Monday, September 1, 2014

Friday Night in the Emergency Room

After 29 years without allergies, my body seems to be having a negative reaction to America. When I was visiting my parents in June, I discovered I’d developed hay fever when I returned from bike rides every day with swollen, itchy eyes. But that minor inconvenience has been replaced with a far worse allergy, the source of which has yet to be determined.

When I awoke on Friday morning to find my body covered in angry, red hives, I hightailed it to the doctor’s office. The doctor was suitably impressed, but had no solid answers as to what had caused them. She ordered a blood test and instructed me to avoid nuts, shellfish, and MSG until the results came back. I mostly followed her advice, lunching on salmon in hoisin sauce that was probably MSG-free and then dedicating my afternoon to making two peanut butter pies for my sister’s birthday party that evening.

Stephie’s birthday dinner went off hive-free, but sometime around midnight, the dreaded bastards  made their return. In under ten minutes, an army of hives had invaded my body and started climbing up my chin. The doctor had told me to come back in if they spread to my face, and I wasn’t particularly eager to find out what happened if they reached my mouth and my throat started closing up, so it was off to the ER for Stephie and me.

Prior to Friday evening, most of my knowledge of Washington State hospitals had come from the first few seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. The writers obviously didn’t do much research—the patients who frequent the St. Joseph’s emergency room are all varying degrees of criminally insane and likely make up half of Bellingham’s homeless population. This was a discovery Stephie and I made approximately five seconds after the nurse checked me in and we’d found two vinyl-covered chairs not far enough away from a male (Daniel) and two females (Esther and Skyler) who were bonding over their levels of drunkenness. Esther, a blonde with a messy ponytail and a blood alcohol content that was probably higher than her ability to count, turned to me.

Esther [eying my blue hoodie emblazoned with the word “Italia”]: Are you from Italy?
Me: No.
Esther: Then why are you wearing that sweatshirt?! You’re disrespecting Italians!
Skyler: Maybe she’s been to Italy.
Esther: Who does she think she is?! I’ve never even seen her here before!

I was too tired from all the Benadryl I’d taken to formulate a response, though I don’t think anything would have lessened her desire to start an ER brawl. Stephie, meanwhile, edged farther away and advised me not to make eye contact with anyone.

I suspect she was hoping I’d go into anaphylactic shock—anything to get us away from the dangers of the waiting room. There was a woman clutching a dog whose arm was a latticework of blood, which she draped on the table, not much noticing or caring about the trail of hepatitis she may be leaving in her wake. A man exhibiting stroke symptoms came in, announcing that he’d walked over two miles to get there. A young man across from us couldn’t stop shaking, and Stephie eyed him suspiciously until he moved to a new seat.  It may have helped that she kept whispering to me, “I have mace in my purse if we need it.”

Meanwhile, Esther was becoming increasingly impatient to be seen. After checking the Washington State lottery results via speaker phone (alas, she did not win), she started chatting up a woman who was crying inconsolably.

Esther: Hey, lady! Why are you crying?
Woman: I’m just really emotional right now. I don’t really want to talk about it.

Esther lost interest, but Skyler jumped in where Esther had left off. “I used to be violently angry. I’d beat up my brother and grandmother. But then my grandmother was hospitalized and I realized, ‘I can’t be like this!’”

Too confused by the tale to continue crying, the woman just stared at Skyler blankly, which Skyler took as an opportunity to wrap her in a hug. Shockingly, the woman didn’t pull away—I guess she was less fearful that Skyler was carrying a concealed weapon or MRSA than I was. Meanwhile, Esther was showing off her staph infection to anyone who was foolish enough to look at her.

“Maybe you should tell the triage nurse that your throat is closing up,” Stephie suggested.

By 3:30am, the waiting room had thinned out until even Esther had disappeared. Each time a nurse came out, Stephie and I would jerk our heads up eagerly, then slump down in disappointment when a name other than mine was called.

“Daniel?” A pretty, young nurse had come out to the waiting room and was looking around for Esther’s overdrunk friend, who had stepped out for a smoke break. She approached a man who wasn’t Daniel. “What’s your name?”

Misunderstanding what she was getting at, he gave her a lascivious grin. “What’s your name?”

She shook her head in disdain. “I’m just looking for a patient.”

At 4am, a nurse finally called me back.  As Stephie and I had already surmised, I was in no danger of dying, but I was miserable enough to be given a prescription for steroids. Unfortunately, I still don’t know what the cause of my reaction was, so there’s a non-negligible chance this could all be repeated when I return to Moscow next week.  I’m really hoping that’s not the case—there’s no way I would survive an encounter with Esther’s Russian counterpart...or maybe that’s what the steroids are for.

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