A Few Good Things That Have Happened to Me in Hospitals: The Triage Nurse

I’m a hypochondriac, so you could be forgiven for thinking that I hate hospitals. Nothing that could be further from the truth. Although I wouldn’t choose to spend time there voluntarily, I’ve had some pretty good experiences in hospitals over the years. All were due to amazing people who worked there. For instance…

I. The Triage Nurse

In the spring of 2009, I started feeling dizzy. Not all the time. But every so often, I’d be going about my business when the world would tilt sideways for a moment, and stay there. It wasn’t when I stood up suddenly, or right after I got out of bed, or after I drank too much coffee or beer. All of a sudden, I’d list suddenly to port for a minute or less, and then things would right themselves.

I let this go for a few months. I have an autoimmune disorder called Behcet’s Disease. Usually, it causes minor circulatory problems and can be treated with gout medication (really) or steroids. But sometimes, it causes blindness or neurological problems or, oh, death. So you can understand why I might decide to pretend that nothing was happening.

One Sunday, I was hanging out in my old apartment when everything went sideways. I sat up and shook my head, which made things worse. I put my head between my knees, shut one eye and then the other, and nothing changed. After awhile, I texted Sgt. Lucky, who was on duty at the reserve center that weekend, and staggered down the street to the emergency room.

Everyone I ran into on the way clearly thought I was drunk. People gathered their children to them as I tilted to one side and then the other, like a lady who hadn’t had her V8. When I finally got to the hospital, people steered their wheelchairs around me as I staggered up the ramp and slumped against the reception desk in the emergency room.

“I’m dizzy,” I told the staffer at the desk. “Really, really dizzy. I think I have vertigo.”

“OK. Have you ever had vertigo?”

No, but option B is that I’m having a stroke or my brain is full of lesions and I’m going to wind up in a facility. “No, but I’m sure that’s it.”

They call your number very quickly when you can’t stand up straight. I went into a little room between reception and the rest of the emergency room. The triage nurse regarded me calmly. She was a late middle-aged black woman, wearing scrubs decorated with cats that seemed to be chewing on each other’s tails. I couldn’t look at them for too long without feeling dizzy.

“Hello, Miss Hubley,” she said, looking at my paperwork. “You don’t feel well today.”

“I feel nauseous,” I said. “Nauseated. I feel dizzy and I think I probably have vertigo.” And not any sort of a a problem with my brain. For example.

She nodded, and entered something into a computer. Then she smiled, stood, and opened the door behind her, and called to a colleague.

“Can you bring a basin in here?” she asked pleasantly in a light Islands accent.

“Why?” an irritated voice asked.

“Because this child is going to throw up.”

“I’m not going to throw up,” I said, indignantly. She handed me the basin. I vomited elaborately into it.

“You feel better now?”

I really did. I was obviously in good hands.

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