by Frances Edstrom
Last weekend, John and I took separate vacations. He went golfing in warmer climes with some guys, and I went to one of those all-inclusive places east of here. It was incredible. I was picked up at my house, installed in a vehicle large enough to sleep in, and whisked away. At my destination, I was greeted by about six people, all of whom were given the task of discovering my every need and fulfilling it. I didn't need to lift a finger. I was taken to my room, where everything was set in preparation for me. During the course of the weekend, no fewer than eight people a day were at my beck and call, checking on my progress and making sure that I was comfortable.
Meals were individually ordered from a prix fixe menu, and brought to me by friendly, cheerful staff, who checked back to see how I was enjoying things practically before I could get my napkin off the table and onto my lap. And the food was quite good. My last meal there began with a cucumber, pepper and onion salad with a dressing that was tangy but not too sharply vinegary. That was followed by a boneless chicken breast in a flavorful tomatoey sauce, accompanied by couscous and a serving of spinach that was absolutely delicious, cooked just right. This was followed by the ubiquitous Midwestern dessert, the lemon bar, but this one was the sort that makes you want to moisten your fingers to pick up all the crumbs.
I'm telling you, this was the ultimate vacation, except for one thing. I was sicker than a dog, and the all-inclusive east of me was Community Memorial Hospital. Here's what happened.
About four in the morning last Saturday (as nearly as I can reconstruct it), I woke up drenched in sweat. I looked over at the bedside clock, and I couldn't focus on the numbers. I started to sit up, and fell back on the bed, the room spinning around me. I lay there for a while, and tried again. Blurred vision, sweating, dizziness. Oh-oh, I should never have read that magazine article about women and heart attacks! What should I do, I wondered. John gone, no one to ask for advice, I began to become more and more panicked. I couldn't open my eyes without feeling sick. I could wait until morning, and see how I felt, but what if it were my heart? I couldn't even go to the bathroom to take an aspirin (I read the whole article). And I was feeling worse instead of better.
I finally decided that I had to bite the bullet and call 9-1-1. Problem: phone is in hall, Fran is in bedroom. I slid out of bed and crawled into the hall, reached up for the phone, waited for the spinning to subside, and placed the call. "What if I'm dying," I thought. How horrible, how undignified, how"final! Well, buck up, I told myself as I gave the operator my name, number, symptoms and wonder of wonders, I had the presence of mind to give her the combination to the side door lock. I waited on the floor in the hall, breathing heavily. By this time, I was still able to think, but had lost the ability to move. So I was thinking, "I hope my underpants aren't showing," but couldn't reach down to tug my nightie over my butt.
I soon heard the sirens, then the dog started barking (I'd love to know how they got him to back off, but he won't tell me), and a man's voice was calling my name (is this a dream?). I was able to call out, "upstairs," and they finally found me. They started to work putting in an IV, giving me oxygen, asking questions. I could answer but not see. My stomach then decided to get into the act. Soon, they had me wrapped in some sort of sling, and the next thing I remember is being in the emergency room at the hospital.
There they put sticky things all over my body, and sent me for a CT scan of my head. Suddenly, a thought sashayed through my head: I was supposed to meet Cassidy at her house in St. Paul at 10:00 a.m. to help her spend her office Christmas present of a Mall of America gift certificate. I murmured something to the ER nurse, whom I had met before (he remembered my tough veins) and he called Cassie's cell phone and left a message. Is this service or what? Later, Cassidy called John, and family to keep an eye on the dog.
I was soon taken to a room, and by now I couldn't say more than a couple of words at a time. My roommate, however, had no such problem, and her first of many words were, "she looks better than the last one." I've been pondering the meaning of those words since. Not only could I not talk, I couldn't move without great difficulty. But strangely, I wasn't wondering what was wrong with me anymore, I slipped into a deep sleep.
It turned out I was suffering from vertigo, an inner-ear problem that radically affected my balance. I was a guest at CMH for four days, until I could get out of bed, with help. Then I was sent home in the care of John, who I must say is quite competent and attentive (I wouldn't go so far as to say he missed his calling, or anything). When I saw him at my bedside in the hospital, I started crying for the first time since the ordeal began.
While I was at CMH, the care was extraordinary. When it became clear that I was not improving with a talkative, TV-watching roommate (I couldn't mutter more than "ugh" and the noise and flickering of the TV, even with my eyes closed, gave me a killer headache), no problem, they moved me bed and all to a dark, quiet room.
Angels of mercy glided in and out of the room, checking on me. After the first day and a half, I found that I could turn from side to side in bed if I did so without lifting my head off the pillow. On the third day, a nursing student from SE Technical College was assigned to me, and she, Bernadette, took great care of me, even washing my hair. The next day, another student, Amanda, gave me great care as well. I wish I could remember the names of all the professionals who cared for me. They should be recognized for doing such wonderful work.
The food service people were no less accommodating. Apparently the order to take me off a liquid diet and put me on solids didn't make it to the kitchen in time for my next meal, so when I opened my eyes to see the telltale bowl of broth and dish of jello, I nearly cried. No problem, the offending tray was whisked away ("Would you like to keep your jello?" "NOOOOOO.") and the new tray was there in an instant. The housekeeping staff was even immersed in kindness. "Is it okay if I clean your room now?"
I am glad to be home, but am thankful that when I needed it, the healthcare system in Winona (including the fire department, who even called afterwards to see if I needed someone to care for the dog), is not only on call and close by, but excellent.
I wonder if the kitchen has a takeout menu.