You know that awkward moment when you go to the ER because one side of your face swells up and you think you have an abscessed tooth or the sinus infection from hell, and then they look at you and go, “No, it was a stroke.” And then you just stare at the doctor, for what feels like an eternity, waiting for the punchline. But then you remember that not everyone has the same dark, weird sense of humor that you do. So an ER doc probably isn’t just pulling your leg when he stays throwing around words like “stroke” and “admittance” and “observation.”
So, naturally, once I realized he wasn’t going to wink, tousle my hair and say, “I’m just joshin’ with ya. You’re fine! Now get out of here, you little skallywag!” I immediately asked, “Is it serious, doctor? Be straight with me, I can handle it.” Not really. That’s what I would have said if I were in a Lifetime movie of the week and needed to move the storyline along. What I did was laugh.
Not hearty guffaws or waves of hysterical cackling. Just that short little laugh that says, “This is ridiculous” and “Of fucking course it was a stroke.” I mean, why not? If I’m going to waste an entire day being poked and prodded and scanned and x-rayed, why do it for something boring or run-of-the-mill?
Besides, I’d been wracking my brain trying to think of something to write about next. So when something as juicy as an unexpected stroke (as opposed to the ones you schedule, I guess???) falls in your lap, you don’t fret and worry. You kiss it on the mouth and thank Mr. The Baby Jesus for the blog fodder.
Now, with as something as serious as a stroke and the health and well-being of my brain at stake, everyone immediately jumped into action. I was thrown onto a gurney, strapped down, and a handsome young CNA ran pell-mell down the hospital corridors toward the ICU, with me hanging on for dear life, as nurses and patients leapt out of the way.
Or, at least that’s what would have happened had I been on TV. But since I’m only the main character of a popular primetime drama or comedy (depending on my mood) in my mind, I was put in an open room where I remained for hours. Aside from accidentally getting felt-up when a tech arrived to apply stickies and wires to hook me up to a heart monitor, it was uneventful.
This wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve had a cranky shoulder set straight, a destroyed ankle reassembled and a rogue ovary evicted — so I know that hospitals run on a different clock than the rest of the world. Just beyond the door or curtain of where you sit in a hospital, all is hustle and bustle with people scurrying about pushing wheelchairs and carrying clipboards. They’re all quite busy and there isn’t a moment to spare. But on your side of the door or curtain, time hits molasses mode and begins to drag in agonizing slowness. With the cycle of anticipation (“Are they coming to see me?”) and disappointment (“Nope. Someone else. Again”) only adding to the crushing boredom.
I eventually learned that my insurance wouldn’t cover a stay at the hospital in which I was currently languishing, so I’d need to be transferred to another. This would, of course, require a trip in an ambulance. Naturally, I haven’t received the bill yet. But I’m guessing the cost of that fifteen-minute ride will end up being enough to cover all my Uber expenses for years to come.
By the time I reached the other hospital and went through all their check-in procedures and manipulations, it had been nearly twenty-four hours since I’d last eaten and I was feeling somewhat ravenous. I expressed this condition to the nursing staff, who kindly brought me an apple juice. Despite guzzling four whole ounces of liquid, I still found myself feeling a might peckish and took to Postmates to get some real food. What is it about having someone bring you a cold, overpriced hamburger and fries and 4:00am that makes it taste so damn good?
It wasn’t until later that morning when people began showing up in my room to run various tests on me that I learned I was on a “no solid food” order because with the stroke thing there was a danger I would have trouble swallowing and could aspirate what I was eating. Needless to say, I passed the guy’s jello test and didn’t tell him about my pre-dawn Jumbo Jack.
My stay was livened up by the fact that I was bookended by a couple of exceptionally crabby senior citizens. On a regular basis, there would be shouting and thumping followed by a “Code Grey” announcement over the intercom. I naturally took “Code Grey” to mean “rambunctious old person,” but later learned that it means “combative any person.” After a code call, the hall would fill with people until the shouting and thumping subsided, and all would return to normal until the unruly geezer on the other side got ticked off about something.
Naturally, having Grandma and Grandpa Wannafightaboutit on either side of me made sleeping difficult. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The hospital staff was pretty liberal in their usage of Dilaudid for the pain I was still having in my swollen face, and one of the side-effects I experience from pain meds is sleeplessness. So, I didn’t get any rest while I was laid up, but I was in a very happy place and didn’t much care.
Essentially, I spent three days and two nights watching TV and listening to old birds throw tantrums while stoned out of my mind and wondering if I’d always have a crooked smile and fat face. And the answer came on check-out day. It seems the medicos decided the initial diagnoses of a stroke wasn’t right after all. Apparently, something related to the infection in my an abscessed tooth (pressure? pinched nerve?) caused the droopy smile. My brain was intact and okay. Or, at least it was in the same shape it had been in three days prior …
Just because it turned out to basically be nothing (except a huge hospital bill heading my way), doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from it. I’m not going to get all sappy, but I was reminded how awesome and caring my friends are, not to take anything for granted since things can change in an instant and to keep things in perspective because it could always be worse.
And since it’s an abscessed tooth, I get more blog material! Coming soon: The Baroness Goes To The Dentist …