In the Suburbs / Trusting my instincts
Published 4:19 pm, Thursday, September 16, 2010
Our lives have been one big blur since last Thursday afternoon. That was the day I arrived home from appointments, ready to go to our friend Susan's for a Rosh Hashanah dinner and found my wife Mari-ann exhausted and curled up in a ball, sick to her stomach and unable to stand for longer than five minutes at a time. Her cough, which had been lingering for nearly three weeks, was almost a bark.
I think, after 44 years, I know my wife pretty well, and this was not the same person. While she assured me she had made an appointment with her internist for Friday, I decided to trust my instincts and not let this illness go on another day. Meanwhile, she kept saying she was fine and to stop pestering her. I ignored her.
I had to dress her -- she was unable to do it herself -- drive her to the Bridgeport Urgent Care Unit on Fairfield Woods Road and hope that they would hospitalize my wife for observation at least. By then, she seemed dehydrated and not very coherent. Her face was almost ghost-like. My adrenaline levels were climbing as I drove.
Thankfully, the doctor was a former colleague of my wife and he was warm and compassionate about everything. When he called me into the examining room, he was almost apologetic, but explained that he had called an ambulance and that they were going to have to start an IV drip before they took her to Bridgeport hospital...
"So take your time driving over," he said. "It makes no sense to follow the ambulance, because they have to do so much prep. I do want you to call me next Wednesday when I am on duty again ... I'm very concerned.
Within an hour, we were at Bridgeport Hospital's ER. Bridgeport and my wife are old friends. She began her medical life there as a victim of a brain aneurysm in 1986 and within five and a half weeks her medical notebook was overflowing. Today, countless surgeries and ER visits later, the staff has changed, the ER has been totally transformed, but my wife always feels at home and secure with the knowledge that the ER staff will read the charts and get to the bottom of what's troubling her.
I had spent the 20-minute drive to the hospital calling my wife's doctors just to leave my own messages, even though in some cases I felt guilty about interrupting their holiday. But I wanted them to know that she was not herself and definitely wasn't well.
Once I was settled in the room where my wife was looking very tired but so much more like herself, I heaved a little sigh and started texting friends. Since our kids tend to stress out over illness, I decided to save them until last.
Within a few minutes, Coretta, one of the kindest and sweetest nurses we've ever met at Bridgeport, was relaxing Mari-ann by calling her princess, cracking jokes and getting her hooked up to the usual contraptions that help the ER docs make the best diagnoses. By the end of the evening, Coretta was at Angel status. We wanted to take her home.
The doctor, who came in after about 90 minutes, stepped straight out of "Gray's Anatomy" and was one of the most thorough ER physicians we've ever met. He was so patient and wanted my wife to tell him everything she could about how she was feeling. And he listened -- really listened.
He noted right off the bat that her oxygen levels were lower than they should have been and that made him suspicious. And he had some other ideas also. What I particularly liked was his comment, "I think we're on to something here." And in the end, he was.
Barely an hour later, he had determined that Mari-ann's potassium levels (gotta love those bananas) were dangerously low and he delivered the first of the one-two punches. She would need to stay over at least that night so that they could intravenously rebuild the potassium levels. That was actually a relief for me, because I was worried that she would not eat or take care of herself back home.
He ordered a chest X-ray and returned about 45-minutes later with the second punch -- pneumonia. He said that the radiologist confirmed the blockage in the lower right lung immediately. I breathed another sigh of relief, because his original thought was a possible blood clot on the lung.
Fast forward to Saturday. When I arrived, she was her usual feisty self, aside from a small cough, and the antibiotics were already working their magic. The potassium levels had gone back to normal by the day before and it was like my wife had returned from a world somewhere out in the great unknown.
I cannot say enough about the care Mari-ann received from the wonderful staff in the ER and on Rich 10 at Bridgeport. They were patient, caring and thorough and I know her recovery is going to be complete, thanks to all the staff.
As I attend the closing service for Yom Kippur -- N'ilah -- this Saturday, to ask forgiveness before the gates of Heaven close, my heart will also be filled with thanks for my wife's strengthening recovery and relief that I trusted my instincts enough to act before it might have been too late.
Steven Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org