Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Go For A Flu Shot And Land in the ER

I have always had a gift for making life more exciting than it needs to be. Call it "embellishing", "embroidering", or just plain coloring outside of the lines. Everything has to be an adventure.

Take getting a flu shot for example:

Through a fluke of nature - a weather pattern deemed an "inland hurricane", full of tornadoes and hail and other nastiness that prevented my usual Wednesday drive from Alabama to Georgia - I found myself in Birmingham rather than Atlanta on Thursday, the day I had planned to get my flu shot. In Georgia, you can walk into a Walgreens or CVS at your whim, and a friendly nurse practitioner will dispense wit and wisdom along with your vaccination. How conveeeeeenient.

But Alabama has a different medical model. Here, we have no in-store clinics. Instead, we have mini-emergency facilities, designed to serve a walk-in population; and to reduce the strain on the major hospitals. They also offer flu shots.

I had this mundane list of chores for the morning: buy leaf blower, get cat litter, buy groceries, and get flu shot.

I also had one less-than-mundane chore: Pick up urn containing remains of dear Violet, which had been delivered to the animal emergency clinic where our sweet old kitty was euthanized. That was my first stop. I knew it would be difficult, and I wanted to get it off my plate.

Of course, as I drove up to the horrible, horrible building, all of the horrible, horrible emotions of the horrible, horrible day returned...and I felt just horrible. The young lady behind the counter retrieved the pretty little white urn, bearing Violet's name; and I felt even more horrible. I took it to the car, where I opened the beautiful sympathy card from the pet crematory; and I cried for Violet, and I cried for my mother, and I cried because I missed both of them...and I am crying as I type.

I couldn't stop. I sat in front of the clinic blubbering; then I tried to drive away but had to pull into a shopping center lot to blubber some more.

Finally, the sobs receded to sniffles. And I drove, puffy-eyed, to get my flu shot.

I arrived at the medical center during a lull, and I was the only person in the waiting room. (Good thing, too...since I looked like I had just escaped The Nice Young Men in Their Clean White Coats.) Hmmm...since there was no one else there and there wasn't a wait, I asked Kay, the receptionist, if the doctor could see me for the pesky sinus infection that had been plaguing me for weeks. She agreed, probably thinking that would be a good way to have this mad woman re-committed. She handed me four forms to fill out.

Even though I was wearing my reading glasses, my eyes were still pretty squinty. I filled out just about everything wrong. Kay spent a good ten minutes fixing my mistakes. She also asked me some hard questions, like "Do you have a co-pay?" I dunno. "Does your insurance pay for your flu shot?" I dunno. This woman was doing absolutely nothing for my self esteem.

I heard my name called, and was directed to the vital statistics station, where a tech took my pulse, and then my blood pressure, and then looked panic-stricken, grabbed my hand and shouted, "Come with me!!!" Not very professional. But I followed her...

Around the corner, to where the doctor was sipping coffee in a break room. The tech shouted, "Two forty over one twenty!" and the doc spit her coffee; someone else grabbed me and stuffed me into a room, shoved some pills and a cup of water in my face and shouted, "Take these, RIGHT NOW!"

At this point, I was wondering which of us really belonged on the Funny Farm...these people had clearly ingested too much caffeine, and I was at their mercy. I had no idea what I had just swallowed, or why. Just then, Ashlee the Nurse Practitioner stepped in. She asked, "Has your blood pressure ever been this high before?" Huh? Wait...240/120...that was my BLOOD PRESSURE? I eat right, I exercise, and I take my blood pressure medicine. Surely, someone has made a big mistake.

Ashlee took a reading again. Still high, but lower...and then she made a grave error, because she is Alabamian. She asked, "Are you OK, honey?" and I erupted again into tears and blubbering. Ashlee handed me tissues and listened (while intermittently checking my pressure) as I recounted losing Violet and retrieving the urn and missing my mother and having a sinus infection. Ashlee listened to my chest, which was pronounced "clear", said "bless your heart..." which is the required Alabamian response to any outpouring of ills, and stepped out of the room.

She returned with orders and some very strange explanations for them. First, they were going to run some blood work, to see "what kind of bug" I had. The results would take about 20 minutes. Although I am not a doctor, I have spent a lot of time in the medical community. I didn't protest, but I wanted to tell her that a culture would not be back in 20 minutes; it would take a couple of days to grow. Then she said they wanted to take a chest X-ray. Clearly a plan to make money at my expense, she had just pronounced my chest "clear"; and I knew I didn't have any chest congestion. Finally, they were going to run an EKG...just because it, um, "comes with the X-ray". Whatever. I really didn't feel like shopping for a leaf blower anyway. So I was poked, prodded, photographed, and wired up. Did you know that now they can run an EKG on a laptop?

And then I waited. Eventually, the lovely young doctor who spewed her coffee and was ultimately responsible for all of this intervention, joined me in my cubicle. Dr. B., also Alabamian, had been filled in on my tribulations by the nurse practitioner. The first words out of her mouth were, "Bless your heart..." and then she told me that - although they didn't want to tell me while my BP was so high - the tests were all to see if I was having a stroke or heart attack. Fortunately, my results were "as normal as normal can be". Then she asked, "Do you hurt anywhere?" Geez, these people asked weird questions. I explained that I had head and neck pain from the sinus infection; and that I have fibromyalgia. Dr. B. explained that chronic pain can raise blood pressure significantly. Hmmm. So I mentioned that I also have a ruptured hamstring; my orthopedist recommended surgery because physical therapy hasn't worked. And I have a Baker's cyst behind my knee, but I have an appointment to have it evaluated in two weeks.

Dr. B. was starting to look very strange. Her jaw was slack, her eyes were big. She swallowed. She spoke..."So you recently lost your mom, today you picked up your kitty's urn, you've been fighting a sinus infection for weeks, you have fibromyalgia and you are limping around on a leg with a torn hamstring and a Baker's cyst?" Yeah; and your point would be??? "Nancy, it's time for you to take care of yourself." Do you have any idea how busy I've been lately? Really busy. Super busy...busy, busy, busy...but, hey you kinda have a point...I said, "You're right. I think that's why I'm here today." And I meant it. Dr. B. asked me to make an appointment for a re-check in two weeks, gave me a hug and another "Bless your heart..." and left.

Ashlee returned, checked my blood pressure one last time (it was finally low enough that they could "legally release" me) handed me an assortment of medications to take home, injected me with a megadose of antibiotics; oh, and...gave me a flu shot.

Then I went home - with a stop at Lowe's, to buy a leaf blower.

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