I've been to five national conferences in the last eight years, two for RWA and three for the candle business I used to run. I've learned a few things about packing up and hauling myself out to an unfamiliar city, staying in hotels, finding my way around the sites and shops...but nothing I've learned stands out as clearly as this: DO NOT SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IN AN UNFAMILIAR CITY.
Yes, that deserves all caps.
When you need medical attention in your own city, you know exactly what to do. Who to call. Which hospitals to avoid.
You have no idea how crucial those bits of knowledge are until you don't have them.
One memorable conference I attended was in the beautiful city of St. Louis. At the completion of the first day of conference, I wasn't feeling great. At all.
My friends and I returned to our hotel suite and changed for dinner. I was struggling with the clasp of a bracelet when the room went dark and I woke up on the floor with the hotel manager bending over me.
Thankfully, I was fully dressed.
Once I understood that I'd passed out, I tried to get up and go to bed. I just wanted some sleep.
The manager disagreed with my plan of action.
Apparently, if a guest of his hotel does an ungraceful face plant into the carpet, he feels morally and legally obligated to call an ambulance and send that guest to the hospital for a more thorough checking.
He'd already called the ambulance. The paramedics arrived during our argument and, as a clear sign that I truly did not feel well, I lost that round.
The paramedics strapped me to a stretcher (I argued about that too but I was soon to be grateful for their forethought) and wheeled me down the hall and into the elevator.
If that sounds Not So Bad to you, I should take a moment to set the scene. I was staying at an Embassy Suites. All of the rooms surrounded a huge, open atrium. The atrium was full of conference attendees because it was currently the Manager's Reception which means a free cocktail and snacks. Try keeping hundreds of women away from that.
Not only were there crowds in the atrium, the elevator was glass.
All of that added up to a significant slice of humanity staring in various stages of indecent interest at the poor woman strapped to a gurney and being wheeled through the hotel by paramedics who, sadly, did not see the need to drape a sheet over my face and pretend I was dead, even though I assured them I wouldn't move a muscle.
We exited the hotel's front doors and entered Round Two of Humiliate C.J. The curved drive leading to the hotel's entrance was full of taxis, shuttles, and even the occasional limo, all clogged with more conference attendees, none of whom had the decency to pretend they didn't see me.
The hotel was on a hill overlooking a river. The driveway was steep enough to hurtle unwary tourists, foolish skateboarders, or women on gurneys into traffic and, should they be lucky enough to avoid becoming roadkill, across the road and into the river itself.
Naturally, the ambulance was at the very top of the driveway with the double doors in back facing that long slide into the river. I mentally congratulated my paramedics on the decision to strap me down as they hauled me up that hill toward the ambulance.
I refused to consider the certain death awaiting me should they accidentally let me go. To that end, I became quiet, meek, and docile. I've never heard of paramedics deliberately sending their patients across traffic and into nasty bodies of water because their patient was an irritating loudmouth but I decided not to push my luck.
We reached the back of the ambulance and I received Clue #1 that this city's medical funding is seriously lacking.
The paramedics rammed the gurney against the entrance to the ambulance, presumably because the front legs of the gurney are supposed to collapse inward and allow them to smoothly slide the stretcher into place.
The legs refused to collapse.
They tried again.
After the third try, I abandoned my plan to be quiet, meek, and docile and began questioning whether they gained bonus points by making sure every patient arrived with at least one broken bone.
They lifted the gurney into the ambulance instead.
This is not an easy task. I found myself grateful, again, for the straps.
There are locks on the floor of the ambulance for the gurney. I made a joke about "Contents Might Shift During Flight" and the paramedic smiled and then said, "No, this is just in case the door flies open while we're driving. We don't want to lose you out the back."
Since I was pretty sure neither paramedic would be heartbroken to lose me out the back of the ambulance during transit, I assumed he was making a sick joke.
It totally sucked that I was wrong.
The ambulance started, made it down the hill without launching across traffic and into the river, and then began a long journey toward the hospital. I say long because this is a major city and major cities generally have three or four big hospitals to choose from so that medical care is never too far away from its residents.
We drove for nearly twenty minutes. I questioned the paramedic as to our final destination and he gave me a look I couldn't decipher (later, I was to realize it was his I'll Fix Your Wagon, look or maybe his You Don't Know Any Better So You Won't Argue About This look) and said we were going to St. You Might Never Leave Hospital, on the opposite side of the city.
Why were we going to the opposite side of the city? He never gave me an answer. He didn't have to. We were both distracted by the fact that our ambulance hit one bump too many and one half of the backdoor was now flapping in the wind.
That's right. One half of the backdoor flew open while we were driving. Clue #2 that getting sick in this city was a serious miscalculation on my part.
I was very grateful to be locked down and strapped in. I was also sure that if I hadn't needed medical attention before the paramedics got a hold of me, I would certainly need it soon.
The paramedic said something not fit for publication, leaned out to grab the errant door, and then joked to me that the city didn't put enough money into its emergency response team.
We arrived at St. You Might Never Leave and I was absurdly grateful to be removed from the ambulance. This is, of course, before I encountered the emergency room.
The emergency personnel whisked me into my own little curtained-off room with due haste. At the time, I attributed it to concern for my well-being. Later, I realized it was because I was the only sane person in the building and they couldn't risk me carrying tales of St. You Might Never Leave to outsiders.
I lay in my curtained-off room, listening to the sounds around me, learning the voices of the nurses (there were two), the doctor (one, and he sounded impossibly young), and the other patients (four). It occurred to me to wonder how on earth an emergency department could have so few staff members working and so few patients to work on but what do I know? Perhaps the city was remarkably emergency free. More likely, most of the ambulance riders never survived their trip.
I discovered I was the last in a line of four curtained-off rooms. The person at the far end from me was an elderly woman who kept moaning loudly and explaining to no one in particular that she'd fallen and probably broken most of the bones in her body.
The next room contained a man who'd been beaten by another man.
The room beside me contained a person who kept making the following noise "Aaarrrgh" followed by a loud "Thump".
And right outside my curtain, a woman sat in a wheelchair, her head lolling to the side, her hospital gown collecting copious amounts of drool from her chin.
Clue #3 that I needed to get the heck out of Dodge came when one of the nurses looked up from her charts, noticed the woman in the wheelchair, and yelled to the other nurse "Get someone from Psych ward down here. She's been over-medicated again."
Wait...what? Psych ward? Over-medicated? AGAIN???
I made a hasty mental note to A) not accept medication of any kind from anyone at this hospital and B) do my absolute best to appear completely sane at all times.
An orderly wheeled the woman away and on his heels was a sheriff, in full uniform, gun and baton bulging from his belt, hauling a handcuffed man along the hallway. They went into room #2 and the sheriff asked patient #2 if this was the man who'd assaulted him.
The patient said yes.
A loud argument ensued with many promises of violent death and desecration of the remains from the handcuffed man.
Seriously? What happened to police line-ups? Holding cells? Or just plain NOT bringing violent criminals in close proximity to helpless hospital patients???
My list was growing. A) Don't accept medication. B) Act sane. C) Don't draw unwanted attention to myself from the violent felon standing just outside my door.
Meanwhile, I was still hearing "Aaaarrrgh - Thump!" from next door and Granny On The End had changed her story from falling against her coffee table to falling into her washing machine and nearly drowning.
I wanted to warn them both that medication and a trip to the Psych ward were in their immediate future but to do so would draw unwanted attention to myself and would therefore violate Mental Note #3.
The sheriff, the felon, and the beaten up man (who turned out to be homeless) argued loudly over Granny's litany of injuries and "Aaaarrrrgh-Thump" man next door until an agreement was reached that Felon would be incarcerated and Homeless Man would get to keep his box of goodies stolen by Felon.
I was relieved when the sheriff hauled Felon out, and not just because the whole situation smacked of Crazy. I had another problem. I needed to use the restroom. Badly.
I've heard that the bladder can expand three times before reaching its true limit and refusing to hold another drop.
I was nearing Expansion #4 and it wasn't going to work.
With great fear and trembling, I pushed the call button for the nurse. I'd been lying in my curtained-off room for over an hour at this point and no one, not the nurse, not the doctor, not the sheriff with another felon in tow, had looked in on me. My initial "Hey, I could be dead and no one would know it" outrage had disappeared with the over-medicated woman on her way to the Psych ward. In its place was a deep-seated aversion to having anyone remember my presence.
I also have a deep-seated aversion to wetting the bed, however, and since my distaste for loss of bodily function control outweighs my fear of felons and Psych wards, I alerted St. You Know You're Never Getting Out of Here to my presence.
The nurse was fairly prompt in answering my summons (perhaps she hoped to find me over-medicated as well so she could dispatch one more unfortunate woman to the Psych ward?) and wheeled me out of my room toward the bathroom. The bathroom was located at the opposite end of the curtained-off rooms (none of which had curtains that fully shut) which means I got a good look at each of the three patients on my way through the hall.
Granny was a tiny woman who opened her eyes every time she moaned, searching eagerly for an audience. Homeless man looked like he'd been hit by a train and was muttering a stream of steady profanity under his breath. Given our present circumstances, I could hardly blame him. "Aaaarrrgh-Thump" was a blind man who was anchored to his bed by blood pressure cuffs on both arms. Every thirty seconds or so, he would struggle to sit up, pulling mightily against the thick cords of the cuffs (hence the "Aaaarrrgh") and when he hit the limit of the cords' elasticity, they would yank him back onto the mattress ("thump").
No one but me found that entire set-up frighteningly callous.
I used the restroom and was wheeled back to my own room where an orderly was waiting for me, an i.v. bag clutched in his hand.
"What is that?" I asked.
"Just a little something to keep you hydrated." He lied.
Oh yes, he lied. I remembered the over-medicated woman in the wheelchair. No way was I allowing anyone in this Cesspool of Medical Travesties to put a needle in my veins.
"If I'm thirsty, I'll just drink something. Preferably something with the seal unbroken by anyone but me." I said.
"Hospital policy is to keep every patient hydrated." He lied. Again.
Oh yes, he lied again. Patients one through three didn't have i.v.'s. Why should I?
"The other patients don't have any i.v.'s." I said.
"I haven't got to them yet."
"How lucky for them."
"If you'll just extend your arm."
I shoved my arms under the blanket.
"Ms. Redwine, I really must--"
"I'll be very clear. I do not want an i.v. I will not accept an i.v. Even if all the signs point to my very near demise due to dehydration, I still refuse to accept an i.v. here."
The orderly looked puzzled and disappointed. Perhaps he wasn't used to patients speaking up for themselves. Given the state of the other inmates, err, patients, I could understand his confusion.
"But, Ms. Redwine, I'm supposed to practice at least ten i.v.'s tonight."
"What are you talking about?" I demanded in a so-not-friendly voice.
"That's my homework for tonight. It's just fluid--"
"Surely the paramedics informed you that St. Stay Here Long Enough And You'll Be Crazy Too is a teaching hospital."
No. No they didn't. And they'd better hope I never saw them again or they were going to need some over-medicating of their own.
"I was unaware. I'm sorry to throw a wrench in your homework assignment but I absolutely refuse an i.v." I said and sent the orderly on his way, no doubt complaining to his fellow students about the difficult diva in room 4.
I couldn't worry about that, though, because bigger problems were heading my way. The doctor, the one I thought sounded impossibly young (turns out because he was impossibly young) had finally deigned to grace the emergency room with his presence and was starting his examinations with Granny.
"What seems to be the problem?" He asked.
Granny abandoned her coffee table/washing machine/kitchen counter theory and produced her most creative effort to date: "I tripped over the back of the couch and fell right onto the porch. I think I broke my arm."
I was ready for the (impossibly young) doctor to say he would send her for x-rays or would be examining her bones or at the very least, ask her to say aaaahh and ignore his efforts to induce vomiting with his wooden popsicle stick.
Instead, he said "Okay. Well. Now I'm going to insert my finger into your rectum."
There was a moment of silence, interrupted once with "Aaarrgh-Thump" and then Granny shouted "Oh, Lordy!"
Apparently, that was all the medical information the (impossibly young) doctor required. He left Granny and turned to Homeless Man.
"What seems to be the problem?" He asked.
"That *insert stream of profanity here* beat the *more profanity* out of me." Homeless Man said.
"Okay. Well. Now I'm going to insert my finger into your rectum."
WHAT??? The light began to dawn on me as Homeless Man did a pretty convincing job of threatening the doctor's mother with immediate disembowelment.
The orderly needed to hook up 10 i.v.s.
The doctor needed to explore 10 rectums.
We were nothing but homework assignments, regardless of our symptoms.
I was not at all shocked when the (impossibly young) doctor entered "Aaaarrgh-Thump"'s room and informed him he would be inserting his finger into his rectum.
Then it was my turn. Granny was still chanting "Oh, Lordy" and probably rethinking her medical options. Homeless Man was going hoarse with the virulent stream of profanity aimed at mankind in general and the (impossibly young) doctor in particular. "Aaaarrrgh-Thump" was trying harder than ever to escape his confinement (and who could blame him?).
And I was more than ready.
"What seems to be the problem?"
"Listen here, buddy. Under no circumstances will you be inserting anything into my rectum that you wouldn't want to sit on yourself. I am not old and confused. I'm not beaten up and broken down. And no one here was wise enough to restrain me with blood pressure cuffs or medicate me into oblivion. I don't want treatment. In fact, I refuse treatment. I want to return to my hotel and you would be wise not to get in my way."
The (impossibly young) doctor took one look at my face and didn't argue. He called my hotel manager who came out himself to pick me up and return me to the Embassy Suites, though not before profusely apologizing for the incredible oversight that landed me at St. Go Ahead And Die on his watch.
Now I know better. If I ever do need to seek medical attention in a new city, I will A) find a friendly native of the city to keep me from teaching hospitals and overzealous students and B) Make sure I'm close enough to death to warrant the risk.