Some readers may recall my first emergency room saga in February of this year, caused by BVS, short for “Black Vomit Syndrome.”(my term) If you Google “Black Vomit,” you get a message, which goes something like this, “If you are vomiting black liquid, go to nearest emergency room NOW, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.”
On a cold February evening Embry rushed me to the Washington Hospital Center, the biggest hospital in Washington, located near some of Washington’s distressed neighborhoods, where I spent 24 hours in the emergency room alongside people with gunshot and knife wounds, drug overdoses, car wrecks, heart attacks, and Covid, before being moved into a hospital room where I spent another two days. The way you treat BVS is to drain the fowl liquid out of your stomach with a long suction tube, which is inserted up your nostrils until it finally reaches your stomach. It took several hours before the tube quit pumping, producing a couple of pitchers of black gunk. The nurse who inserted the tube said I might experience “mild discomfort,” which is de facto proof that she had never had a suction tube up her nose.
There was a happy ending to that story. Only a little over three days in the hospital and with the medical diagnosis of “bowel obstruction,” I seemed to be doing fine after the draining, and the ordeal was described by the several doctors who had worked on me as “probably a fluke and unlikely to happen again.” One doctor commented that I “had dodged a bullet.”
My last day in the hospital, another doctor, a middle aged, African American, with a serious look, entered my hospital room and said, “Mr. Howell, we are not going to release you from this hospital until we figure out what caused this.”
I groaned, thinking what it would be like to spend one more horrible day in a tiny, double occupancy room, where there was no place to sit, no window view, and where people were dying all around you. Staying more days or even weeks was unthinkable. A half hour later, however, the head nurse appeared, smiling, informing me that I was being discharged.
“Cautious doctor overruled,” I surmised, but grateful that I was finally liberated.
It was a questionable decision.
Fast forward to Tuesday, August 30, 2022. Embry and I had flown up to Portland, Maine, where our daughter and her family live and which was to be the location for the first Howell-Cole reunion where one of my first cousins from Nashville and his intergenerational family would join Embry and me and Jessica’s and Andrew’s families, about 20 people in all. I started feeling woozy on the flight up and within an hour of arriving was throwing up. You got it—another bout of BVS!
Emergency! When Jessica got home from work, Jessica, Embry, and I jumped in her car and within minutes were entering the emergency waiting room of Mercy Hospital. Jessica had checked with a friend who was a nurse, who recommended it as the best hospital, and it happened to be nearby.
Unlike the madhouse at The Washington Hospital Center, which was buzzing with activity with bodies on stretchers being accompanied by armed police officers, this emergency waiting room was clean, quiet, orderly and as far as emergency rooms go, pleasant. When we were checking in, I counted the number of people waiting –only eight, a homeless-looking guy asleep on two chairs, a woman with a white sheet over her head, an elderly couple, a large middle-aged lady beside us, and two older men.
“Well,” I commented when we sat down, “looks like a pretty short wait.”
The large woman sitting next to me whispered, “Well, I have already been here two and a half hours, and most of the people in the waiting room now were here before me.”
Embry and Jessica left after an hour for a dinner out that had been planned and returned a couple of hours later. I was still waiting. I had positioned myself between the men’s room and the door to the ER so I would not miss my name when it was called and when needed could dart into the men’s room to throw up. Just after they arrived, the door opened and a guy in a green outfit called my name. We had arrived at the waiting room shortly after 6:00 PM. Embry and I entered the ER at 9:30.
Totally exhausted, nauseated, and aching from toe to chin, I was on my last leg, but at least we were inside, were assigned a hospital room, and over the next two hours met the GI surgeon, the surgeon’s assistant, and several nurses.
We were impressed—all were youngish, friendly, knowledgeable and sharp. The surgeon, a blond, petite woman probably in her early 40s–though with masks it is hard to tell—was particularly impressive. It was already close to midnight, and she was still working. Good heavens! She explained the first procedure, which would be scheduled the next day for around 3:30, an old-fashioned colonoscopy performed by her colleague, and advised that an additional procedure would probably be required. After the doctor left, the nurse, a 30-something man and a former cop, got a hospital gown on me, and inserted a suction tube up my nose, but not without difficulty or excruciating pain. I already knew what this involved and got through the pain with a little help from morphine, which he kindly provided following my desperate plea. By midnight everyone had departed. Embry returned to Jessica’s house, and I collapsed and dozed off in the haze of the “morphine sweetener.” The tube in my stomach was already sucking out the bad stuff.
Before I fell asleep, I heard the nurse mutter, “Oh my God! the Covid test just came back. You’ve got Covid! Oops!”
Covid? Impossible. Hey, I had paid my dues. I had been vaccinated and boosted twice. I had worn my N95 mask 24/7, done everything I was supposed to. And I still got Covid on a cruise from Copenhagen to Norway and Iceland –five weeks of this torture. And to come down with another case only three weeks after testing negative for the last episode? Oh my goodness! No way.
That is why the first thing I said to the nurse who woke me up early the next morning for testing vital signs was definitive:” I-do-not-have-Covid!”
The young woman’s eyes above her mask signaled a puzzled look. She started to read my chart; and when she got to the end, looked up again, this time with a look of concern, exclaiming “Oh my God! You’ve got Covid!”
“No, no!” I protested. “I don’t, I mean, I can’t. I have already had it, just weeks ago and a bad case. I have had all the shots, the boosters. The test is wrong, I swear it! I tested negative weeks ago.”
She put the chart down, timidly backed out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
Not a good way to start off the day.
So began the ordeal at Mercy Hospital, the second ER and the second Covid experience of 2022.
To be continued….