid for going to the ER. That’s not the point, though. The point is that when things like this happen I internalize them and deal with them on my own. I don’t take them captive to Christ. I try to carry it all myself because I’m afraid or uncertain or because I know that I don’t deserve to have help.

I don’t.

I never will. But God sent His Son to help anyway.

The physical and emotional hurt of being sick has been a very heavy burden for the past few weeks. The bronchitis and the asthma are making it difficult to sleep, which triggers more migraines. I’m scared and I’m exhausted and I’m fighting bitterness. But that’s not who I am. God is healing me of that. He’s taking away my illness’s power to tempt me from being the person He intended me to be. He’s healing the pain that keeps me self-focused, that tells me to rest in my strength instead of His. He is there, and He is sufficient.

One of my favorite hymns, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” ends with this verse:

“Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.”

And the Bible says:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1

Amen and amen.


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