E.R. – Embarassed Reflections on an Emergency Room Visit

Yesterday was one of those days. You know what I mean, right? Things just…don’t go right.

The autumn rains of the Pacific Coast have most definitely arrived. Gumboots, rain jackets, umbrellas. As well as flashlights and candles kept close at hand, due to high winds and our somewhat-remote location. The rain poured down, the lights flickered but stayed on, and I read a good book and drank tea last week. It was actually quite nice.

Friday I woke up with the all-too-familiar sore throat and then proceeded to blow my nose 673 (give or take a few) times throughout the work day. It was miserable but I powered through and Saturday and Sunday we had good friends stay with us. Our first overnight guests in Halfmoon Bay! They were very kind when Peter and I realized we hadn’t planned anything for dinner and they didn’t seem to mind when we were falling asleep before ten o’clock. We showed them Sechelt by rainfall and generally had a lovely time catching up.

And then Tuesday came.

It started off fine. After three years of marriage, Peter and I have our morning routine sorted out pretty well. Coffee, oatmeal for breakfast, lunches packed, we’re in the car. He’ll drop me off at work and then head to his own job.

But the car won’t start.

It should be noted here that this isn’t even our car that won’t start. Our car is already at the mechanic’s because of an (hopefully not too expensive) issue of its own. This is a car that we’ve borrowed. And the battery is dead.

I jump out and head to the bus stop as quick as my feet will take me. The bus leaves from this stop every two hours and I might just make it. I get there with a couple of minutes to spare but before the bus arrives, a car pulls over and the driver rolls down the window.

“Are you going into town?” he asks me. I recognize him as a neighbour. One I see frequently and have exchanged pleasantries with but have never really met. I hop in.

I feel like I need to note that hitchhiking is different on the Coast. Like I said, the bus around here only comes every two hours. We’re halfway up the Coast and this is as far as the bus goes. If you want to get somewhere and you don’t have a car, hitchhiking is an acceptable option. One of the great things about where we live is the small kindnesses that people offer one another. You don’t drive by someone with a flat tire. You offer trail and beach suggestions to tourists (though you might hold back your favourites). And if you have an extra seat, you pull over for the young woman standing at the bus stop. Knowing all this, I feel safe riding with strangers, where I probably wouldn’t in any other place.

My newly-introduced neighbour confesses that he and his wife refer to me as “Yellow Boots” because they’ve seen me walk by so many times in my, well, you can guess…yellow rain boots.

From there work and a day that seemed to turn normal, as I wondered how exactly my husband might have gotten to work. Tuesdays is a long day for Peter and I when we both work, as we stay in town and volunteer with a group in the evening. (Fortunately, we have people who love us and feed us sometimes.)

Fast forward to just past nine o’clock. I’m cleaning up as people say good-bye, almost time for us to head home, where our borrowed car is charging its battery. I’m tired. I rub my eye. When I open my eye, everything is blurry. My contact lens has shifted. I rub my eye again, blink a couple of times. Still blurry. My contact is gone.

Except it’s not gone. It hasn’t fallen out. It’s in my eye but it’s most definitely not where it’s supposed to be. I head to a mirror and still can’t find it. I call Peter over and hold open my eye while he takes a look and a friend glances over to offer an astonished, “What are you guys doing?”

I can’t find my contact lens but I can sure as heck tell it’s still in there. We finish cleaning up and head to my in-law’s home since they’re our ride back to our (hopefully operational) borrowed car. I wash my hands and poke around in my eye a little bit more. None of this helps with the irritation.

It’s almost ten o’clock so Peter dashes out before the pharmacy closes to buy eye drops. Which I’m not supposed to use because I’m allergic to the preservatives in them but that now seems like a lesser problem. I google contact lens problems until he returns.

Pretty soon I have eye drops and tears and a contact lens determinedly clinging to some hidden corner of my eye. It feels irritated but not painful. It’s past ten o’clock and I just want to go to bed. Going to sleep with the lens stuck in my eye seems like a bad idea.

And that is how I came to visit the ER at the Sechelt hospital for the first time.

The last time I went to an ER as a patient, I was seven years old, it was in Toronto, and there was a lot more blood. I think we had to wait four hours. Twenty years later, I shamefacedly confess my problem to the receptionist and am immediately ushered in to see a nurse. Thank God for small town hospitals on quiet nights. And a hearty dose of thanks for our health care system that allows me to make such embarrassing trips to the hospital.

The hospital wristband felt like overkill though.

The nurse asks me a few questions about my general health and then asks if I have any allergies. I explain about the preservatives.

“Anything else?” she asks.

There’s a pause. Obviously she’s looking for medical-related allergies. But she seems to want something more.

“Cats,” I say.

“We won’t put any cats on you,” she tells me as she dutifully writes ‘cats’ down on my form. “You poor thing. Allergic to cats!”

She then proceeds to make me do an eye test with my left eye, the eye that has the contact lens in it. (I still have my lens in my right eye and so every time I have to reach for something or hand something over, my aim is rather off.) The goal of the test is, I think, to see how blurry my vision has become due to the object in my eye. The problem is that I have terrible vision without contact lenses or glasses on. That’s how I naturally am. I can hardly tell which line she’s even pointing to.

“You can’t see that one?” she asks, surprised, pointing (I think) to the second line from the top. “What about this one?” She points to the giant letter at the top. With my good eye closed, I can’t see it either. But walking past the sign a moment earlier with both eyes open, I had seen it.

“E,” I tell her. I know you’re not supposed to lie to your medical health administrators. Forgive me. I was embarassed by my terrible eye sight.

The nurse delivers me to another room and I sit down on the edge of a hospital bed, paper sheet crinkling below me. For the next few minutes I try not to eavesdrop as a doctor nearby loudly exclaims over another patient’s previous medical history.

It doesn’t take long for a doctor to come and see me. I lie down on the bed and she drops freezing gel into my eye. This right here is the most painful moment of the whole day. And then it isn’t. I feel like I could keep my eye open for hours! It’s as though I have a sudden super power! I can tell that something is touching my eye but it doesn’t matter. And so, with a quick swab of a q-tip, the doctor has the lens out.

“How long was that in there?” the doctor asks. “Your eye is pretty red.”

“Well, I was poking at it a lot.”

I depart from the hospital with a happy and frozen eye and a prescription for antibiotic eye drops.

Today I’m wearing my glasses.

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4 thoughts on “E.R. – Embarassed Reflections on an Emergency Room Visit

    • Thanks! Mostly, I think I felt embarrassed because going to the ER seemed like such overkill. Checking in, getting the hospital bracelet, and all that. I’m just thankful they weren’t busy though. I definitely would have been the last person to get attention in a busy city hospital!

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