November 29, 2006
Well, I'm fine, I'm alright, it's just me, you should expect it by now
post-infectious glomerulonephritis. Eeeeeek!
Came home from my wonderful Thanksgiving in Boston pissing blood. Freaked out, called doctor, went in. She took a bunch of lab samples and told me we'd know more Real Soon Now. Yesterday (Tuesday) I felt crappy but acceptable. But yesterday night I was having symptoms of high blood pressure (ringing in my ears, dizziness, headache) and she told me to go into the ER. She was very apologetic, and with good reason: I ended up spending the entire night there, twelve full hours.
I'm not writing about this just to whinge, though. A miraculous thing happened last night. I endured the strain of twelve hours in the emergency room with emotional strength and good humor, and it is all because of the meditating. I feel kind of humble, that it's taken me 35 years to learn to actually be smart.
The first half of the night was a fucking disaster. The bureaucracy at the hospital was Kafkaesque when it was working at all. At one point, from 11:55pm to 1:00am, there was a single woman working at the registration desk, shuffling papers, and she never talked to even ONE patient. The room was filling with misery cases: A woman who kept moaning and shaking her legs. A heartbreakingly beautiful, rosy-cheeked, runny-nosed two-year-old, with his daddy and his very pregnant mommy. A homeless guy. An enormous Spanish-speaking family. Oh, and me.
The tension and anger and suffering in that room were oppressive. And I was getting extremely agitated, and started trying to get the registration woman in some sort of trouble. And then I remembered about tonglen, from the Pema Chodron book I read last month. In short: You breathe *in* suffering, you breathe *out* relief. You meditate on trying to relieve the suffering around you, instead of concentrating on your own suffering. I calmed down immediately.
When I got to the registration woman (who reminded us of Roz, from Monsters, Inc.), instead of confronting her angrily, I asked her about her job. I mentioned that it seemed really stressful to have to deal with people in the emergency room all day, each of whom thinks their problem is the most important thing that ever happened. And she softened up and admitted it was really hard, and that people get angry at her all the time. And she explained that the paperwork she'd been doing was for emergency patients who were too sick to come in and do it in person. [NB: The hospital should TELL patients this! More later.]
I ended up in the *actual* emergency room, and had a little break from people while I waited. I meditated some; I got impatient and agitated some. When I was able to come back to tonglen, though, there was a shift, and the rest of the night was a piece of cake. My doctor was frank and lovely and good at explaining himself, apologizing for the long wait and the apparent nonsense. My phlebotomist was a fascinating young man, early 20s, clearly making something of himself by becoming a paramedic. He warmed up to me when I expressed my thanks and amazement at his awesome blood-drawing skillz. ("That's hot, yo," was my exclamation when he tapped the vein on the back of my hand in one try, no tourniquet.) He's just about done with paramedic training, and he'll go out on the ambulances, and he'll do "just about everything the nurses here do, really."
I flagged at one point, in those not-night, not-morning hours. I wandered around looking for a water fountain, feeling sorry for myself. And I came back to the room feeling so lucky and so calm. I have insurance. I have loved ones taking care and eager for news of my condition. I am not rocking a tiny infant at 6am. I am not hooked up to dozens of wires and tubes. I am not a 100-pound homeless man, strung out and shivering. And I'm going to be just fine in a couple of weeks.
The woman who performed my ultrasound was aunt-ly and kind and talky, and we made friends at 8am. She's Polish, and 50, and loves food. She admired my adventuring in the Polish shops of Kensington, and said she wants to go to New Orleans to eat sometime ("A shame what happened down there, terrible"). I asked if she'd done ultrasounds in Poland, and found out the answer: She had worked for the International Bank in Poland. She came to the US about 21 years ago, speaking three words of English. She worked as a cleaning lady, but "didn't find it satisfying." So she went to school to learn to do this. She doesn't have children, and she was married, but she walked out on him because "it wasn't working." And she advised me that if I have someone who loves me and whom I get along with, I am very lucky. And I have more than my share of those someones.
I have both a diagnosis and a prognosis: I had a strep infection a couple of weeks ago, and the antibodies that my body made to fight it got mixed up and attacked my kidneys. This probably happened because of my longstanding autoimmune issues. It should get totally better over the course of the next few weeks, and I just need to have my doctor keep an eye on my blood pressure. Easy peasy.
My last task before leaving the ER was to try to make the world a better place. I spoke to the Nurse Practitioner in charge of the ER, and he was very receptive. He told me that they are publishing a pamphlet that will be out in a couple of weeks that explains the whole ER process, and that the hope is that it will make everything clearer for people. He also encouraged me to speak to a Patient Representative in person or on the phone, rather than writing in, since the person will have to take a statement from me. And he agreed with my assertion that INFORMATION IS CHEAP, and that keeping patients up-to-date with what's going on is a good way to create goodwill on both sides.
I left the hospital feeling lucky, and in love, and empowered, and mindful. And really fucking exhausted. I could use some sleep, y'know?
Posted by Rose at November 29, 2006 05:43 PM
Ay yi yi! It's been several years since I've had to go to an ER with anyone, but I remember quite vividly that it Totally Fucking Sucks. If meditation allowed you to get through a night there with even five minutes of peaceful, relaxed, positive feelings, then, clearly, meditation is nothing short of Magic. I bow down before your wicked skills.
And get well soon, please.
Posted by: I. at November 29, 2006 10:54 PM
Apparently, your infection "most often occurs in children 6-10 years old"
----If you weren't so youthful, this sort of thing wouldn't happen.
Once when I was at the emergency room (this time NOT for a knife-related injury or concussion...I have the dominant clumsy gene, and therefore am a sort of regular at emergency rooming) a woman gave birth on 6th avenue. Not in a car, right on the sidewalk. So here I am, swelling slowly about the neck from some mystery allergy (never did figure out what set it off) flanked by a pneumonia case and a blood puker, lulled by the sound of someone shrieking behind me, and some newly blessed mother is giving birth on the street! To a baby! Brand new human life popping up right on 6th ave...gave me a bit of perspective, I tell you what.
I am very glad to hear you're better, but I am gladdest to hear that you found joy in your emergency room visit...it is an enlightening experience if you let it be.
"There is nothing so life-affirming as a bit of death tucked in the back of our minds." --James Spader, Boston Legal
Posted by: dianna at November 30, 2006 11:57 AM
Whew! so glad all is diagnosed and better. Sounds like you were there for more reason than to heal yourself, though. Funny how that works, eh?
Posted by: caroline at November 30, 2006 01:27 PM