Saturday, August 31, 2013

My first trip to the ER in 16 years

For sixteen and a half years I've managed to stay out of the emergency room as an asthma patient.  That was the longest streak of my 43 years on this planet.  The previous long was 4 years, from 1993 to 1997.  Yet, as they always say, good streaks always come to an end.

So I was sitting around, or, rather, pacing back and forth, worrying about what I should do. I was also using my ventolin with increased frequency over the past week and a half.  I actually wrote a post about this once: "Having asthma symptoms? Here's five tips to help you decide what to do." Based on my own tips, I decided it was time to take the plunge and go to the emergency room.  

It was awkward being the patient, as in the triage room I sat on the wrong side of the desk, generating a laugh from the triage nurse.  Twice as a different person came to introduce herself, saying something like, "Hi, I'm Sarah from admitting," I almost said, "Hi, I'm Rick from Respiratory Therapy."  I also have this habit of thanking people. "Thanks for giving me that shot." 

It was my pleasure," the nurse said.  

I added, "What really makes me happy is you gave it in the side of my hip as opposed to my butt, so now I can still sit."

She laughed, "That's what I like about you, Rick." 

The worse part about the visit was that they sent me to a portion of our ER called Fast Track, where a nurse practitioner was pretending to be doctor.  I had tough time explaining to her that I did not have ordinary asthma.  Finally, as she was lecturing me about how I use my ventolin so much, my wife chimed in on my behalf.  She said:

"Rick has had severe persistent asthma his entire life.  He had trouble with it as a kid, and even spent six months at a research hospital once.  He takes all the best asthma medicines, and still needs to take his rescue medicine every four hours, and sometimes more, on a good day: that's as good as it will ever get for him.  If he came to the ER every time he used his inhaler every hour, he'd be in here every day."

That cheered me right up. That flustered the NP, who had trouble speaking after that, and yearned to get out of the room.  But before she could escape, she had to defend her position, although she sputtered in the process.

She came back a while later, and she said she was debating giving me an antibiotic.  I said, "I don't think I need any, as I have no symptoms other than asthma.  But I'll do whatever you want."  I actually wanted to say, "why don't you just do some lab tests, and an xray, to make sure I'm okay."  I think further testing would give me further peace of mind, perhaps relieving some of my anxiety (yes, 300 puffs of ventolin and steroids does increase anxiety).

In good jest, she offered me a sucker.  I said, "How about some xanax?"  She said she couldn't give xanax, but she could give Ativan.  Later, a nurse came in with 1 mg of ativan in a syringe.  

"At home he takes .5 mg of xanax, and 1 mg of ativan is like 2 mg of xanax.  How about giving him half of that so he can function at home," my brilliant wife said (yes, she is also a nurse). "It doesn't make sense that she would give that much ativan when one .5mg xanax works for him just fine."

My thought was: "Dough! Wifey, what are you doing."  But the .5mg ativan worked great, as I got my best night sleep last night in the past week.  I do not, however, feel much better this morning, so we'll have to see how this turns out.  If I end up going back to that place, I'm going to insist on seeing a doctor in the ER, someone who knows a little about asthma; or at least someone with a little common sense. 


  1. This sounds like me too! I've actually had to do 5 ER trips this summer, but I'm always having to defend I'm not "normal" and luckily my wife is there with all the answers. I'm not much of a wheezer and that's always the first things they say - well, I don't hear much wheezing. However, last night my PF was at 260 where my personal best is 800. I may not be wheezing, but my O2 sat is dipping below 90% and I can hardly breathe in. Fortunately a couple quick explanations, my med list and asthma journal showing how much rescue meds I have to take get the ball rolling.

  2. It's always good to hear similar stories to confirm you're not alone in this asthma world. Thanks.

  3. Wow. That’s quite a feat! Though it’s been months since you’ve had to go to the ER to get checked after an episode, 16 years is a lot. Was there anything that could have triggered that big of an attack that you needed to go to the hospital? Maybe something that triggered it, like recent stressful situations or whatnot?