The day before yesterday I had chest pain, and went to hospital.
It started as a backache, then sort of expanded forward and upward as I worked my way through the three most recent episodes of Torchwood. Then, when I was no longer distracted by slow-moving Mid-Atlantic sci-fi, I noticed the pain was only getting worse.
I was alone in the house, so I decided to strike some sort of balance between actually calling the ambulance as soon as I noticed central chest pains with a feeling of pressure, and the traditional male alternative of being found dead next to your laptop, which is still displaying a Web page about what killed you.
(At least I wasn't dumb enough to take any painkillers. It is not a good idea to mask pain that may indicate something very bad.)
I've been in hospitals before, but only as an onlooker. I'd never previously been in an ambulance at all. Hell, I'd never even called 000 before. So this experience included a number of firsts for me.
Lots of leads stuck to my chest and other, whimsically selected locations, with three different kinds of mildly epilatory adhesive pad. My very own PVC. One of those idiotic gowns which may or may not give you more personal dignity than just being naked. (I got to keep my pants on, thank heaven.) The curious burning sensation you get when you put a nitroglycerine pill under your tongue. (A pill that creates that sensation without any other effects would be a fantastic placebo.)
While the ambulance blokes fed me aspirin and nitro and hooked me up to the machine that goes "ping", I seized the opportunity to compare and contrast what I've gleaned from UK ambo-blogs (the defunct Random Acts of Reality and Nee Naw, and the still-extant Trauma Queen) with the experiences of the local ambos.
("Ambos", plural of "ambo". Pronounced "am" as in "ham", "bo" as in the thing that shoots arrows.)
It turns out that Aussie ambos share their British colleagues' superstitious terror of "the Q-word". But the ambos seemed honestly puzzled when I pledged not to bite them, turn out to be completely faking my illness, or defecate in their ambulance.
I'm sure all of these things have happened to them at some point, but Australian ambulance crews seem to have to deal with less pointless bullshit from patients than British paramedics. The reason for this only dawned on me when I was a bit less concerned about maybe being about to die.
So Aussie ambulance crews don't have to put up with nearly as many patients who could definitely safely be driven to hospital by a family member, or could definitely safely drive themselves there, or in some cases could definitely get to the hospital on a pogo stick and stop for a picnic lunch on the way without in any way worsening their illness, if they have an illness at all.
[EDIT: I just remembered that I have been to the emergency room as a patient before, years ago when in a fit of pique I punched a door and broke my hand. I drove myself there, and asked the triage nurse to make sure I was seen after anybody whose injury was less stupid than mine.]
"Maternataxi" calls (healthy, complication-free pregnant women in labour who do not actually need to get to the hospital particularly quickly), for instance, don't seem to be a big problem for Aussie ambulances.
Shortly after this, they put an oxygen mask on me. I'm pretty sure they just wanted me to shut up.
I've been to our local hospital in the dead of night a few times now, though only this once as the patient. I've developed a strange liking for the emergency room at three in the morning. The experience is basically tedious, of course - I get plenty of use out of my OLPC XO-1 with a shelfload of books on it (though this time the level-five pain, which hung around for several hours, kept distracting me).
But there's a sort of direct human... realness... in the emergency room that I, in my everyday life of sitting in my little office staring at a monitor, don't normally encounter.
The stories being played out around you in an emergency room often aren't very happy ones, of course. But if anything, that makes them more interesting.
This time, there was the little kid oscillating from cheerful (several adults, some in important-looking uniforms, were clearly deeply impressed when he successfully did a wee in a bottle) to inconsolable (when he discovered he wasn't going home any time soon).
And there was the bloke who'd gotten himself on the outside of rather a lot of pills, and was now disinclined to open his eyes no matter how often, and how loudly, the nice nurse requested he do so.
And then there was the old lady in the bed next to mine, whose house had caught fire, adding some unrequested particulates to her lungs, but sparing the pets.
And there was someone referred to by the staff, not unkindly, as "toothache man", whose malady did not appear to be a very high treatment priority.
(Have the Satanic atheist Muslim socialist US health care reforms reduced the number of people with chronic and otherwise non-emergency health problems who go to the emergency room because it's the only way they can afford any sort of treatment? God, I hope so.)
Anyway, it turned out my heart is fine. It was probably something I ate.
I had some pretty solid suffering time in the hospital, though, as the pain tired of living in my chest and referred itself to some other desirable residences in my torso. After I was introduced to the diverting short-term side effects of intravenous butylscopolamine (instant farsightedness, and a very dry mouth; butylscopolamine is the time-limited downloadable demo version of plain scopolamine), my overenthusiastic bowel muscles calmed down and, at dawn, I was sent on my way.
Just to annoy Anne (who'd gone home to get at least a little sleep when it became clear that my name did not need to be taken off the joint bank account), I would have walked home. Except I was wearing ugg boots, which are (a) not actually cool in any way, you American lunatics and (b) unsuitable for a four-kilometre walk.
So I got a taxi, and talked to the old bloke driving it about the numerous ways in which we'd each courted death by not seeking medical care.
Next time, I'll see if I can come down with something more interesting.