Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fun times in the emergency room

After one steroid injection and three days on prednisone, my poor husband's face has finally been restored to near normalcy. Meelyn, Aisling and I can finally look at him without flinching in horrified pity and the dogs have agreed to come out from under the beds.

Really, I had no idea that pollen could do so much damage to a person. At first, we thought that the weeds he pulled late last Wednesday afternoon (one week ago today!) contained that dreaded three-leaved little vine that produces agony amongst the unwary every summer: poison ivy. But the problem was that he didn't itch. And my husband has had poison ivy before, just a few summers ago when he fished an errant volleyball out of the weeds at Jeff and Julie's sand court. He was an itchy, miserable mess, emphasis on the "itchy." I basted him in Caladryl every half hour like a Thanksgiving turkey.

The problem he was having with this allergic reaction was the redness and swelling, perhaps, the doctor thought, from whatever-it-was from those weeds blowing up into his face. He was reddish and puffy on last Thursday and I commenced with the Benadryl, the Advil and ice packs. On Friday, he woke up with eyes that looked like they belonged to a boxer who'd just gone ten hard rounds in the ring. On Saturday and Sunday, he was bright red and his eyes were so swollen he could barely see.

That was when I got kind of scared. Because all that Benadryl? All the Advil? They weren't even touching this thing.

I gave him a couple more Benadryl on Sunday morning and he went back upstairs to sleep. He came staggering down about three hours later saying, "Honey?"

I was here at the computer, so I stood up from the desk and found him standing in the front hallway, his eyes completely swollen shut and so puffed up, his eyelids looked like two halves of hard-boiled eggs. His skin was stretched taut and was a bright, angry red that looked like it would burn to the touch. And there's still more! The swelling had spread down his face on the left side and his upper lip and cheek were stiff and puffy. I was so shocked that there was nothing left of the plucky, cheerful little wife dispensing antihistamines and anti-inflammatory drugs: this was beyond my reach. And yet, here it was, Sunday. The most convenient day of the week for medical emergencies. Yippee!!!

"Right," I said, and stuck my feet into my flip-flops. "We're going to the emergency room."

"I don't need to go to the emergency room," my husband balked, holding up his hands in a STOP gesture. "That will be too expensive and this is not an emergency."

All I could see was that this reaction was moving downward. What, I thought uncomfortably, if all this swelling reaches his throat? Because I've experienced an anaphylactic reaction before and it is Nothing. To. Mess. With.

I put on my best screechy, naggy wife voice and said, "Oh, yes, you are. You are going to the emergency room right now. This has gone on long enough."

Meelyn and Aisling, round-eyed and worried, found his sandals. I checked to make sure the insurance card was in my wallet, checked my cell phone to make sure the battery was charged, and we set off. The girls are old enough to be at home by themselves, so we let them stay, knowing that there would be nothing to do at the hospital but sit there, anxious and tense. The hospital is only a few blocks from our house anyway, which is another reason why it is really nice to live in the heart of a city: library, bank, grocery and hospital, all within easy reach if one should ever need quick reading material, money, Fritos or medical attention.

The drive to the hospital was very short and we found ourselves in the emergency room check in area before we knew it. The clerk, a motherly-looking woman dressed in pajamas, took one look at my husband and wryly remarked, "Allergies?"

"Yup," he said.

"Do you itch?" she asked him. "Because we've had about four other people in here today who all look just like you. Poison ivy." ["Four other people who all looked like him?" I found myself thinking, "My gosh. Why haven't you called a priest?"]

"I don't itch," said my husband. Which was a good thing, because at the mere mention of a person with poison ivy inhabiting the chair I was sitting in, I had begun to itch, like, all over. I began to think of sleeping in the same bed with my husband and even of briefly putting my head on his pillow that morning. Itch? OH, yeah.

We were moved from the check-in area to triage, where a male nurse dressed in pajamas asked my husband answered a bunch of questions about the possible cause of his monstrous appearance. We knew it was going to take a long time to be seen because the people who were ahead of us at the check in were there because the woman in the couple was twelve weeks pregnant and experiencing terrible cramping. I felt so sorry for her. She and her husband were so young - twenty-somethings - and her voice sounded so bleak when the clerk gently asked, "Is this your first pregnancy?"

"Yes," she answered, her long hair hiding her sad, scared face like a curtain. Her husband stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders, obviously at a loss for what to say, while feeling a great deal indeed.

My husband and I were dispatched to a room where he sat on the gurney and I sat on the most uncomfortable chair I'd ever put my substantial bottom in. How can a chair be designed so that it hurts your neck, your back, your tailbone and pinches the sciatic nerves running down the backs of both legs in one fell swoop? Was this ER trying to drum up business by crippling people with their furniture? I wondered.

We both had our books, but both of us were too nervy to read much. Not to mention tired. I was working with about four hours of sleep from the previous night and my husband still had all that Benadryl flowing through his system. He finally stretched out on the gurney while I went out to call the girls and tell them what was going on (they were in the middle of praying a rosary for him when I called.) I came back and sat down in the Chair of Torture and, lulled by the soft hum of voices and feet and the hospital air conditioning kicking on, I found myself nodding off.

The two of us were startled awake by a nurse coming in, a perky young thing with long hair and bright eyes, dressed in pajamas. "How are you feeling?" she asked my husband sympathetically.

"Terrible," he answered, sitting up. Embarrassed, he kicked his feet against the foot of the gurney. I was suddenly smitten with an overwhelming desire to burst into tears and hug him.

"I bet," she said. She and I exchanged a look and we both raised our eyebrows and opened our mouths at each other, mute girlspeak for "If I looked the way he does, I'd be fuh-reeeeeeeking out all over the floor right now."

The doctor, a slender wisp of a woman dressed in pajamas, came in about five minutes later, greeted us, and then gave him a professional once-over that was both quiet and dignified. She then said, "Wooooooo!!! You are lookin' scar-ree!" and flipped her ponytail over her shoulder. My husband reacts much better to this kind of banter than he does with sympathy, so he perked up immediately.

"I don't feel so great," he said, which is huge for him. Huge. His sitting on a gurney in an emergency room and admitting that he doesn't feel great is the equivalent of me walking into city hall and going all Girl, Interrupted in the mayor's office.

She sat down on the twirly stool and said, "I'm going to prescribe a steroid drug therapy to get you past this and I want to get it started right now, plus give you a prescription for a descending dose of prednisone. Now. You can either start this therapy with pills that the nurse will bring you, or the medicine can be delivered in an injection."

"A shot?" my husband asked dubiously.

"Yes," the doctor replied, "and frankly, that's what I'd recommend. It's going to go to work a lot faster than the pills."

"Then that's what I want," my husband, who is not freaked out by needles, said firmly.

The pretty nurse came back about ten minutes later and said, "I have your injection for you. Could you please stand and drop your shorts for me? This has to be administered in the hip."

"It does?" my husband yelped, scandalized. "It has to go in my butt?"

The nurse explained that this steroid needed a larger muscle mass than is presented by the biceps in order to distribute itself properly through the blood stream. (I hope I got that right, and just to let you know, if at any time during this explanation of my husband's medical condition I happen to sound like I know what I'm talking about, I don't.) So he reluctantly hopped off the table and dropped trou, very modestly baring one glowing white cheek so that she could give him a stab.

"There you go!" she said brightly, withdrawing the needle. She put a bandage on the affected area and left the room, saying that she'd be back to check on him for an further allergic reactions in fifteen minutes.

"That kind of hurts," my husband winced, sitting back down on the gurney. "And I can't believe I just had to show my butt to some twenty-three year old nurse. I probably scarred her for life."

"Oh, you know what Beth says," I replied comfortingly, referring to a friend of ours who is a hospice nurse. "'You've seen one tushie, you've seen them all.'"

"Still," my husband grumbled. "Isn't it bad enough that I look like a gargoyle without having to show my butt, too?"

I patted him on the knee. "You should offer thanks that you're not giving birth, knowing that there are people lined up in the hallway to take a look at your business, some of whom might or might not be medical staff or possibly the janitor. Now shut up."

Within two hours of arriving back home, my husband's swelling and redness had started to recede. It was amazing. Now, three days later, his looks are almost back to normal, but his skin has the appearance of someone recovering from a bad sunburn, all tender and peeling. I've given him use of my Middle-Aged Lady Night Moisturizing Cream to help him out and I am happy that I can finally see his eyes again.

He doesn't want to even refer to the three hours we spent in ER, but I, Madame Scrapbooker, recorded the whole thing on film.

Including the shot.

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