He made it sound so simple that it seemed too good to be true. To be fair, the trip to the ER had nothing to do with his work.
He was going to perform the procedure without a needle and without a scalpel. Just a few high-pressure sprays of local anesthetic, reminiscent of the hypo spray Bones used on Star Trek, and then a small puncture into which he would insert his tools and work his magic. Then he would clamp on a few titanium clips and cauterize the severed ends of the reproductive tunnels he had closed.
I read about it on my own, and found it was first developed in China to help men curb their fears of, you guessed it, vasectomy. The new way invented is needle-free, scalpel-free. Not in the original Chinese procedure, however, was my wife’s sheer panic and that pesky ambulance ride.
I arrived at 7:30 a.m. as instructed, with my wife and our son in the car and the 20-degree weather nipping at our noses. The plan was for me to take Valium to relax “things” and then have the procedure at 8 a.m.
The doors finally opened at about 8:10 a.m., and the receptionist checked in everybody who had arrived after me, then handed me a Valium at 8:25. It was my first one ever, but I had never had an adverse reaction to any medication, so I swallowed it down with reckless abandon.
At 8:30 I was called back to an exam room and the doctor started his work on me at 8:45. My metabolism is pretty quick, but I don’t think 20 minutes was quite enough for that Valium to do any relaxing.
He warned me about pain I might feel at certain times during the procedure. Remarkably, I never felt more than a slight pinch someone might give for St. Patrick’s Day, albeit in a different location (one hopes).
I paid my $58 and left the office. Pretty cheap for lifelong contraception, right? Stay with me.
My wife loaded the car, and under doctor’s orders I held a bag of frozen corn on my groin as we headed out for a four-hour drive to a family Christmas. We stopped for fast food on the way out of town, but not before filling a prescription for Vicodin (generic, of course). The doctor had advised that I fill it “just in case.”
Figuring that a four-hour road trip qualified as “just in case,” I took one pill as directed. This was two full hours after I had taken the Valium, and on a full stomach.
About an hour later, I was looking up something on my phone and started getting nauseated. Within a minute I got very hot and sweaty, and felt desperately uncomfortable. I let my wife know I might be sick, and while she maneuvered the car onto an offramp, I quickly emptied our take-out bag to prepare it for violent refill. I dry heaved a couple times.
I said, “I think I might pass out.”
The next thing I knew, I awoke to the sound of my wife on the phone.
“He’s awake now,” she said, clearly frazzled but able to communicate.
She later told me that after I uttered my fateful phrase, my head immediately dropped to the side and hit the car window, but my eyes remained open. She thought I was joking at first. She soon realized that I was not faking and shook me while screaming for me to wake up. Our son, nine years old, got frantic, and there was little she could do to comfort him while she was dialing and talking to 9-1-1.
She and the dispatcher finally agreed upon our whereabouts using nearby landmarks. I looked up and saw the Exxon sign she had mentioned, and kept my eyes on it as much as I could while not dry heaving.
We reached the parking lot and I opened my door for fresh air. We sat only a minute or two before I saw an ambulance, lights blazing and sirens blaring, racing across the overpass to our site.
It was my first time to see an approaching ambulance and know exactly why it was in the vicinity.
I completely lost track of Shannon and Benjamin when the EMT’s walked up to my side of the car.
“Sir, can you get up and walk on your own?” one of them asked.
“I think so,” I said.
I pulled myself up and felt hands under my armpits as I took a few steps to the stretcher. I laid back onto its tilted cushion and then the professionals took over.
And what professionals they were. With a calm, business-like yet comforting manner, they lifted me into the ambulance and began administering emergency care. They offered to recline me all the way back so I wouldn’t see the world shrinking away in our wake. Never once did I get the feeling that the situation was out of control.
I told them that I needed a reference point for the movement, then pulled down the oxygen mask when I felt the urge to dry-heave into the plastic bag they provided. I don’t remember donning the mask again.
I put out some major decibels even when I only almost vomit. “Sorry, guys, I’m a loud puker,” is the only other thing I remember saying during the ambulance ride.
They expertly lowered me from the ambulance and wheeled me into the ER. I thanked them, but whatever I said couldn’t have been nearly enough.
Nurses and technicians worked on me next. They attached me to an EKG machine, ran IV fluids into me, and drew blood. I have no doubt they were saying tv-show things like “chem 7,” “tox screen,” or similar phrases, but just where I couldn’t hear them.
My nausea subsided and instead of feeling hot I got body-shaking chills. I told the doctor and at least one other person about the uncontrollable shivering, but got no answer. Because I was fairly sure what had caused my episode — taking two new medications relatively close together, my chills were the only lingering question.
Finally the nurse let me know that the IV fluids, lower than body temperature going in, often cause an uncomfortable cool-down. It’s funny, how easy it would be to allay a patient’s fears if all medical professionals cared enough to listen. Such a simple, sensible answer, and my mind was at ease.
That is, until we saw the bill. Turns out this went under individual deductible, not family deductible, and mine was nowhere near being met for the year. That and the emergency care negated the advantage from all the down-to-the-wire planning to get it done before 2012 was over. It also meant that the harried scheduling of it on the same morning we were leaving for a family trip was not needed.
Nagging at me, too, is that had we not had a road trip ahead of us, I probably never would have taken that Vicodin. Two weeks out now, my pain never has reached a level that over the counter medicines had any trouble managing. (By the way, guys, the “twist-to-activate” ice pack the ER gave me didn’t last nearly as long as the frozen corn.)
I call my wife my hero now, even though she spurns the title. She always has been, but this magnified it.