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A Night in the ER ...A Senior Story

A Night in the ER

A Senior Story


Ruth Ann Angus

The Rescue wagon keeps busy in Morro Bay with seniors like me who often have annoying issues like an onset of atrial fibrillation that requires their services. This is not a new thing with me and after a number of years and two heart ablations I am used to it and now know somewhat intimately several of the Rescue and Ambulance personnel. Thus, one recent night (yes, it always happens at night) I found myself in need of assistance. Heart rates over 100 are called Tachycardia which can be caused a by a number of different things with atrial fibrillation being the most common. Atrial fibrillation, aFib, as it is called, is an electrical disturbance to the upper chamber of the heart (the Atria). Since mine was going at 114 beats, it was time to go to the ER.

It was nice to be accompanied in the ambulance with Peter whom I had met on a previous ambulance journey. With my heart dancing the Rhumba and Peter attempting to insert an IV line into my arm, we bounced along to the local heart hospital chatting about our lives. Please don’t think I am being blasé as you need to know that while aFib is definitely annoying and one feels rather lousy when it occurs, it isn’t necessarily life threatening although it could cause a stroke and that is life threatening. So, one must go to the emergency room and obtain treatment to jolt the annoying muscle back into a slower and calmer dance.

A night in the ER is never dull. First there is the stripping away of your clothes and the donning of the “gown.” This fashion statement is designed to allow access for the nurses and doctors to your very private places to attach the gooky, sticky round plastic pieces that will have wires attached to them to enable the hospital personnel to visually take note of the Rhumba rhythm of your heart. Generally, if you come to the ER via ambulance, you already have half a dozen of these attachments however these are ignored and half a dozen more are placed up and down your torso. Then the blood pressure cuff is wrapped around your arm and begins to fill up until you think your arm is going to explode. Results of these two things tell the nurses and doctors exactly what your heart is doing. However, that isn’t the whole picture.

After answering all the routine questions, someone rolls into the room with a cart and a syringe and proceeds to extract vials of your blood to be taken to the lab for examination. Sometimes, but not always, someone comes in with a huge machine and asks you to sit up while they place rigid, cold, uncomfortable plates behind you to Xray your lungs.

Then you wait. Waiting is the primary thing one does in the ER with aFib. Taking note of your blood pressure is always fun but often necessitates squirreling around in the bed to see the screen. The miserable results tell you things are not calming down. Best to lie back and wait.

Depending on the number associated with your heart rate and the rhythm, it is part of the decision-making process as to whether you will have a medication inserted into your IV to bring things under control or whether you will need a Cardio Version where they shock your heart into rhythm. This can happen right away or after results of blood tests come from the lab. Then you wait.

This is time being in the ER at night begins to be interesting.

For me, I spent a lot of time chatting with the RN assigned to my case. He was a big burly guy with tattoos up and down his arm. Looked more like a longshoreman than a nurse, but he had a lot of knowledge about the drugs for aFib and high blood pressure, so I learned some things my doctors never thought it was important to tell me. I also got his life story.

He was a travelling nurse and was renting a small place in Cayucos for $1200 a month. That was very interesting news as it is practically impossible for regular people to rent anything even a shed in Cayucos for that amount. His time was almost up, and he was moving on to Prescott, Arizona which he was happy about since his ex-wife had moved to Tucson with his 11-year-old son and he would be close to them. I disputed that Prescott was “close” to Tucson, but he’ll find that out. Having lived in Arizona I warned him that it gets really hot there. He said the usual publicity comment one gets about Arizona and Prescott especially, “But it’s dry heat and Prescott only gets into the 80s.” He is in for a surprise. It’s a lie about Prescott and 100-plus degrees, whether dry or not – is HOT!

Then I had a cheery visit from the gal in Administration who rolled in with her traveling computer and collected the $70 co-pay from me. I heard her story which dealt with the fact that she is the only one in the administration offices that uses the travelling computer. All the others come to a room with pen and paper and take down a patient’s information. Then they collect your credit card and go back and type it all into their desk computer and then return with a printed copy for you to sign and the return of your credit card. I agreed with her that this was totally inefficient since the travelling computer is easy to use and has a gizmo to scan your card and print the receipt right there. I suggested she complain to her boss. Maybe she thought I should complain to her boss, but I have enough to complain about in my little life without taking on the office problems of the hospital.

I then heard about her physical ailments and that her gastro doctor said she should give up eating meat. She likes meat and doesn’t want to be a vegetarian. I commiserated with her because I like meat too and also don’t want to be a vegetarian. She said she didn’t know what to do. I suggested she get a second opinion.

My counseling chores in the ER were then complete.

All this took place in between the blood pressure cuff inflating and squeezing my arm every few minutes when hooray, my dancing heart apparently decided to sit the rest of songs out and was back in normal rhythm. All I needed then was to have the doctor come in with my blood test results. Of course, I had to wait.

It was 2:45 AM, I was deemed “cured” for the moment and the IV line was removed and my arm swathed in stick-together bandage and thus, I was duly placed in a wheelchair and unceremoniously wheeled to the empty ER waiting room to wait for my ride home.

An elderly man was sitting in a wheelchair outside the waiting room near the exit door. I was alone but only for a moment when another man walked into the waiting room, holding three of the hospital’s blankets. He was a little scruffy looking, had a large straw hat on his head, and he sported a ragged and pointed beard. I thought he resembled Vincent Van Gogh. He looked a lot like that famous self portrait Van Gogh had painted of himself. No sense just sitting there silently and besides I am a curious person, so I said hello and asked if he was waiting for his ride. He said he was waiting for the bus. I looked at the clock and it was nearly 3 AM.

“Do you know when the bus comes?” he asked me, “I have to catch it to get to the police department to get my car. They impounded it.”

A little surprised I answered him that it was going to be a long wait for the bus which doesn’t run at night. I knew there was a story here.

We were silent then as he wrapped himself in the blankets as he sat on a waiting room chair.

I couldn’t resist. I had to know.

“Why was your car impounded?” I asked him.

Well, here’s the story. Seems he attends the Agape church in town, and he met a woman there and it was gong to be her birthday. So, they decided to celebrate this night and they bought a few bottles of wine.

“I should have kept the bottles in the trunk of the car,” he said, “but I had them on the front seat when the cop saw them through the window.”

Uh huh.

I didn’t need too much more information as the story was apparent. One of those bottles somehow got open and some of the wine somehow got into him.

Uh huh.

I didn’t ask Van Gogh why he landed in the ER.

At this time, the elderly guy in the wheelchair outside wheeled himself indoors perching right next to me. “Are you cold,” I asked him. He answered yes. Van Gogh offered him one of his blankets which at first, he refused but I told him to take one. No sense being cold.

This man had a bright, crisp blue and white pinstriped shirt on and a dark blue cap with the letters NRHA embroidered on the brim. He looked like an ordinary old man. I wondered why he was in the ER alone in the middle of the night. He explained that he had a hernia operation this past week and he thought the mesh they used had come loose so he came in. Apparently, however the mesh was fine.

Next thing I know pinstriped guy is telling me his life story. “I had to take care of my mother for seven years,” he said. I offered that I had to take care of my mom too until she passed. “My sister was supposed to do it,” he said, “but she took off.”

Uh huh.

“Someone got my mother to sign something, and she lost the house,” he said. I said that was too bad not sure where this was going. Then he proceeded to tell me he had given some money to a guy who said he was hungry, but he was sure the guy just bought liquor with it. “I’m going to get my money back,” he said.

Uh huh.

The picture was beginning to become clear.

Meanwhile Van Gogh was trying to settle in for a long night on two of the waiting room chairs, wrapped in his blankets, mumbling. I wondered if he would take them with him on the bus later.

Pinstripe guy looked intently at me and announced, “I’m homeless!”

Uh huh. Figured that out, did I. Pretty sure Van Gogh is too.

A hospital person came out to inform pinstripe guy that his ride wouldn’t get there until 4 AM.

“You’ve got a ride coming?” I asked him. “Yes,” he said.

“Where are you going?’ I asked, now wondering if it was to be back on the street like I was pretty sure where Van Gogh would end up.

“To Prado,” he said, “the shelter.”

I asked him if he was set up with them because I knew unless one checked in at a certain time, you didn’t get a bed. He said he was set up.

“What’s next?” I asked him. “You can get some help there,” I said. He knew that and said he thought he was going to be filling out some papers tomorrow.

I encouraged him to be sure to do that because he could get placed in one of the low-income housing apartments if they qualify him, which I was pretty sure they would.

“I don’t think I can live like that,” he said, “with everyone around me. It will cave in on me.” I suggested he give it a try anyway.

Just then my ride showed up. I got out of my wheelchair and turned to look at Van Gogh. He said goodbye. I wished him luck and told him I thought the bus began service at 6 AM. Then I grabbed pinstripe guy’s hand and said, “You fill out those papers, you hear!” He shook his head, yes.

As I walked out, I just thought, Uh huh.

“What was that all about?’ my friend asked.

“Just an ordinary night in the ER,” I said, “Just an ordinary night.”

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