Early in the morning on the eve of Friday the 13th I was woken by a rather spectacular pain in my side. Thinking it was some kind of odd cramp, I got out of bed quietly and tried to walk it off.
But the more I walked, the worse it got.
Immediately I was reminded of when I went into labour with the boys: both times I quietly walked out the pain until I felt it was a suitable time to wake the house. I knew pain. I could do this.
But unlike labour contractions, there was no respite from this pain. No down time. Instead, the waves of pain just kept coming, building in intensity, until they literally knocked me off my feet.
So I crawled into the bedroom, woke my husband and told him I needed an ambulance.
Then it was all systems go.
Except it wasn’t.
Because while the pain kept increasing, we were all just waiting, waiting, waiting for help to arrive.
It was at this point I realised my rookie error: I had thought that by trying to manage the pain I could avoid scaring the boys, I didn’t want them to wake and see me in agony. I was going to wait until I knew I needed an ambulance and I thought it would come and whisk me away, while I reassured them all was well, and they knew mum was getting help.
You know what they say about best laid plans…..
So the waiting continued and the pain kept increasing.
But it was after the second phone call to 000, and then the call back where I heard the words: “I’m sorry mate, we currently have no ambulances available to dispatch” that the realisation hit.
Nobody was coming to help.
I was going to die on the floor in front of my kids.
The rising terror I felt now matched my pain, but the pain had reached a level that meant I now could not speak.
I was screaming, but I could not form words to tell my loved ones (who had arrived from their own homes with plenty of time before an ambulance), and especially my kids, what I needed to tell them before I died.
The pain was so intense and unrelenting that I could not even open my eyes to look at them, but I knew they were there, and I was convinced they were going to watch me die.
Looking back, I think if I had any inkling of what was causing the pain, or if it had subsided enough at any point to allow me to take just one deep breath, I may have been able to manage it in some way but my brain had been reduced to its most primal functions and all I felt was excruciating pain and sheer terror.
Running on a continuous loop in my head was: “I love you. I’m sorry you have to watch me die”, while all I could vocalise was a guttural scream while I writhed in pain.
This continued for what seemed like eternity (in reality was more like 45 minutes) and just at the point I was convinced I was about to lose consciousness and my kids were about to witness my final death throes, in walked the most amazing humans that have ever trod the earth.
Calmly and quickly they loaded me into the ambulance, handing me that green whistle that did nothing for the pain but everything for my ability to claw back some control over what was happening to me.
I don’t remember anything about the ride into the hospital, except for a brief discussion about where to go to avoid “ramping”.
On arrival at the Royal Adelaide Hospital I heard the driver say that two other ambulances were pulling up at the same time, and the paramedic looking after me said: “It’s ok, we’ll race them”.
So as we pulled up, the driver got out, opened the back doors, pulled me out and ran as fast as she could, pushing me in front of her, getting me in first through the doors.
Let that sink in:
I got treated first because my paramedic could run the fastest.
Once inside the hospital, after receiving 500mcg of Fentanyl my pain was still at 10/10, so they started administering Morphine and finally I was afforded some relief.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of tests, ultrasounds and finally a CT scan, which gave us an answer:
I had a kidney stone.
A tiny 4 millimetres of hell on earth that had convinced me I was dying.
Treatment called for IV fluids and continued Morphine, so I was moved to a quieter part of emergency they call “short stay”, as there were no beds available on the ward to admit me.
Earlier, my sister-in-law had remarked on the sheer number of security guards she’d seen move past my room. Now, as the intercom buzzed incessantly with requests for rooms to be cleaned, the one constant was the frequent declarations of a “Code Black”.
In South Australian hospitals, a Code Black signifies a “personal threat to medical staff, for example assault, violence or threatening behaviour”.
As the day wore on and turned into night, the ‘Code Blacks’ blurred into the background of the steady stream of sick, violent, drug affected or mentally affected patients churning through the Short Stay Emergency Department.
(One notable exception was the guy who came to the emergency room of our state’s largest hospital with tonsillitis. He was examined, handed a piece of paper (probably a prescription for Strepsils) and sent home pretty quickly).
My pain now dulled by the truckload of heavy duty IV drugs, I knew it was time to go home when the snores of the handcuffed guy face down on the bed opposite reached epic levels, and despite the lights permanently shining brightly, there was a chance of being shivved on the way to the toilet by the crazy eyed woman who refused to stay in her room.
So shortly after midnight (it was now Friday 13th) I got my discharge papers, and we walked the gauntlet of the ED: away from crazy eyes, past the two burly policemen guarding the handcuffed guy, past the two interns trying to wrangle a very agitated woman back into her bed, past the two massive security guards on the door, past the homeless woman sleeping on the couch in the foyer, and out into the carpark, brightly lit by the full moon…………
So while I STILL await the exit of this 4mm stone from hell, bouncing around happily somewhere between my kidney and bladder, ripping my insides to shreds, I have had time to reflect on a few things:
1. Drink water. Water is your friend.
2. Tell the important people you love them, while you can. Don’t assume there will always be time, or that you will be able to speak, when the time comes.
3. Whenever I complain that work is stressful, I will think of those two female paramedics, who walk into the unknown several times a day, calmly and without fear, and who then have to race to get help for their patients, so they can get the ambulance back on the road to help more people. These kick-arse women are absolute heroes.
4. The public health system is in a bad way. Throw in a full moon and Friday 13th, and the emergency department is next level cray-cray. I am in awe of anyone who works within it and remains sane.
5. Kidney stones suck. The end.
So this Christmas, hug your loved ones, raise a glass (of water) to our amazing doctors, nurses, and emergency services personnel, and stay safe. See you in the new year xx