Trigger Warning: I talk about needles, blood, and hospitals.
A picture of me smiling in a black spaghetti strap sundress laying on a white sheet on top of a navy blue hospital bed. There are EKG stickers showing on my arm and chest.
Two nights ago, I spent five hours in the emergency room due to dehydration. I have POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), which means a trip to the ER for fluids isn’t really big news… However, when I told my non-chronically ill friend I was in the ER, they freaked out, so I decided to make a blog post about it.
If you’re new, you can find more information about POTS here.
With POTS, the two things that every doctor will tell you to do are drink more fluids and add salt to just about everything you can. For reasons I cannot remember, us POTSies need more water and salt than “normal” people. Which might be fine, except I also have gastroparesis. Taking more than a sip of water at a time almost always makes me nauseous. Do you see my problem?
For three days leading up to the night I spent in the ER, I was experiencing my usual symptoms of presyncope, which are a mix of dizziness, lightheadedness (is that a word?), blurry vision, leg weakness, fatigue, brain fog, tachycardia, palpitations, a weird gurgling feeling at the back of my throat, and probably more that I’m forgetting. Some people feel a different mix of symptoms, or don’t get any kind of warning at all. For those that don’t know, presyncope is the feeling of passing out without actually doing it, although I was coming dangerously close on days three and four, hence why I agreed to go to the hospital. Notice I said agreed because I’m stubborn and don’t want to make my parents spend $100 for a trip to the ER if I’m not broken, bleeding, or ready to hit the floor. Even if they’d gladly do it if it meant I’d feel a little better.
If I’m being honest, I probably should’ve gone for fluids months ago. I almost caved before Christmas, but I’m too damn stubborn, so I pushed through it. We all know how that worked out. The last time I paid a visit to the ER was on the way home from last year’s Dysautonomia International Conference. I don’t even think my mom and I made it out of Virginia before I was looking for those glorious blue H signs. Fast & Furious would be proud of my mother for how quickly we got to the hospital. I’ll have to make a blog post about that place because it was one of the smoothest experiences I’ve ever had.
Anyway, my mom comes home from work and sees me laying face down on my bed with my pillows and blanket all over the place.
Allow me to explain. The WiFi was better at the other end of my bed, but it was uncomfortable and I was cold, so I grabbed my pillows and tried to maneuver myself under the blanket without removing it completely, which of course did not work in my favor. This was all so I could watch the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy. However, the internet was still shitty, so I put my laptop aside and decided to work on Etsy stuff. I remove a grumpy Milo from my legs, throw the blanket off of me, stand up, and quickly come to the realization that standing was a terrible idea.
On comes the presyncope, worse than it had been the previous three days. I sit down, chew on an orange flavored Salt-Stick tab, and sip on some water. Back to Grey’s Anatomy. Laying down with a spotty internet connection is better than standing. I finish the episode, dry my tears, and move on to catching up on Legends of Tomorrow, but eventually get tired of pausing the video to buffer every few minutes, so I set my laptop aside once again and brave the unpredictability of standing up. Rinse and repeat a couple of more times before I’m too nauseous and dizzy to do anything other than collapse onto my bed wherever and however I land and stay there until A. I feel better or B. someone comes home. B. happened first.
Now you’re caught up.
Dad got home shortly after Mom and the three of us left for the hospital. The cool fresh air made me feel a little better, but not enough to cancel the trip, so on we went. After signing in and going through triage, we stayed in the waiting room for an hour and a half? Two hours? Thirteen years? I don’t know. The concept of time tends to disappear when you’re in an ER.
They call my name right as my grandma arrives. We’re taken to a hallway, where I’m put in bed D across from someone in an actual room who bares a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. A nice woman comes around checking that my insurance information hasn’t changed (clearly this is not my first rodeo) and I got to sign my name on a tablet. What was I signing for? My soul, for all I know. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Until finally I met my doctor for the evening, who happened to be super nice and even knew a little bit about POTS because he’d seen two or three cases before. Hallelujah. Seven years ago when I was diagnosed, we had to fight with doctors to get them to give me fluids. But all I had to do was tell this guy I had dysautonomia and he was like, yep, sure, I’ll put in the order right away for a bag and some zofran (for the nausea) and then we’ll see how you feel. Bless that man. Seriously, he deserves an award.
Then comes the fun part. The needles. My veins are little shits. They’re really good at hide-and-go-seek. Not only that, when you finally do spot one, it rolls away and even refuses to give blood. My hand is usually the best place for a decent vein. Usually. Meaning not this time. Drawing blood was going slowly, which isn’t a new concept for me. The problem occurred when it was time to put in the IV needle. My nurse tried to explain it to me, but I was too focused on the fact that there was a needle in my hand. Something about infiltration with the IV. In short, she had to move to the inside of my arm because fluid from the IV was escaping my veins in my hand. The attempt at my arm worked. To summarize, the IV is in, zofran is pushed through the line, and I am already starting to feel better.
Next, we wait until I have to pee because it’s urine sample time. However, before then, another nurse comes to tell me we have to redo the blood draw. Normally this would be fine, no more punctures, because we could use the IV line, but that line is currently being used by the bag dispensing fluids. At this point I’m like, “Do what ya gotta do,” and give her my infiltration-free hand. My veins still suck and refuse to give up my blood, but it all gets done and she leaves. Not only do I have all three of these bandages from puncture sights and an IV sticking out of my arm, but I still have the stickers all over my body from the EKG they did in triage. I’m starting to feel like I’m in the tragic backstory part of a superhero movie. Like The Flash when he was in a coma after being struck by lightning. Speed force, here I come!
I’ll skip past the urine sample, where I almost forgot I was supposed to give one, and go on to the part where nobody came to collect it and my mom was trying to nonchalantly wave it around until somebody noticed. Nobody noticed. We couldn’t stop laughing. She put my cup of pee down until my doctor came back wondering if anyone grabbed it. He quickly realized it was up to him to fulfill that task. I’m so sorry, Doc. This is where we convinced Grandma to go home because it was really late and she had work the next day.
All that’s left to do at this point is wait until the bag is empty. During this time, Mom made friends with my hallway bed neighbor and my dad fiddled with the A/C unit because apparently it was hot. I didn’t notice because IV fluids make you freeze. They usually give you a blanket, but nobody offered and I didn’t ask.
The bag full of fluids is finally empty, I’m unhooked, and now we’re just waiting for the results of my pee to come back. Fantastic. My doctor comes back to see if I need another bag, and I probably should’ve said yes, but I was tired and I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out upon standing anymore, so no second bag for me. Next thing to tackle was the nausea. It went away shortly after administering zofran four and a half hours ago, but he wanted to make sure I could keep food down, so he came back with a bunch of snacks and some drinks. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I practically inhaled a turkey sandwich and a cup of apple juice. I felt okay and there were no incidents, which means I passed the test!
More waiting until somebody could take the IV line out of my arm. I had snacks and updating my Instagram story to keep me busy, so I was fine. My parents, however, were exhausted and starving because none of us had eaten dinner yet. Well, except for me, who just polished off a turkey sandwich. Doctor’s orders, who can argue with that?!
The final needle is taken out, I get a free waxing when the EKG stickers are ripped off, I sign something, and I. Am. FREE! We head over to Friday’s because it’s the only restaurant open at 12:30 in the morning in New Jersey. And eventually we go home, where Milo acts like we were never coming back, I make my bed, rip off the rest of the stickers, and we all go to sleep.