Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Are You In Pain?

It’s funny how quickly you can fall off the edge of the Earth.

In my case, it only took 12 hours to go from business as usual to a 103 degree temperature that fought back against anything I threw at it: the usual pain relievers, cold compresses, cool baths. Every time I thought I’d managed to gain some ground, the thermometer would put the lie to it.

And I say falling off the Earth because to me, the worst thing about these sorts of illnesses isn’t necessarily the discomfort and increasing nausea that operate in sync with the rising temperature, as awful as that is. It’s the general air of unreality that takes over. You watch people going about everyday things and can’t figure out why or how they manage it. Commercials for food make no sense. There’s a foggy windscreen between you and what you think you remember the world is like. It all becomes so alien that you wonder if you’ll ever understand it again.

And all you want is to understand it again, desperately.

If this seems a little melodramatic for a run-of-the-mill viral infection, I apologize. I can be stoic about these things sometimes. But this just felt so different, so awful, in fact, that I managed to reach the bargaining with God stage during the trip to the Emergency Room. Just get me through this and I’ll stop eating crap, I’ll exercise more, I’ll pay better attention to my health, which seems paradoxical when you consider that another part of you only wants to get back to the place where fatty and greasy foods look appealing again.

I was in no shape to visit my regular doc, so he thought I should pay a visit to the closest Emergency Room which, thankfully, isn’t far. A neighbor did the driving, as neither she nor the wife thought I should be behind the wheel, and I agreed.

If you’re hip to the ER trip, you know how it can feel like the ultimate bureaucratic nightmare. Each step, from the Check-In, to the Triage, to actually getting seen, takes forever and moves in the slowest of incremental steps. In a way, when you finally do get a room it’s even worse as you get hooked up to a saline drip and lose any mobility you had. Which means the only entertainment you have is reading and rereading the one sign in the room. In this case it was a small poster that asked, in a concerned font:


Beneath was a series of faces, not unlike the infamous Mr. Yuk! of poison warning fame. The first was a smiling face, but then the faces grew progressively more agitated until the one at the end looked ready to call it a day. The idea is that you can point to the face that most closely reflects your own pain situation, so that the doctor can suggest the proper pain management. If anyone had asked me, I would have borrowed a felt-tip pen and drawn little x’s over the eyes of that last unfortunate.

Of course, the sobering thing about the long wait inside is that you become acquainted with the sounds of the other patients who are much worse off than you. The shockingly skinny woman whose diarrhea won’t stop and so they lay down absorbent padding underneath her. She says something about the Oxycontin not working any more. The yelling from another room during an exam, as the nurses say, "We haven’t even done anything yet!" and you pray that you’ve got a few years before you end up in that room. The easy camaraderie between some of the patients and nurses that suggests that these visits are fairly frequent.

Am I in pain?


But not as much as them. And maybe not as much as you.

So maybe I’ll stop complaining for now.


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