Being wheeled into the Harborview ER as a trauma victim feels very much like starring in an episode of er. In a number of ways, that’s not a good thing. On the plus side, a small squadron of people materialized around my gurney as I entered the ER, and I got to hear the paramedics hand me off to the ER staff the way they always do on TV: “Scooter vs. car, high right femur fracture, such-and-such fluids pushed in the field, complaining of left knee pain, motor control at extremities…”, etc, etc, etc.
On the negative side, I was conscious for all the stuff they do to you in the ER. Some of this is pretty unpleasant. Right at the top of my list of Things You Never Thought About But That Are Really Not Fun is having a catheter inserted. I do not recommend this under any circumstances. On the off chance you ever have a choice, ask if you can be rendered unconscious somehow if it’s necessary to do this to you. Having a catheter inserted comes with the extra bonus drawback that sooner or later, it will have to be removed, which is only slightly more fun than having it put in in the first place.
The other unpleasantness that comes with being in the ER is just that they’re pretty keen on doing a thorough inventory of your body, which involves a lot of lifting and turning and prodding of areas that, as any fool could see, are likely to HURT a lot when you touch them, what with them being fractured, bruised, abraded, or just generally bashed up. Much blood was drawn, and some on-the-spot X-Rays were taken. This yielded a clear image of my right femur neatly snapped into two pieces, high on the bone, not too far from the pelvic socket.
Throughout all this, the ER team kept up a steady chatter, but not with the me. It’s reassuring to see everyone hard at work at figuring out your injuries, but it’s alienating and unnerving to witness your treatment as though from afar.
On the plus side, they’re not shy about morphene use for trauma patients. By the time I was wheeled into the ER, I had been on the spine board for a while, and was starting to get pretty uncomfortable, not to mention that my legs weren’t feeling their best. After a few lifts and rolls, I was getting pretty unhappy. A friendly member of the mob of humanity swarming around me pushed some morphene into my IV tap and immediately, my pain sort of receded behind a curtain, and the world went slightly fuzzy and swimmy. Things weren’t so bad for the following hour or so.
After what seemed like an endless stretch of time, but that must have only been half an hour or so, the ER team was satisfied that I wasn’t about to expire on the table, and that they pretty much knew what was wrong with me. They then dispatched me to the X-Ray lab to get X-Rayed.
As far as I can tell, hospitals in the United States operate under the principle that they must imperatively consider, or carry out, any test, scan or treatment that has ever found to be applicable in any way to the problem you’re experiencing, plus some unrelated ones just for kicks, to guard as much as possible against later malpractice suits alleging negligence.
Consistent with this approach, they X-Rayed my entire body. I’m not exaggerating. They starting with my left foot and worked their way up that side of my body, paused at the top for a while to X-Ray my head and chest, and then worked their way down the right side. I think I was in the X-Ray lab for something like 2 hours, and I don’t believe an inch of my body went unphotographed. I can only assume I have now received ten to twenty times my lifetime expected allotment of medically inflicted radiation.
When the X-Ray fest was over, they had one more surprise in store for me: they were going to put my right leg into skeletal traction. They explained what they were going to do, and then, right in the ER, proceeded to knock me out (not with a general anaesthetic, but with a heavy sedative similar to what’s used for heavy dental surgury like wisdom teeth removal). They then inserted a metal pin into my right knee, to which they attached a cord and twenty-pound weight, on a little pulley system attached to the hospital bed. The pull exerted on the broken leg prevents the broken femur extremities from rubbing against each other, and aligns the bone for surgury. That’s all good, of course. The downside, however, is that whenever the hospital bed gets moved, or even bumped, the suspended traction weight swings or bounces, which makes for another Unexpected But Definitely Not Recommended Experience.
With all this done, I got wheeled up to the fifth floor east, and parked in the hospital room that would end up being my home for the next week. I was hooked up to an IV morphine dispenser, which comes with a little pushbutton that dispenses a morphine dose, but not more often than a fixed interval. For the first few days, I spent a lot of time pushing the little button and rooting for the little “beep” that confirms that a shot of morphine was dispensed and the interval has been reset.