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Idaho Voices

Expertise, kindness mark medical center’s personnel

A suggestion: If you’re gut-shot, hide the wound when you report to the emergency room. Tell the admitting person that you think you’re having a heart attack.

You’ll be dropped into a wheelchair, then sped into the work area where you’ll be gently lifted onto a bed then surrounded by a squad of eager medics and a doc who’ll ask you all about your symptoms as they strip you and begin assembling their tools.

It’s at this point that you can amaze them with your bravery. With a grin tell them, “Ah, shucks. It’s not a gut shot, only a flesh wound and I set the bone myself.”

Just kidding on that advice; tell ’em the truth. I suspect that emergency room personnel will leap to their tasks with just as much alacrity if you’re shot as if you were having a heart attack. But based on a recent experience at Kootenai Medical Center, I doubt that the care you’d receive would be any better.

The previous day I’d had a relatively minor operation, repair of an umbilical hernia, at that hospital. It was an outpatient procedure and I stood up to it pretty bravely, if I say so myself. (No one else said that, including my wife, I noted with some sadness.) So I spent the night at home.

I awoke at 6:30 the next morning with a pain in my left arm that I could describe to my wife, a hospice nurse, only as an intense and deep ache. And despite my rubbing and her massaging, it wouldn’t go away. She took my vitals, concluded that it could be a heart attack and gave me an aspirin. (A four-year degree in nursing and 40-plus years of practice and this is the best she can do? I wondered.)

So off we sped to the hospital with her at the wheel and me moaning and sniveling a bit – but in a manly sort of way.

The admittance was as described above. There was no waiting, no fiddling with paperwork, and I was whisked into the ER within a couple of minutes of my arrival.

I was hurriedly stripped and redressed into one of those backless gowns. Not a pretty sight, I fear. Then the checks and treatments began. While one nurse was applying the electrodes to my chest another was drawing blood. Nitroglycerine tablets were placed under my tongue, morphine was administered and a nitro drip into my arm was started. The emergency room doctor took my pulse, listened to my chest, and questioned me about my parent’s medical history. No heart problems, I told him; they both died of strokes.

The results of the lab tests on my blood were back in a jiffy – I think that’s the proper medical term – but were inconclusive. Might have been a heart attack, maybe not. Well, I thought, that narrowed it down some.

So I was consigned to a private room on the third floor. There, over the next 36 hours, I was subjected to night and day blood draws, blood pressure tests and temperature taking and, incidentally, some damn bland food.

I’ve been a “saltaholic” for as long as I can remember, and hardly any food tastes good without an (un)healthy dose of sodium sprinkled on it. But under doctor’s orders, I was now on a salt-free, low-sodium diet. And I’m afraid that might spell the end of those tasty jerky “lunches” of which I partake on the golf course.

The only plus I can think of regarding that regime while in KMC is that there are plenty of choices of that bland (but healthy) stuff on the hospital’s menu. I’d go down the list and pick out items that I thought might have the best taste potential, then phone in my order.

And I learned that egg substitute and Canadian bacon just can’t compete with “the real thing.”

After a fitful night – interrupted every couple of hours by blood pressure tests and temperature taking – I was wheeled downstairs at 7 a.m. for a stress test.

As I rolled along I ruminated on the irony: I was going to have to run on a treadmill, but evidently someone feared that I might keel over if I had to walk to the test.

Prior to the test’s start, I spent a half-hour motionless on a platform while an automatic camera roamed over my chest, photographing my heart from every possible angle.

Then I was led to the room that housed the infernal machine – what I’ve learned to call “the dreadmill” – where a nurse shaved my chest hairs here and there and then fastened electrodes to the bare spots. That was sad. It’s taken me many years to achieve a decent growth of those he-man adornments.

Ports were also inserted at other heres and theres on my chest. Then I stepped onto the treadmill and the test began. “Uh oh,” I thought. “Maybe I didn’t have a heart attack, but I bet it’s coming now.”

When I asked how long it would last, the nurse practitioner who was in charge replied that the time is predicated on age. For me, at 71, it would be 11 minutes.

The slow pace that began the test probably lasted a minute or so, and then the damn roadbed tilted up until I was looking at the ceiling. As the pace quickened, it forced me into a run. Thank God the machine has a stout handhold.

As I churned along, the photographer guy reached up and squirted something – dye, I think – into those ports.

It was the longest 11 minutes of my life. But soon after I got off the machine, the nurse practitioner complimented me on my heart’s fast recovery to a normal beat.

That I believe I can attribute to skiing and thrice-weekly workouts on the treadmill and stationary bikes that I began in May when the Kroc Center opened.

I returned to the camera room for another half-hour session of lying still while the machine did its work, then was helped into a wheelchair for the return journey to my room.

A heart doctor reviewed the photos and all the test findings later that day and told me that I probably hadn’t suffered a heart attack, but did have a slight heart abnormality that he’d like to monitor over a period of time.

He also told me to stay off the salt.

A subsequent appointment with my regular doc and a conversation about my symptoms led him to conclude that I’m probably a victim of a thoracic outlet syndrome – in other words, a pinched nerve in my shoulder that led to the ache in my arm. The remedy: a series of sessions with a physical therapist that I’ll begin in a few days.

The bottom line is that I’m relatively healthy with a ticker that will probably keep doing its work for a few years yet.

And I’m extremely impressed with the skill, dedication and good humor of all the folks with whom I came into contact at the Kootenai Medical Center. That includes not only the professionals but those who brought my food, cleaned my room and wheeled me about the corridors of that fine institution.

Now if I can just find some food that tastes good sans salt.

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