The next morning, I woke up, and saw the orderly putting my clothes and other items into a bag. They told me I was being transferred to a rehabilitation hospital on the other side of the county. While being in critical care was difficult, at least it was less than 5 miles from the house. The rehab hospital was at least a 45 minute drive away, so getting visitors was going to be harder, and take more time. All my friends and coworkers lived near my house. Around noon, the ambulance driver and another medical technician came in the room, and asked if I was ready. I said, “Not really…but I don’t think that makes a difference.” Critical care had done what they could do, the bed was valuable real estate, and the rehab hospital would be much better equipped to handle whatever was coming in this next stage.
Since I was in the TLSO brace, I didn’t have to have my back immobilized, but I did have to be strapped to a stretcher, and wheeled out to the ambulance, which was waiting out in front of the Emergency Room entrance. I kind of felt like a celebrity, because people in the hallways would part down the middle, as I was rolled down the hall. I counted the ceiling tiles as I kept turning corners, and eventually passed through the double doors from the inside of the ER to the main area. I could get a glimpse of the people in the waiting room out of my side vision, and everyone there looked like…..well, they looked like they didn’t need to be in the emergency room. At least I was getting moved on to the next location.
As I was wheeled out the doors to the waiting ambulance, I could smell fresh air….mixed with diesel fumes. The ambulance was already running and waiting right outside the door. The late Summer air was so thick you could taste it, and the humidity stuck to me like water drops on a waxed car.
One attendant climbed up, into the back of the ambulance, and the other steadied the back of the stretcher as they slid me right into the back of the vehicle. They locked down the stretcher, closed the back doors, and the driver walked around to the front of the ambulance to sit in the drivers’ seat. The other attendant buckled in next to me to keep a watch during the trip. At first, things went smoothly. I was familiar with the area, so I could tell what streets we were likely turning down, even though I couldn’t see anything other than the interior of the ambulance.
The driver was careful to avoid any bumps or sudden turns, which was a good thing, because every minor bump sent a shock wave through my back and legs. I was buckled in securely, but I was still only a few days post-surgery, and feeling a bit less than 100%. I hadn’t eaten any solid food for over a week…which was also a good thing, because I started to feel a bit queasy. I’ve never been a good passenger. If I have the choice between sitting in the passenger seat of a car and driving myself, I’ll drive every time. When I’m a passenger, I have to be careful that I don’t try to read or do anything other than look straight ahead….because I’m pretty susceptible to motion sickness. I could ride any roller coaster ever built, but put me on the teacup ride…and I’m done for the day.
At first, I thought the feeling would go away….but it didn’t. It got worse. I told the attendant that I was going to need a container, because even though I hadn’t eaten for a week, whatever was in my stomach was going to come up. And it did. Repeatedly. I think I threw up 12 or 13 times during the trip, and every time, my ribs, back and legs would send a searing pain all the way down to my toes. When I’ve been sick before, throwing up once is usually enough to make me feel better…but each time, I felt worse. Because I hadn’t eaten, I was really getting rid of all the gunk that was in my stomach from the initial impact. It was dark, sticky stuff, and while the attendant tried to make me feel like it was no big deal, the look on their face spoke volumes.
After about the fourth or fifth time I threw up, the attendant asked the driver if we should turn around and go back to the critical care hospital. Since we were about 3/4 of the way there, they kept going, but got the destination hospital on the line to update them on my situation. My heart rate and blood pressure were high, and there was concern, but the decision was made to keep going, since the new hospital was expecting me, and turning back would put me right back in the emergency room.
I finally stopped vomiting, and was able to take a drink of water. I was soaked in sweat, and my stomach muscles felt like I’d gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I could tell the ambulance was slowing down, and sensed that the attendant was relieved that I was starting to settle down…and that the ride was almost over. They were probably just as glad as I was that we were nearly there. I noticed that we were finally off of the highway, stopping at traffic lights, and over some speed bumps that still hurt…but not nearly as much as the earlier part of the ride.
We pulled up to Inova Mount Vernon hospital, just a few miles from the Potomac River and the home of George Washington – but you really couldn’t tell it from the inside of the ambulance. I was still looking at the ceiling. The vehicle came to a stop, and the driver came around to open the doors. The attendant unlatched my stretcher from the ambulance, and they worked together to get me down and out of the vehicle. The receiving medical team was there to meet us, and I’ve rarely seen anyone so relieved to be going home as the ambulance crew.
At the new hospital, I got to see a bunch of new faces looking down at me as I got wheeled out of the sticky summer sun and into the air-conditioned hospital. I counted doors, ceiling tiles and elevators as I was moved from floor to floor. Finally, I reached the rehabilitation receiving area. I sat their waiting for what seemed like forever. I didn’t have any distractions like music or television to occupy my mind, so I tried to entertain myself by counting the number of holes in the ceiling tiles.
Finally, I heard the door open, clipboards and charts being flipped open, and a pen clicking rhythmically as someone new was in the room, even if I couldn’t see them. After what seemed like an eternity of minor administrative tasks being performed, I looked up to see a round face with brown skin and striking brown eyes look down at me.
“Hello, Mr. David. I am your new nurse. You can call me Peace.”