Beyond the emerald gates of the ER

On Halloween our minds turn to strange stories and tales of the
imagination. Going for the first time to St. Louise Regional
Hospital in Gilroy was a bit like visiting the Land of Oz.
On Halloween our minds turn to strange stories and tales of the imagination. Going for the first time to St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy was a bit like visiting the Land of Oz. As I drove up to emergency at 2 a.m., I expected it to be like ER on TV: bright lights, gurneys being wheeled about, and concerned medical personnel rushing over to see me as soon as I came through the doorway.

Instead I found myself facing a wall, a tightly closed and locked front door, and a button. A button? As I pressed it, a voice boomed out of the wall. “Yes, why are you here?” I had to resist the impulse to say, “Please sir, I have to see the Wizard.” The voice in the wall asked me again, “What is the nature of your problem?” Hmmm … What if I gave the wrong answer? Would the guard say, “Orders are – Nobody can see the Great Oz! Not nobody – not nohow!” Maybe if I answered like the Scarecrow, “I can’t make up my mind. I haven’t got a brain … only straw,” the door would swing open. I was suffering the opposite problem from the Tin Woodman when he complained, “If I Only Had a Heart … I’d hear a beat … how sweet.” I had a beat all right – a loud racing beat that pounded in my ears like thunder and wouldn’t go away no matter how I tried to relax. A strange way to suddenly awaken from the dreams of a deep slumber in the middle of the night. So I decided to leave my husband sleeping peacefully at home and drive myself to the ER. Was waking up in the night with a wildly beating heart a good enough reason to go to emergency? How could I know? I’m no doctor.

So I slowly spoke my symptoms into the speaker in the wall, and my complaint must have sounded legitimate enough; some unseen hand buzzed me in and the door magically opened. After filling out forms and answering questions, I waited, and worried about whether I was going to catch something worse just by being in a hospital, and waited some more. After an EKG, I eventually ended up in a hospital room behind some curtains (“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain …”), where I tried not to hear another patient discussing his injuries with someone. I was being kept for observation and was instructed to lie very still and relax as much as possible.

I was hooked up to all sorts of monitors, just like in the movies. Each limb had its own electrode which was feeding information to monitors showing various readings of my bodily functions, including a special gadget on my finger that was supposedly measuring the amount of oxygen being processed by my blood. There were wires going in every direction and lots of colored blinking lights.

“Toto, I have a feeling that we’re not in Kansas anymore,” I thought. After several hours of lying there watching the monitors, I realized that I really had to go to the bathroom. I looked all around, but no one was in sight. I searched for a button. I tried calling out, but no one seemed to be in earshot. I waited … thinking surely someone would be checking on me soon.

Finally, in desperation I quickly unhooked each electrode, climbed up and out over the high bed rail, wrapped the bedspread around my waist (those hospital gowns are frightening), and raced down the hallway to find a bathroom. According to the monitors, I was now essentially dead. “Ahh! I’m melting!” But no one made any fuss. So different from what I expected after watching all those medical shows on TV where everybody comes running and loud speakers call out for more medical staff as the patient flatlines. Afterwards I made my way back to the bed, climbed back over the top of the railing and tried to figure out where the electrodes belonged. Hmm … this one is marked “LL” I noticed, and that one is “RA,” so that must mean left leg and right arm, I decided as I reattached each tiny electrode and laid back down in the bed, as if I had never been gone.

As the next day dawned, I called my husband to tell him where I was. “I thought I’d let you know in case you were worried …” “How are you doing this trick?” he asked in confusion. “What?” I said. “How are you calling me from home?” He never noticed I was gone and thought I had found some way to call him from somewhere else within our house. Such amazing powers of observation, like the time I dyed my hair and he never noticed the color had changed. “No, no; I’m at emergency,” I tried to explain, “I’ll be home sometime later this morning.” And once my blood pressure returned to normal, I was released. Apparently my heart was okay, and there was nothing more the Wizard could do for me.

Kat Teraji’s column is published every Thursday in The Dispatch. You can reach her at [email protected]