This next story is one of the strangest of my life, but not actually the first time I’ve been to the E.R. The first time I was a year and a half old and I have no memory of it. The next time I was four or five. The next time after that I was a few years older and I had fallen off a bicycle and needed stitches.
This time, it was the second day of classes in my last semester of law school. At least, that was what was on the calendar. At about 7:00 a.m., I woke up sick to my stomach. I went to the bathroom and relieved myself and immediately felt worse. A tight vice grip of pain clamped on my chest and I vomited. After I vomited, the pain got worse. I started sweating profusely and my shirt and hair looked wet. The pressure was bizarre and crippling. I lay on the floor in the bathroom trying to stretch out and get air to my lungs and prayed for some sort of relief, even if it meant more vomiting to stop whatever was ailing me. I’m not a drinker or a smoker and I don’t do any street drugs. I wasn’t on any medication at the time for anything. I was fit as a fiddle, but at the moment I thought I was experiencing cardiac arrest. My wife came in the bathroom to see what all the fuss was about. I stammered I couldn’t breathe and had severe chest pain. We decided it was best to call 911.
When you admit you need to call 911, a strange change takes place in your mind. The question: am I going to die? I wasn’t particularly afraid of that question as much as I was disappointed and frustrated by not knowing what was wrong with me. I had seen a doctor several years earlier for an irregular heart beat and difficulty breathing. He said those things were more likely associated with fatigue and stress as related to my increase in responsibilities as a married student working part time and soon to have children. My hypochondria got the worst of me as I waited for the ambulance. When you hear the siren, it’s awkward to realize its coming for you. The EMTs got me on a gurney and hooked me up to a monitor and started giving me oxygen. The chest pain was still immense. A litany of questions about my habits. Just a young father in law school that plays club sports. Another urge to vomit. I yakked into a bucket. This time, the pain in my chest began to subside. I could breathe more normal and didn’t feel the pressure in my chest as much. My heart beat was erratic and didn’t show signs of stabilizing. An IV with aspirin. Time to go, I express my love to my wife and tell my oldest child not to worry. Bless their poor hearts seeing their husband/father wheeled out on a gurney.
The emergency room. Lots of testing without much explanation from the doctors about what our objective was once I was in there. Chest X-Rays to look for clots or other abnormalities. The X-ray tech had the nerve to ask me how I was doing. “I’m on a gurney,” was my reply. Blood tests. Waiting and watching my heart skip beat after beat after beat on the monitor. It was even more unsettling to feel my heart skip beats in my chest. I don’t know how long I laid there and waited. It felt like waiting for Caesar to show his thumb up or down. To my surprise, in walk two friends from my church. It was comforting to see them. Apparently, my wife had been on the phone looking for help with everything that comes with having children at home and husband in the E.R. I explained the situation as little as I understood it. My friends gave me a blessing of healing. I wasn’t going to die. Death is a long ways off, apparently. Some other thoughts and impressions I had I won’t share. I thanked my friends and they left. Being alone with yourself and fearing for your health can be quite liberating. My wife got through on the telephone and I said to her, “I don’t want to practice law; I want to be a coach.”
A few hours later, when my heart stabilized I was discharged. Talk about strange. You’re afraid you’re about to die, then its, “Well, looks like you’re fine. Just a violent response to nasty stomach flu. Have a nice day.” Out I go in gym shorts and sweatshirt with no shoes. My wife picks me up and takes me home. All I can think about now was missing my first class of my Tuesday schedule. I shower, eat and head to school with my hospital wrist band still in place. I fielded a few phone calls from concerned persons throughout the day. The most interesting was from a different friend from church, one who had not come to see me in the E.R., who heard about my ordeal and related having a similar experience to mine with the stomach flu not a week before. Looking back on it now, its a shame how much I was worried about missing class instead of worrying about my own health.