The Decision to Go to the Emergency Room Can Be Tricky
As we age and face more and more health issues we never thought about when we were younger, we can find ourselves having to make some potentially life-changing decisions. One of those decisions is whether our symptoms are serious enough to call 911 or go the local emergency room. If we think we need to visit the ER, we need to decide whether to have someone drive us or to take an ambulance ride. Sometimes people have to decide if they should drive themselves. My husband and I faced all those decisions on a weekend in April 2016.
If You Are Having Symptoms, Tell Someone Right Away
Hubby had been feeling weak intermittently during this past month, sometimes with lightheadedness. He had gone to the doctor early in the week and the doctor had ordered lab tests to rule out a TIA (transient ischemic attack, or warning stroke). He had one of the tests on Friday. He was still awaiting insurance approval for the other test so he could schedule it.
On Saturday he wanted me to go to Templeton with him to explain to a weed abatement man what I wanted him to do so he wouldn’t kill the plants I wanted. The workman was late because he was out looking for a part. Since I had to wait, I decided to grab some root divisions for plants I wanted to transplant in Paso Robles before a predicted rain came. About noon, when we had finished up what we wanted to do, we went home to Paso Robles. Hubby was driving. In Templeton, we are about five minutes from the hospital. In Paso Robles, we are fifteen minutes from the hospital.
When we got home I wanted to check my computer and rest for a few minutes. Kosta told me I should eat something. When I asked why it was so important to him that I eat right away, he said I would have to take him to the emergency room because he was having symptoms.
Then he admitted they had started in Templeton, but he hadn’t said anything because he didn’t want to worry me. Neither had he asked me to drive. He wasn’t thinking clearly, and he should not have been driving. I should have taken him straight to the ER, but he chose not to tell me he was having symptoms until that wasn’t an option anymore. If you are having symptoms, tell someone immediately.
The Tricky Health Decision We Had to Make
Kosta’s doctor had told him to go to the emergency room if he started having the symptoms again. A TIA is a little warning stroke that can come before a real stroke. When there is a stroke, every minute counts. You don’t sit around and wait for someone to eat or drive you. You call 911. That’s what I did.
I also started packing a lunch I could eat at the hospital while we were waiting for the paramedics. They arrived in about five minutes. They checked him out. They thought he should go to the ER and the paramedics had already brought the gurney in.
He asked them if I could take him. An ambulance ride here costs about a thousand dollars — even with insurance. Since his vital signs were close to normal, they said I could take him if we left right away. I promised to leave within five minutes.
We were backing out as they were moving the fire truck out of my way. The paramedics had made it clear he needed to get to the hospital for a more thorough check immediately. They were afraid if they’d left without him I might not follow through and take him.
We spent from about 1:30 PM to 7:30 PM in that emergency room. They did many tests. He couldn’t get out of bed without a nurse and he kept needing to get to the restroom. The nurse was hard to find when needed. It was very stressful for both of us.
In the end, there was no evidence that there had been a stroke, but as the doctor explained, if the clot dissolved, it would leave no evidence. That’s what happens in a TIA. A small clot blocks a blood vessel and then can dissolve on its own. It’s still a warning a big stroke may be coming soon.
Back Home Again
When we got home, we ate something. He rested. I got on the computer to finish the challenge blogs I had planned to spend the afternoon working on. We had planned to stay home Sunday so he could rest. We both slept late Sunday morning.
After breakfast, he rested. I went out to plant my root divisions before it rained. It took me two hours of pulling a few weeds, digging holes, planting, and watering before I finished. Sometimes I got so hot and tired and thirsty that I knew I had to go in for a five or ten-minute break and a drink. I did that about three times during the hours of work.
When I finally came in after finishing my work, I was too tired to take a shower right away. I grabbed a snack and drank water. I sat for a while. I finally was able to take a shower. Then I lay down in bed to rest with soft music and the bed massage turned on. I was there for about half an hour but knew I needed to dress and fix lunch.
When I got up and had just dressed the heart palpitations started. I wasn’t too alarmed at first because I have a history of this and am on medication for it. I was still exhausted. All I wanted to do was sit.
I had already thawed some frozen fish, but I was too tired to cook it. I think we ate leftovers that I could just heat up. I did not have enough energy to even set the table. After we had eaten I got up and I was lightheaded verging on dizziness. My heart had been beating at a rapid rate for over an hour. I sat down and continued to read the book I had started in the ER the day before.
Another Tricky Decision about Whether to Call 911
Part of me said I should call 911 and take the ambulance ride, since I didn’t think my husband should be driving. The louder voice within me said I’d be better off to stay home, totally rest, and get a good night’s sleep.
Then I remembered that after an episode like this once before, the doctor had said to take an extra half pill of my regular medication. I did it, and the palpitations, which had gone on for at least two hours, stopped. I was still exhausted. I finished the book and went to bed.
Did I make the right decision?
I think so. I have gone to the ER with heart symptoms twice in the last five years. Once they even made me stay overnight until they could get another blood test in the morning. I didn’t get any sleep because the hospital is too noisy for sleeping. They never found anything wrong. I get regular checks from my doctors. I’m on medication. My symptoms were alarming, but I had none of the classic heart attack symptoms to go with them. If I had had them, I would have taken the ambulance ride.
The next day I saw my doctor and got an EKG. There was no evidence a heart attack had occurred. The doctor seems to think it was more like heat stroke because although it wasn’t hot, it was humid. I made an appointment with my cardiologist. Day by day I got stronger and acquired more energy, but it longer to start feeling like myself again. I think it was more than heat exhaustion. I still had trouble doing the simple chores of getting food prepared and the kitchen cleaned up. I got a headache almost every night in the early evening.
When I finally got in to see my cardiologist, he said I made the right decision to stay home and rest. He said I was having an electrical problem with my heart, not a heart attack. Although my symptoms were alarming, he said they weren’t dangerous. During the couple of weeks I had waited to get an appointment, my symptoms had disappeared.
Now I take the half pill on those occasions when the symptoms return and then I drink water and rest until my heartbeat returns to normal. The palpitations usually stop within an hour, but they are still frightening when they persist for more than a few minutes and they make me very tired.
When Should You Call 911 or Go to the Emergency Room?
One thing we use to help us evaluate our medical condition so we know when we must see a doctor or call 911 is the Merck Manual Home Health Handbook. It’s not just for emergencies. It’s smart to read up on heart attack and stroke symptoms before they happen so that they are already in your head when you have to figure out whether to call 911.
This book also helps you understand medical jargon and what’s involved in the diagnostic procedures and treatments your doctor orders. I would not be without a copy of this book.
Stroke Symptoms Demand a 911 Call
Deciding to call 911 or go to the emergency room is a decision one has to make if one is conscious. If a person is unconscious, someone else must make the decision and phone calls. One has to ask what is the worst that can happen if one doesn’t get to the ER. If the patient can’t think clearly, someone else needs to decide. If there are any stroke symptoms, someone needs to call 911 or it will impact the rest of the patient’s life if. Don’t hesitate. Take the ambulance ride if you have any of these symptoms yourself and you are alone. Use the FAST aid to help you recognize them
F is for Face Drooping or uneven on one side. Can the person smile so that both sides of the smile match, or is one side numb or drooping?
A is for Arm Weakness. Can the person raise both arms without trouble?
S is for Speech. Can the person repeat a simple sentence like “I am your friend.” without confusion or slurring their words?
T is for Time. Speed in getting to the hospital is essential. Call 911 so paramedics can start work on the way. Note the time symptoms started. You only have two hours for treatment to be most effective.
If you are with a person having symptoms, put him through the above tests and call 911 if he can’t pass even one of them.
When my husband had his symptoms, he had none of the classic stroke symptoms going on. He spoke clearly, smiled evenly, and could raise both arms with no problem. His vitals signs were checked and within a normal range. That is the only reason the paramedics let me drive him instead of taking him themselves. It only makes sense to try to save money if you aren’t making it more likely you will lose a life. Nothing costs more than a life.
Nothing written here is intended to substitute for the advice of your doctor. It is all based purely on my own experience, my own health history, and my doctor’s personal advice to me. It may not apply to your case. It was written for informational purposes only.
Every person’s health is unique and though your symptoms may appear to be like mine, they may be related to an entirely different medical problem. If you have not seen your physician recently and you have frightening symptoms like these, go to the emergency room immediately, especially if they are stroke symptoms. Do not try to drive yourself if you have having heart attack or stroke symptoms.
Sadly, as I was waiting for the preview for this post to load, I looked out my window and saw a fire engine turning the corner, followed by an ambulance. I hope someone called them in time. I never heard a siren.