It had just begun to rain, figuratively speaking. I was contemplating easy street with my brother when Mom called from out of town to say that Dad had been taken to the hospital.
Saturday, 11:40 PM. My brother and I were driving just the other side of legal towards the Emergency Room. I punched up information on my cell phone and got connected to the HealthPlex. Someone had waived enough of the HIIPA privacy rules by this time because they were willing to talk to me. Yes, my father had been brought in, did I want to speak to the doctor or the nurse? I don't care which. "Hello? Doctor? What happened?!"
"Your father was brought in complaining of severe dizziness - vertigo, we call it - and uncontrolled vomiting." Thank you God, it's not a heart attack, I thought. "His blood pressure is elevated, but he's stable and we're running some checks." Oh, oh. Dad has amazingly low blood pressure normally. I called mom in St. Louis to tell her what I had found out. A couple of minutes later we were there.
Saturday, 11:52 PM. The chatty nurse at the reception desk waved us through to the examination room breezily. We rounded the corner and came face to face with ... the neighbors. They are an older couple who live next door. Nice folk, and well meaning, but they can be a little too up close and personal from time to time. Excitable and talkative, and as likely to give misinformation as good - not what we want right now. Mom had said to keep them away from Dad because he didn't need the stimulus. Still, they had done us a service, and I was grateful.
We ducked behind the flimsy curtain that masquerades as privacy screens in every Emergency Room in the country. We let Dad know we were there, and he acknowledged us weakly. Seeing no imminent danger I ducked back out and shuffled the neighbors off with profuse thanks. They told me what they knew which wasn't much, but they took their time doing it.
Sunday 12:03 AM. Dad didn't look so hot. He was pale and had his eyes screwed shut to keep the dizziness at bay. They had given him an anti-nausea medicine and it was starting to take effect which was good. Then there was the smell. When someone empties their stomach onto their shoes it's not exactly a bed of roses. I tried not to think about that.
Dad was conscious and lucid, but he looked like someone who just had a very Bad Day. My brother and I helped to answer the doctor's questions about past history and what medicines Dad took.
Between waves of nausea we pieced together the story. Dad had been at the house all day. In the afternoon, despite the heat he had taken a walk and then a shower. He said he felt fine. He ate dinner at the house and then went out for ice cream. Milwaukee's Frozen Custard to be exact. He returned to the house and was watching the television when he began to grow dizzy and have trouble focusing. It grew progressively worse and Dad knew he was about to lose his lunch, dinner, and that great Milwaukee's Frozen Custard to boot. Realizing it would be bad if he passed out alone, he managed to call 911. The neighbors saw the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles and called my mother.
That's where we came in to the story.
Sunday 1:15 AM. The doctors did their doctor thing and we tried to stay out of the way and stay in the loop. Blood work, EKG, CAT scans. Fluid in the ear. Elevated heart rate. Obvious vertigo and nausea. We talked to Dad and tried to be a comforting presence and his advocate with the doctors. The ER doc stepped out to consult with the family doctor. I stood there and eavesdropped, not caring if he noticed me or not. "... like to transfer him to the full hospital ... need to run some neurological scans, MRI ... possible constriction of vessels to the brain ... vaso-vagal nerves ...". I wasn't liking the sound of that.
The doctor came back in and told us the same story. He said it was going to take another hour or two before they could get him transferred. He left to make the arrangements with the hospital and I updated Mom on the phone in my most reassuring voice.
My brother and I did rock, scissors, paper to see who would go back to the house to clean up the mess and get Dad a fresh change and some supplies. Actually, I cheated and gave him the job while I waited with Dad. I owe you one.
3:10 AM. I waited around and kept Dad company. It was good to see that although he felt like the business end of a can of Alpo, he hadn't lost his sense of humor. By that time the meds and the hour were taking their toll and he fell in and out of a fitful sleep.
There was a patient on the other side of the privacy curtain in the next bay. His salad days were clearly behind him, but he looked as if he were clinging pretty hard to the memory. He kept trying to chat me up but I wasn't interested. He also had a certain lack of inhibition because he discussed his intimate medical condition at a volume that half the ER could hear, our flimsy curtain notwithstanding. At another time, I would have been amused.
The paramedics finally came and there was more paperwork to fill out. They juiced Dad again with the anti-vert for the ride to the hospital and it was good night sunshine. Apparently, nobody puts shock absorbers on ambulances or else they drive with square wheels, because it's not what anybody would call a comfortable ride - certainly not like a car.
3:30 AM. I followed the ambulance to the main hospital 20 minutes down the road. They brought him in through the emergency doors, while I checked in at the desk. I had called my brother and he met us back at the hospital. We got Dad settled in a room of his own and answered more questions, filled out more paperwork, did the insurance. There was some question whether radiology was open for business on Sunday, but it was going to have to wait for morning in any case. I didn't know entire departments could take the day off in a hospital.
4:30 AM. There was nothing more to be done at that hour so I returned to the house while my brother sacked out on the hospital floor. Mom got her flight rearranged for Sunday afternoon and planned to make a beeline for the hospital from the airport.
Sunday 8:30 AM. My brother called our other brother who had just returned from his own weekend trip with the youth group and gave him the low down. They exchanged places for the day shift.
10:00 AM. I wanted the monkey with the hammer to stop pounding on my brain. Daylight filtered in the window. I was not amused. A Nodling came calling up the stairs. I handed her to her mother and mumbled something incoherent.
1:00 PM. I called the hospital to find out what I had missed. Our doctor had been to see Dad, and gave him a complete work up. Thankfully, our worst fears had not been realized. Turns out the culprit was a particularly nasty viral ear infection. It had been making the rounds and was known to be particularly debilitating including the vertigo and vomiting. They gave him the work up with the MRI just to be sure, and it came back clean.
3:00 PM. I headed over to my parents house and collected some necessary items. All the family members had gotten the updates and were breathing easier.
5:30 PM. Mom was wheels-down from the airport and at Dad's side at the hospital. Meanwhile, we couldn't get any response from the hospital Chaplain service, (would we like the Baptists?) so my brother called in a favor from his priest buddy.
7:30 PM. Father drives 40 minutes from whatever he was doing and gives Communion to Mom and Dad in the hospital and the Anointing of the Sick to Dad. Father calls St. V's and reads them the riot act for missing the sick calls. St. V's was very apologetic, the phone got turned off by mistake. Their ears are a little blistered now. I love a good Catholic priest.
Monday 12:30 PM. Mom calls to say that they've released Dad from the hospital after getting the all clear from radiology. It's going to take a few days for the virus to clear Dad's system, so in the meantime he's got some wonderful drugs to take his mind off the problem. They're tired and going to get some much needed sleep.
The good news is Dad's going to be okay. Thanks to all who prayed and supported us. We're all a little tired, and a lot more appreciative of the good things that God has given us.