So I’m in the ambulance. First, I’m surprised to be sitting on a simple chair belted to the floor, with no seatbelt, and with a rather cute woman tending to my wound. I’m surprised not only at the lack of a seatbelt, but at the amount of empty space around me. Basically I’m sitting on a chair in the middle of the back of an empty van. I had always thought that the back of an ambulance is crammed with equipment. So much for Emergency.
The cute woman asks me to repeat what happened. I had already told—with her present—the whole story to her partner. But I would repeat the story at least ten times within the next 18 hours (and I’m not exagerating). She also called me “Jeff”.
In no time we arrive at the hospital. It must have been no further away than a couple of city blocks. They accompany me into the building (I’m walking) and I go to the receptionist, who asks me to repeat the story. At no point does she ask me for any identification, which I find odd. Then I begin the first of at least five conversations regarding my health insurance.
I’m insured, of course, because German law requires everyone to be insured. But my particular status—being insured by a foreign insurance company—seems a bit complicated to the poor woman.
(This I found somewhat surprising. Gettysburg is one of those towns in which on any given day the tourists probably outnumber the residents. I discussed this later with my sister, and argued that perhaps Gettysburg is only a draw for American tourists, and that probably not so many foreign tourists go there. She assured me of having seen many a busload of foreigners in Gettysburg.)
At some point I get put into a bed. A nurse comes, and asks me to repeat the story. I do. She takes my blood pressure.
A doctor comes, and asks me to repeat the story. He orders a bunch of tests: a CAT scan of my head, an X-ray of head and neck, an EKG, and blood and urine samples. They start with the EKG.
Five minutes later, the doctor comes again and asks, “Do you have any chest pains? Did you have any chest pains?”
“No chest pains?”
“No. Ummm…why? Is something wrong with my EKG?”
“Well, I’m not really sure. There are some [doctor speak which I don’t recall] which are somewhat unusual. Let me get it and show you.”
He shows me what I later learned are called PVCs. Remember this.
He talks quietly to the nurse, and things start to change quickly. They put an IV in my hand, an oxygen tube thingy around my ears which blows air into my nostrils, a blood pressure band around my arm which is hooked up to a machine that automatically takes my blood pressure every few minutes, a red-glowing white plastic thingy on my finger, and electrodes on my chest. I also have to get undressed and put on a hospital gown.
Meanwhile, all the nurses call me “Jeff”.
At this point I’m thinking, “They think I’m having a heart attack!” which upsets me a great deal. I almost start crying. I’m in Gettysburg having a heart attack, and I’m supposed to fly home in two days!
They tell me that they’re monitoring me closely, and that if necessary they will move me to a hospital in York.
The doctor orders more tests: chiefly, he wants an X-ray of my chest now.
They start doing all the tests. Meanwhile, I’m feeling better than I’ve felt all day. I’ve calmed down, because I’m convinced I’m NOT having a heart attack. As for the PVCs, I’m thinking that maybe that’s exactly what they saw the last time I had an EKG back in the early 80s, which the doctors said showed “an irregular heart beat” and wasn’t anything to worry about. I tell the nurses and doctors this, but they seem to ignore it. Maybe it wasn’t relevant. What do I know? I’m not a doctor.
Eventually I get put into a bed up in the “Critical” ward. I get a room by myself.
I’m told not to urinate in the toilet, because they want to measure my urine. Right. I’m tied to about six machines, and I’m just going to hop out of bed and go to the toilet all by myself, wasting perfectly measurable urine.
They start a bunch of paperwork. I get several nice brochures: my rights as a patient, something about managing my pain (which I’m supposed to put on a scale from one to ten), something about the Gettysburg hospital. Their main concern seems to be my “valuables”. Luckily, for some superbly strange reason, I wasn’t wearing my ring or my watch. I ALWAYS wear my ring and my watch, even when sleeping. Apparently I had forgotten to put them on after taking a bath. So all I have is my wallet. They ask if I want to put it in the safe. I say, “Don’t worry about it.” They say it’s no trouble, really. They seem to want me to want it locked up. So I say okay, and we fill out another form with the contents of my wallet. I have euros in addition to dollars, which seems to throw them for a moment. They put the wallet in sealed bag.
It is now about 1:00 AM. I’ve been here since…oh…around 6:30 or a quarter to seven.
They tell me to try to get some sleep, which I manage to do, but only in fifteen minute increments. Because every fifteen minutes my blood pressure is automatically taken by the damn machine, which also seems to pump it up much tighter than the average nurse does. I also can’t roll to the side with the blood pressure arm band, which means I can only lay on my back or right side.
But I do sleep some, until they start doing more tests in the morning. New nurses start the day shift as well. So I get to repeat the story a couple more times. And new strangers call me “Jeff”.
The tests are an ultrasound of my heart and an EEG. The EEG requires me to have about twenty electrodes stuck to my head with something like greasy rubber cement. And I’m supposed to be still for most of it, though at one point I start to fall asleep and kick my legs out a little, which gets me a mild scolding.
But she calls me “Jeff.” Everyone in the hospital calls me “Jeff.” I think it must be hospital policy to use first names. I find it mildly unsettling, just like the constant stream of “excuse me”s at Target.
Breakfast comes: three small blueberry pancakes with syrup, orange juice, and milk. I eat three bites of the pancakes without the syrup and drink the orange juice.
The doctor comes. He sits on the edge of the bed and talks to me for a long time—ten minutes or so. He says he doesn’t think I’m having a heart attack. He also doesn’t think I was having a seizure, though my sister claims I stared into space for thirty seconds or so before hitting the floor, and that I was out for a good minute or two. He gives the diagnosis of “Vasovagal Syncope”. He says I can leave soon.
Lunch comes: canned green beans, a small potato still in its jacket, and a small chicken breast rolled in herbs. This is obviously part of the diet for a heart patient. There is also a small paper cup of ice cream. I eat the chicken and the green beans, two bites of the potato, and leave the rest for the nurses.
They release me around noon. I have been in the hospital for about 18 hours, because I passed out at a bar.