Recently, in the middle of the current pandemic, I needed medical treatment on a weekend, of course! We’d avoided the need for some additional help as long as possible, availed ourselves of the telemedicine options, and did as much electronically as possible, but I just needed more. Even in this amazing age of technology, sometimes people need to touch other people.
Let me back up a bit. I forget sometimes that not everyone lives and breathes the medication I take every day. It’s up to nearly two handfuls of over 20 pills every day. Many look alike and they are all hard for me to swallow every single day. And some of them are so freaking big … I digress.
Almost two weeks ago, I added Metformin and Kisquali to my regimen. Looking through all of the side effucks of each med (p.s., also not a good idea because some of them are freaking terrifying), nausea and vomiting ranks in the top 5 or 10 of most of them. It didn’t take long for the nausea and vomiting to get out of control for me.
I wish I could pinpoint exactly why certain side effucks are mine no matter what. From the patterns so far, if headache or nausea are a possible side effuck, I have it, even if those are not the most prevalent and usually not in a mild way. Lucky me.
I made it through the weekend at home because my medical oncologist told me NOT to go to the emergency room, that that would not be a safe place for me. We were banking on this new thing my cancer center is doing — Express Symptom Management. This office is designed to work like a special urgent care within the cancer center that allows cancer patients to get the more specialized care we need. As I’ve discovered over and over, the typical urgent care is ill equipped to handle my needs and I usually totally freak out the very kind DOs who aren’t usually presented with the puzzle that is my medical care right now. As my medical oncologist says often (usually about insurance companies), “They have no idea what I do.”
And it’s true.
Anyway, if it had been a “normal” Monday, as in not during a pandemic, this model would have worked perfectly. But, because we are in the middle of a pandemic, I could not step foot into my cancer center because I’ve had a bit of a cough for a while. I’ve had a cold and all that’s left is a post-nasal drip, which causes me to cough a bit. Clearly the “tickle” is literally all that’s going on.
BUT, my cancer center decided on a bright line, objective rule that if there has been any cough at all, for any reason, that means absolutely do not enter, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Thanks COVID-19 and all the ridiculously selfish people who are acting like it’s business as usual for these impossibly draconian rules. While it was frustrating and disappointing, I do understand that those cancer patients with even worse immune systems than I need to be protected.
That left us with a conundrum. I knew at this point that I needed to go to a doctor, that we’d done all we could at home and I was just getting weaker and weaker. After a variety of phone calls and deliberations, some of which were nice, my dad took me to urgent care. We knew I could at least get fluids and bloodwork and diagnostic testing since the urgent care closest to our house is in the same building as a full diagnostic center.
At first, everything was smooth, I got bloodwork done, I had a chest X-ray (just in case), they tested me for the flu (still not sure why), they tested me for strep (really not sure on this one but I’ve had a sore throat, kinda), they tested me for COVID-19 (again, not sure why other than the little cough) and I got fluids. Then, as soon I was feeling a better and hoping to start talking about going home via text with my family, the doctor came in and started talking about ambulances.
The bottom line was that my potassium came back at 2 and that’s dangerously low. I understand a normal potassium level for an adult in my age group is between 3.5 and 5, and potassium is tricky in dosaging and absorption. BUT, urgent cares don’t stock it. And there again was the conundrum. We tried again to go to my cancer center, just one last ask with this simple request, just an infused bag of potassium. It was denied, again.
And I ended up in the emergency room.
It’s hard to explain the weirdness of policemen guarding the front door of a hospital. It’s hard to explain the otherworldliness of healthcare workers literally dressed in outfits that look like spacesuits and trying to decipher accents when you can’t see the person’s mouth. It’s hard to put into words what a waiting room looks like with social distancing and masks and terrified people. It’s hard to adequately describe the loneliness of sitting alone for hours because no visitors are allowed and the emergency room is full of people who may or may not have COVID-19 and so no one is allowed to leave their rooms.
Even though I’m suspected to have COVID-19 (I forgot to say that as soon as you get tested, it is assumed that you have it.), I did not detect any difference in my care. There were some misunderstandings because of the masks and all the extra layers of fabric and plastic and whatever some of the coverings are made from made for some funnyish moments of tangling with the cords and whatnot.
Have to find the amusement somewhere!
And then they decided to admit me. It was quite a conversation with my PCP and medical oncologist providing input. Some people were on screens, some on the phone and I was alone in my room watching/listening. I have to say it was the most bizarre discussion ever and I’ve had a few in the last three years. At the end of the day, the benefits of certainty and observation outweighed the risks. And then I discovered that I couldn’t go to the oncology floor, that I had to go to a tower that had been set aside for COVID-19 patients. We reached an acceptable agreement and then I settled in to wait.
The #1 activity as a patient in a hospital is waiting. So much waiting! All these different departments with different ideas and focuses. It’s Greek to me! Anyway, I only had to spend one night and then my numbers improved enough to be released. A relief to be home and with my family.
Look out for Part II of this riveting story on Friday! Stay safe AND STAY HOME!!