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At least Vonage 911 works (or: how my wife spent her birthday weekend in the hospital)

(This is a really long post on a totally non-geeky family emergency. Part of me wants to share, and part of me just needs to vent. You’ve been warned.)

It’s been an interesting few days…

Sunday was my wife Rachel’s birthday (I won’t tell you her age – she’d answer 29 if you asked her ;-)). We hadn’t planned anything big – an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins per her request, and we did some fun stuff on Saturday as a family (breakfast at Tom’s Pancake House, went to the farmer’s market, etc.). We ordered Pizza Hut for dinner, Emma and I picked up the ice cream cake, and we all generally enjoyed a Family Fun Day(TM).

That night, Rachel woke me up at about 2:00 AM, saying she was having really bad pain in the center of her back, coming through to her chest. She was starting to get a little panicky (wouldn’t you?), and I did my best to keep her calm while trying to figure out what was going on. I suspected some kind of indigestion, since we had greasy pizza for dinner, and I had some pretty bad heartburn myself. But we quickly ascertained that it wasn’t likely something she ate. By this point, she was starting to feel faint and nauseous, and was getting clammy. Not good. Of course, we’re both thinking the worst at this point – heart attack…

Not knowing what else to do, and preferring to err on the side of caution (isn’t that what my fancy insurance from Intel is for?), I called 911. Somewhere, in the geeky recesses of my mind (yes, they function during crises in the middle of the night) I knew that we had Vonage, which warns you about E911 compatibility, and the fact that when you call 911, your address might not be displayed correctly to the 911 operator. Apparently, that wasn’t the case. The operator immediately dispatched an ambulance, and kept me on the phone, asking questions. She told me to turn on my porch light, and unlock the door, which I did. Turns out the ambulance station was only a few blocks away, because the EMT crew was there within a couple of minutes.

So, within 5 minutes or so of waking up, there was a crew of three young, blonde, attractive women in my bedroom, asking questions and taking vitals on Rachel. And me just standing there, in my underwear. :-) Don’t think I’m a pig for mentioning this part of the story – Rachel and I have been joking about it, and I have a feeling that it’s going to be one of those things we can refer to in 20 years, and still have a chuckle.

They checked Rachel, and didn’t find anything indicating immediate or obvious cardiac problems, which was simultaneously reassuring and distressing. They wanted to take her to the hospital to find out what was going on. At this point, a million thoughts about the logistics of the whole thing popped into my head – should I follow the ambulance in the car? What about the kids? Gabriel we could just throw into his carrier and bring along, but three year old Emma was asleep in her bedroom. Rachel gave me the name of a friend from church to call, who could come over and stay at our house with Emma. I hate to call anyone in the middle of the night, but before I even had a full explanation of the situation out, she was telling me that she was getting dressed, and would be right over. Thank you for being so willing to respond, and serve, Carol. We can’t say how blessed we felt to have you watch after Emma.

The ambulance headed out with Rachel aboard, no lights and sirens, but moving quickly nonetheless. I put Gabriel in the car, and waited a few minutes for Carol to arrive. During those few minutes, Emma woke up, and came into our bed, as she sometimes does. She must have been puzzled to see the lights on, the bed empty, and Dad dressed and getting ready to leave. I explained that mama was sick, and I had to take her to the doctor, and that a friend was going to come and stay with her. She was still asleep, though, so I doubt any of that sunk in. She curled up in our bed, and went back to sleep. The next day, some other friends from church took Emma, so she could play with their kids in a familiar setting. Thank you, Kevin and Kelly, for taking care of our Emma for us, and thank you Emma, for being so flexible and easy, and handling the unexpected events of the last few days like an angel.

Now, here I am, driving to the hospital in the rain at 2:30 AM, with my six week old son asleep in the back, wondering what’s happening with Rachel. I confess that I exceeded the speed limit most of the way, but not too much, since it was rainy, and my rush to get to the emergency room was tempered by the thought of Gabriel and I getting into an accident on the way. By this point, the adrenaline had subsided a bit, and crazy, dark thoughts about what might happen flooded in. What would I do without Rachel? What would Emma and Gabriel do without their mother? How would I be able to provide for our needs, as well as care for them? Like I said, dark thoughts. I wouldn’t wish those types of thoughts and feelings on anyone.

When I got to the ER, I went inside, and got my little visitor sticker for the ER room number Rachel was in. When I walked in, she was in the middle of having an EKG – there were about 15 little stickers attached to various places on her body, each with an electrical lead and a wire connected to a little laptop cart, recording the EKG data. She was awake, and considering the circumstances, looked OK. She was still in pain, but there were no signs of any heart problems. That was the good news. The bad news was that they didn’t yet know what was wrong. They gave her some IV morphine, which stopped the pain, and pretty much from that point on, we were playing a waiting game.

We spent the next 12 hours in the emergency room, while every couple of hours, Rachel was wheeled away for one diagnostic test or another. Chest x-ray, more EKGs, CAT scan, ultrasound, etc. We passed the time taking care of Gabriel, trying to snooze, and listening to all the activity going on in the ER around us. Listening to the radio calls from incoming ambulances was particularly interesting, in a morbid, train-wreck sort of way. After all the waiting, the verdict? 15 to 20 gall stones. Her episode of pain was likely caused by the passage of one of the stones.

That said, there had been just enough abnormalities in some of the tests (a slightly irregular heartbeat, etc.) that they wanted to be very sure that there was nothing wrong with her heart. That meant being admitted to the hospital. We had to wait a few hours for a room to open up on the cardiac floor, and after a while, we were whisked up there. Rachel was hooked up to a portable telemetry monitor pack, hung around her neck, and sternly warned that if she left the 6th floor, or any of those leads came off, nurses would come running with a crash cart.

Suitably indoctrinated, we settled in for what would be 24 boring hours of uneventful waiting. Rachel felt fine – after the initial attack, which the morphine squashed, she had no more pain. So, we watched TV (a “What Not to Wear” marathon was on TLC – I told Rachel that was her birthday present – she loves that show ;-)), tried to sleep, and called family and friends to let them know what was going on. Gabe was the star of the show, and charmed every nurse and staff member who met him – at one point, we took a walk around the floor, and all work effectively came to a halt as we passed by the nurses station. :-) Thank you to the St. Vincents nurses and staff that made us as comforable as possible while we were there.

The surgeon wanted Rachel’s gall bladder to come out, but didn’t feel that it was urgent, so we were discharged on Monday, and Rachel will be going in at the end of this week for the surgery. It’s going to be done laproscopically, with only 4 tiny incisions, and it’s a “day” surgery, meaning no extended hospital stay. I’m going to be around to keep things running at home, and let Rachel recover. She’s on a bland diet, and will likely be for a while – the ice cream cake is waiting in the freezer at home.

Once things settled down, I told Rachel that the next time she wants some kind of exciting adventure for her birthday, to just tell me. I don’t know if my heart can handle any more excitement of that variety. 😉

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7 thoughts on “At least Vonage 911 works (or: how my wife spent her birthday weekend in the hospital)

  1. I was wondering, as I read this, if your wife had the same thing I had, and as soon as I read the part where you mentioned that Gabriel was only six weeks old, I knew: gall stones! I just dealt with the same thing myself a couple months ago after the birth of my second child. Apparently a recent pregnancy sometimes gives you gallstones. Mine didn’t get so bad that I had to go to the hospital, but the attacks are VERY painful. All my empathy to her. The good news is that the surgery was a breeze and my four tiny incisions have healed up just fine. I had a rough couple weeks afterward digestion-wise, while my body adjusted to no longer having a gallbladder, but that has gone away too. So I hope she has an easy experience with that too!

  2. Yeow. That’s the kind of excitement nobody needs. It is amazing how good they are at doing gallbladder surgery, the small incisions mean that they heal really quickly compared to “the good old days”. Best wishes to you and your wife, and here’s hoping that she’ll be enjoying that ice cream cake soon!

  3. IntelWife says:

    I had my gallbladder out over the 4th of July. Nothing like getting to watch the fireworks from Providence. Nice views if you have to be there. I hope that the surgery goes quickly and easily for your wife. Make sure that she gets the skinny on how certain ummm things might change for a bit after surgery, digestion and bathroom wise, but it does get so much better. And life without the gallbladder is so much easier. Amazing what they can do laproscopically these days! I hope that you get the same great doctor that I had. If it is Dr. Reger he is fantastic!

  4. wow…scary stuff but i’m glad things are going well, and really surprised that you had such a positive experience at the hospital – i’ve never heard of it working so well.

    ironic – just this week I took my team on a tour of the new digital health expo in FM…we got to see all kinds of new gadgets and technologies that the company is developing to make hospital stays shorter, and the quality of care better, for those times like this when you really need them.

    there’s some absolutely incredible stuff coming…hopefully i will never have to need it, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you do.

  5. Thanks to all of you for your kind words and thoughts. It’s nice to know that people out there care about us. :-)

    We really feel lucky to have had a relatively good experience with the whole thing, everything considered. Rachel goes in for surgery tomorrow, which should be routine (the surgeon told us yesterday that this is the second most common surgery performed in the U.S. – I wonder what the first is? I forgot to ask…).

    I’ll keep you all updated!

  6. Pingback: One Year Ago Today: How Rachel Spent Her Birthday in the Hospital at Josh Bancroft’s TinyScreenfuls.com

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