22 Oct Risking My Life to Save It: Hospital Visits During COVID-19
I wasn’t actually going to die, but at the time, I didn’t know it.
It was 11pm on a Saturday night, and my husband and I had just binge-watched a show on Amazon and were waiting for Saturday Night Live to come on. I had period cramps (don’t ew me, half the population gets it at some point, ok?) so I was feeling a little bleh. I got up to go to the bathroom and sat on the toilet.
Before I knew it, I was on the floor.
I don’t even remember it slowly building. It just hit me. This searing pain in my left lower back.
As someone who’s endured years of Crohn’s Disease pain, ostomy issues, and who has bad menstrual cramps every month, this was new and it was worse than all of those things combined.
I was shaking. I was breathing at twice my normal rate. I couldn’t stop moving in hopes that it would make the pain go away. Nothing was working and I had no idea what had come over my body.
I called my husband who, used to me being in weird pains, asked me what we should do.
I told him to call Telehealth Ontario (our intermediary triaging system) to see what they recommended. In the past, they’ve always said go to the emergency room, and we’ve gone 50% of the time.
He hesitated, thinking that they would say the same thing, and, considering we’ve both been quarantining since March 12th, the hospital was the last place we wanted to go.
They asked a few questions that, apparently, only I could answer as I lay bent over the toilet feeling like I was going to vomit from the pain. I don’t even remember what I said, but my husband realized after that I had given them my wrong age. (This year is cancelled anyway so I haven’t gotten a year older, right?) I continued to try and answer questions as I crawled to my bed, curling up in fetal position and rocking back and forth while sobbing.
“I am going to connect you to the ambulance service, can you hold on Jessica?”
Well, this was new.
“Do you have aspirin you could take while you wait?”
Isn’t that what you take to stem off a heart attack??
“We’re on our way,” said the ambulance dispatch.
2 minutes later, 3 firemen came, all dressed in PPE, standing around and watching while I made my way to the couch, my husband was frantically running around building a go-bag of things I would need to take with me: sweatshirt, iPad, socks, UGGs, Nintendo Switch, phone charger, ostomy supplies… all the things that meant nothing to me in that moment. In between the pain, I looked up and realized this is the most people I’ve had in my space in 8 months.
Eventually, and in what seemed like an eternity later (“Are they here yet?” one fireman quietly whispered to another) 2 paramedics came in. They opened up their stretcher and I awkwardly climbed on while the pain somehow got even worse. They saw I was in a flimsy tshirt and wrapped a blanket over me while they buckled me in with what I can only describe as restraints holding me back from falling off from all my rocking back and forth to stop the searing pain in my back. I realized I was stuck. It was not a good time to be stuck.
“Let me out, I’m going to throw up.”
We can’t, you’re strapped in.
“My bathroom is right there, please!”
“Here, use this.”
My husband and I exchange quick glances and he knows to leave the room. We’ve been together for 8 years I have always said I want to keep my “bathroom secrets” to myself. He thinks I’m crazy. I think that it’s best he doesn’t see half a bag of salt and vinegar Kettle chips come back up.
I’m done and he comes back in, ready to come with us.
“Sir, you can’t come in the ambulance with us.”
“Well, I can’t drive, I’ve had a few.” It is Saturday night, after all.
“You can’t come at all. COVID precautions.”
We exchange glances again. It’s 12am on Sunday morning by now and I’m about to be wheeled off to a hospital I’ve never been to without anyone to hold my hand. I tell him I love him and to go to sleep, and am pushed out the front door of my condo. The pain continues to grow and I can feel my body wanting to scream, but I try to hold it in not to wake the neighbours.
We get out of the elevator and I remember they’re repaving the driveway in front of the building. Bump, lift, jolt, as I get placed into the ambulance in a less-than-graceful fashion.
The pain, which felt like a 10/10 on the pain scale doubles (I’m not good at math but it got worse.) I can barely keep my eyes open, yet my mouth is as big as it’s ever been as I start screaming at the top of my lungs. The ambulance sirens blare and the paramedic in back with me tells me I need to breathe because my heart rate is through the roof. I feel like I’m going to pass out.
We get to the hospital and I’m wheeled into the ER and placed to the side while the paramedic talks to a triage nurse. The pain continues to get worse as they talk about me and I scream at the top of my lungs. There are people around that I can hardly see because my vision is blurry, but I don’t care. I am shaking and rocking back and forth on this tiny stretcher and the other paramedic tries to hold it still.
What is happening to me?
“History of Crohn’s Disease, ostomy, took medication for period cramps,” the other paramedic says to the triage nurse – from what I can remember. “We think it’s kidney stones”
“Probably” the nurse says back.
I open my eyes to look at them. That’s it?
I fall back, suddenly feeling like the pain has, for the first time in over an hour by this point, gone down.
I am wheeled to the side and told to get off the stretcher and sit in a bed in the hall. I crawl out of the stretcher and lay down on this (surprisingly comfy) hospital bed, feeling my heart rate slow. The pain continues to calm.
Another nurse comes over and gives me an IV in one shot. They take me to a treatment room.
“Have you ever had kidney stones before?” the nurse asks.
“I’ve had almost every problem you could think of but this one is new.”
“You may have passed it, but we’re going to check.”
She gives me a shot of morphine in my IV and leaves, while I lay alone in this room trying to play back what I just went through and how quickly it went away.
I message my husband, who, of course, isn’t sleeping. I fill him in and he’s happy that I’m doing better. I fall asleep for a bit thanks to the drugs, and wake up to take a pee test and to wait my turn for an ultrasound. A little while later, I’m told they can’t see anything in the ultrasound so I may have just passed the stone. I should go home and if it still hurt, I could come back.
At 4:30am, my husband picks me up from the hospital and takes me home. I strip off all my clothes and wash my body, taking in the realization that I’ve just been to a hospital with multiple people touching me, walking around me, and next to me in the middle of a pandemic. I am worried, but too tired to think about it more. The pain is gone so this is over. I fall asleep.
It’s 9am Sunday morning and I wake up to go pee.
Well, if I can pee, I should be all good, I thought to myself.
I take a few steps back to bed from my bathroom and the pain hits me again.
This time, harder and faster.
“We have to go. Now,” I yell at my husband who’s basically still asleep. I throw on the same sweatpants and grab the go-bag from the night before that was left on the floor because COVID, and get to the car as fast as we can. Oh, the car is a few blocks away because, remember, they’re paving the driveway.
I crawl into the car and the pain is back up to it’s worst level and I am screaming while my husband drives. My mom, having just seen the IG story I posted a few hours before, while the morphine kicked in, texts me to ask if I’m ok. I tell her I’m on my way back. She asks to come. She can’t, I remind her.
The pain climbs and climbs faster and faster and I am screaming while my husband drives, which takes longer because we don’t have sirens to bypass the traffic.
We’re minutes away and the pain is the worst it’s been the whole time and I feel like I’m about to pass out and then….
Well, it doesn’t completely go away, but it’s about 1/3 of what it was. If it was kidney stones, I guess I had finally passed them.
We continue on to the hospital and my husband has to drop me off. He’s still not allowed in. I am crying because I’m still in pain, yet thankfully, nowhere near what it was. I enter the ER and get screened – I literally have to touch a screen to make sure I don’t have Coronavirus symptoms and I feel gross from touching it. Maybe I should just leave?
At this point, I’m debating in my head whether I continue on to be treated or I leave because of my risk of catching a deadly disease. As someone who is immunocompromised, I could pick up anything in an ER and this pandemic is making the risk higher. I decide to carry on because I can’t handle the pain again.
It’s a shitty decision to even have to make.
The second time around takes longer, but they don’t run any tests. I actually wait in a waiting room this time, both before triage and after triage, because there was no ambulance. I’m around a lot of people. I’m extremely nervous. I run into a sorority sister while I’m waiting who keeps me company since my husband had to leave. She’s there because her elderly father (who needs her help) caught COVID and was in a coma for 12-weeks and is now dealing with residual issues.
I question again whether I should be there.
They give me another IV (a new nurse tries twice and fails so I ask for another one who gets it right – my elbow still hurts…) and they pump more drugs. They tell me that pain management is the only thing to do, since NSAIDs, which can treat inflammation of the bladder, are not good for people with Crohn’s Disease. They pump me with saline to help flush things out and the pain is almost gone. It still hurts a bit, but that’s to be expected. I sit in a big room with about 7 other people while I wait for the drip to finish.
By 2pm, my husband comes back to get me again. I go home and shower, throwing all of my clothes in the wash. I haven’t touched my purse since. The pain is gone. I can’t believe this happened.
In any normal circumstance, the hospital would have been my safe haven.
I’ve been severely dehydrated because of stomach bugs with an ostomy and have never hesitated to be treated.
I’ve fallen down a flight of stairs and had a concussion and have not hesitated to get checked out.
I’ve been on the brink of death, needing a blood transfusion, and never hesitated to go. (Well, I didn’t even have a choice for this one!)
Yet, this time, I had the worst pain of my life and I did hesitate. I had to choose. This is the world we’re currently living in.
While it’s clear that there are a huge number of deaths directly attributed to COVID-19, the science and medical community are now sounding the alarm on the unnecessary deaths that have, and continue to occur as a side-effect of this pandemic. The CDC has estimated that there are over 32,300 excess deaths because of other circumstances but influenced by the current world we are living in in the US alone. Canada is also recording excess deaths, yet the numbers are much smaller on a per capita basis. These excess deaths are happening for a multitude of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is because people are afraid to go to the hospital.
I was afraid to go to the hospital.
While the pain was unbearable and I really didn’t have a choice, it just seems so stupid to me that I had to risk my life to get treated for something that wasn’t going to kill me. I hate that I feel this way.
Thankfully, it’s been just under 2-weeks since this happened and I have no COVID symptoms. I still have some weird twinges of back pain and I am pretty scared it will come back, but I do have a plan to treat the pain at home. But only to treat this at home.
As someone with a longer list of medical issues than most, it terrifies me to know that the next thing could be around the corner. I’ve already had to cancel my yearly ileoscopy (colonoscopy for those without colons), which I get every year to ensure I don’t have cancer. I also can’t see as well as I used to, but I have put off my eye appointment, which I’m supposed to have yearly because of my Crohn’s. It’s really only a matter of time before the next things pops up and I might not be as lucky as I was this time around. These are the issues that I, as a relatively healthy ostomate, am experiencing. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for those with active diseases or who need ongoing treatments.
We’re 8-months into quarantine and cases are back on the rise. Stay at home. If you can’t, wear a mask. We don’t need to throw parties or go to the mall or go trick-or-treating. But some of us do need to go to the hospital.
The pandemic is not over just because you’re tired of it.
Don’t be selfish.