Excluding obvious emergency scenarios, how much pain would you have to be in before you called 999?
It’s a question I asked myself many times five years ago during the time of the previous unpleasantness, the civil war in my lower spine. More recently the twins residing in my gallbladder have caused me to consider the question again. They occasionally kick me awake in the early hours, interrupting my usual bizarre dreams – a couple of weeks ago I woke wondering how to put gallstones under version control – but their games generally just disrupt my sleep for one or two hours and feel like a stubborn lump in the abdomen. Only once has the pain been strong enough to make me wonder about a trip to A&E, but the question resolved itself when the twins settled down again.
And then there was last night.
The pain started at about 10.30pm, but I’d known it was on the cards for about an hour before then. A burning sensation in my abdomen, on the right side beneath the lower ribs. Not the same pain as normal: hotter, less concentrated. It grew from discomfort to annoyance and beyond, inducing a sheen of sweat combined with restlessness – I walked around the room, lay flat, lay on my side, sat, leaned, stretched, crunched, nothing helped.
The usual scenario is a relatively quick build-up then a dissipation, with only a dull ache remaining after about two hours. But the pain kept building. Give it another five minutes and it’ll start to ease off, I thought, but it wasn’t listening. By midnight I was thinking seriously about hospitals. Pretty soon I realised I wouldn’t be able to drive there myself; I couldn’t concentrate.
I thought, if it’s still the same by 2am then I’ll go. But 2am seemed a long way off for the pain I felt. The balance tipped just after 1am when I decided that if there’d been someone there with me they’d have said: “right, stop messing about: hospital” by now. So I rang 999.
The ambulance arrived quickly; but the two staff on board seemed, how shall I put it, less than enthusiastic. “I can’t give you anything for the pain,” the main chap said as they sat in my living room. “All I can do is take you to the hospital.” I thought that was the point of the whole ambulance thing.
We spoke for a minute or two, him trying to get across to me the notion that he didn’t have any painkillers, me trying to get across to him that I was fully aware of that and in quite a lot of pain and let’s, you know, go to the hospital.
We got there eventually. A small part of me was slightly disappointed that we stopped at red lights, though the larger part was trying to ignore the pain and scanning the ambulance for somewhere to throw up if that became necessary. Meanwhile the main chap asked a few questions for the records and seemed less than interested.
I was very glad to be handed over to the nursing staff. It was, as you’d expect, like Casualty on TV but slower and with fewer jump cuts. I got myself into the standard issue hospital gown, answered all the questions through the fog of pain, was plugged into machines, injected with various fluids and had other fluids extracted. A succession of people came and went. One of the on-call medics examined me and discussed options.
Into the vein went some anti-nausea drugs, some painkillers and a bag of saline solution. Nice.
As the night drew on, the pain receded; whether due to drugs or time was unclear. The blood tests indicated a gallbladder infection so I got a shot of antibiotics to add to the mix. The on-call surgeon turned up for a prod and a chat, though by then my abdomen was no longer tender. Good thing really as he prodded pretty hard; I’d have been screaming the place down (like the chap in a bed just down the corridor, who really didn’t want anyone to move his leg; no idea what was wrong with him).
The surgeon’s assessment was no real surprise: when the infection has cleared up, best get rid. No need to detain me any longer.
All the faces I saw expressed some surprise that my GP hadn’t given me any painkillers, so I was promptly issued with a packet plus a course of antibiotics to take home with me. Like a Bullseye souvenir. That’s yours to keep, to take back to Rotherham. Have you had a lovely time? Oh yes, Jim.
I left three hours after I arrived, which was about three hours after the pain started. Bed at 4.30am, but no sleep for nearly an hour as there was still some discomfort and my mind wasn’t settled yet.
I worked from home today and took it easy. Hopefully the twins will sleep as well as I will.
Avaragado’s rating: one syringe of industrial-strength Gaviscon