Ambulance rides and false alarms

February 19, 2014
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ambulanceI’d always kind of figured my death would come in more epic circumstances, like a fiery crash or some kind of tragedy at sea that would inspire folk songs for generations to come.

So it seems, in hindsight, that I probably didn’t need to worry as they loaded me into the ambulance in the middle of a work day recently. But not worrying is easier said than done when you’re wired up to a heart monitor, surrounded by paramedics and whipping across town to the nearest hospital.

Personally, I blame Telehealth Ontario, the toll-free number designed to keep Ontarians out of hospitals, for putting me in that situation. Let me explain.

At some point over the Christmas holidays, your humble columnist developed a pain in his chest. Coming from somewhere deep inside the recesses that surround his heart, it stuck around stubbornly for two weeks.

It wasn’t a crippling thing, just a dull ache, but it wouldn’t go away.

Finally, when I complained about it to my wife while at work, she suggested I call Telehealth for some recommendations. Fine, I thought. I’ll get some helpful suggestions on a stretching regimen or some prescription that will fix this once and for all.

So I called. And what happened next is still a blur. The Telehealth agent, hearing that I was having a pain in my chest, patched me through to a 911 operator, who dispatched paramedics, who arrived within minutes at the newsroom’s front doors – with a fire truck in tow.

I walked out to meet them, and they insisted I get in and go to the hospital. I tried to protest, but they said we shouldn’t take any risks with a possible cardiac problem. Cardiac problem? Who’s having a heart problem? I wondered. Before I could argue, we were pulling away from the curb.

When we got to the hospital, I declined to get on the stretcher or sit in the wheelchair. I stepped out of the ambulance, and was met by a team of emergency room staff who looked almost disappointed I was on my own two feet. Did they know something I didn’t?

I suppose I could have tried to put on some kind of show, or at least manage a limp. But no, I just strolled by, directly into the hospital as if I were walking into a Sunday brunch buffet.

I was processed by the triage nurse and told to sit. Soon, another nurse led me to a second room, took my blood and wired me to another machine. Outside, in the ER, everyone else was grimacing, coughing, moaning. I began to wonder if I should do the same.

I’d always thought I was a healthy fellow. The last time I’d been admitted to a hospital, it was as an infant who had just entered the world buttocks-first via caesarean section.

Hospitals are for the sick, not me, I told myself.

But as I sat there, I began to wonder if maybe there was something wrong with my heart. What was taking so long? The longer I waited, I began to worry that, perhaps, just maybe, I was dying.

How would I be remembered? Who would come to the funeral? If my ex-girlfriends came (and I’m assuming they’d all be beside themselves with grief), would my wife let them in the door? We’d probably need a hockey rink to fit them all in. What does it cost to rent the Sleeman Centre for an afternoon? I wondered.

I was composing my last will and testament in my head when a young doctor came into the room.

“We couldn’t find anything wrong with you, ” he said.

His best guess? A pulled muscle inside my chest cavity.

I could have hugged him. I nearly skipped out of that emergency room, feeling 10 years younger. I was going to live! Sweet halleluiah, I was going to live. And all I had to show for it was a lousy $45 bill for an ambulance ride.

-Guelph Mercury, Feb. 1

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