I woke up at half past two in the morning and I figured that I may as well tell the tale of how I spent most of the previous afternoon in the Observation Unit of the local Emergency Department.
On Tuesday night I went through a routine that I have repeated from time to time at the lowest points of my life: as I was climbing on the bed to sleep, I thought to myself, “this was the last time I’ve stepped on this floor or any other. I’m going to pass away in my sleep. I’ve seen all the things I wanted to see, I’ve done all the stuff I wanted to do. Let it end already.” Well, it feels like I nearly got my wish.
Yesterday I ended up waking up anyway, at six in the morning. I prepared myself in a hurry to walk through my decaying city, get on the train, then on a bus so I could reach the hospital complex where I work. I’ve been feeling even more stressed than usual lately; on top of the maddening routine as a computer technician at a hospital complex where anything can go wrong at any moment, where most people consider their problems the most urgent, and where half of the users I handle are complete idiots no matter how good they may be as nurses, doctors or however the hell they ended up working at the hospital, I had a quarrel with a coworker because he locked me out of books related to a public examination that we bought together (I bought most of them, actually), for no good reason, which made me face I couldn’t trust this guy, which in turn made me realize I have to cut back on involving myself with people in person unless it’s absolutely necessary to earn a paycheck.
Anyway, for whatever reason my job kept piling up tasks on me, some labeled as urgent, while I was already having to schedule operations at specific times and half of my coworkers were free; the trio of loudmouths who spend most of their time at the office blabbering, ruining everyone else’s concentration, seemed to have worked half an hour at the most. Going through the emails I’ve received these last couple of days:
-A laptop located at an operating room of the Ophthalmology Department wasn’t loading their needed apps reliably. Their supervisor had refused to open a ticket about this beyond the first one weeks ago, and instead she was either emailing specific technicians (I was one of them), or phoning our secretary and naming technicians so we would handle the issue. I happened to be one of the technicians who had already seen this problem and was in the office at the moment, so I ended up dealing with this irate supervisor. She was right, though, because the usual solution for this common problem (restarting the computer so it can set up the network drives properly) didn’t work *all* the time; such intermittent issues are the most troublesome to handle. I ended up opening a couple of tickets to HQ so they would review all the basic details about that laptop’s presence in the general network of our organization, and they detected that its specific build of Windows was outdated. Great, I thought, that’s the solution. I convinced my boss to just exchange their oldish laptop for a new one. Eventually, though, when I got there not only the new laptop had the same issue of not loading the network drives reliably, but also did a laptop from a neighboring operating room. Now I think that the problem is more likely due to Wi-Fi coverage, a whole nonsense to diagnose that will involve coordinating ourselves with confused and chatty nurses to move the laptops around (most of the time such devices are under lock and key, because plenty of patients have stolen stuff) so the guys at HQ can check how strongly the specific MAC addresses receive the signal. This will take hours of a single technician’s time, and it hasn’t been done yet.
-Some doctor from a department that does some kind of animal testing complained that she couldn’t open certain Google Drive invites in Chrome, so she requested it to be updated. When I handled the issue I found out that the invites were getting loaded in Internet Explorer instead. I taught her to copy and paste the hyperlinks to Chrome, which opened them properly. However, she ended up calling me later because Google Drive wasn’t letting it open certain files, and it was due to certain idiots from Network Security at HQ that consider it necessary to block stuff from Google Drive, so I had to open a ticket to let that doctor’s requests pass through the firewall.
-They opened up a new “reports room” at a department that handles operating kids. I managed the move, but one of the computers that ended up there was ancient, one of those troublesome kinds who use very specific software that has never been updated for newer operating systems and that some of the time isn’t maintained anymore because the company no longer works with the healthcare organization. Anyway, this computer had a proprietary set of cables that went to specially mounted sockets on the wall, but the cables didn’t make clear which cable went where. I had to locate technicians from that random company and return to that “reports room” (a process that involves me dressing myself up, because it’s a sterile environment) and snap a few photos of the damn cables to mail them. They haven’t answered yet.
-Someone from a clinic located a couple dozen kilometers away wants to be able to print in a different printer, “just in case”. It takes me a good while to coordinate myself with her so she can free up her computer. When I finish, she asks, “hey, can you do that for this coworker and this one and this one too?” I tell her that they should open their own tickets.
-Some barcode scanner works intermittently. Half of the time the users are handling it wrong. The ticket doesn’t say anything about the model of the scanner nor its physical location, so I email the person for details.
-Suddenly nobody in a whole wing of the ICU could print on their assigned printer. Yesterday afternoon they called my department because there were blocked documents on the queue, but whatever my coworker did screwed stuff up for everybody. I connected remotely to the print server; it was still open on the list of printer addresses and focused on the one with the issue: my coworker linked the name of the printer to another IP address by mistake.
-Some lab technician can’t open certain attached images because it gives an error regarding virtual memory. The technician insists on me checking her disk space. It’s partially a RAM issue, but also there may be some weird allocation matter, because restarting the computer (she said she did, anyway) hasn’t solved it. I still haven’t finished dealing with it.
-There were also a few more mundane matters that don’t warrant me writing about them.
I really dislike my job, but it’s the only one that has employed me semi-reliably. As a programmer I ended up working half of the time as an unpaid intern, but even when I was getting paid, I barely made minimum wage. By the way, this is a country where some people can enter illegally from certain continents and earn three times minimum wage just for existing. Such are the ethnic backgrounds of more than half of the people that hang out at the Maternity building of my hospital complex.
Anyway, at a quarter past two I was heading to the Ophthalmology Department located in one of the farthest reaches of this complex to hand them a new laptop. Right as I reach their floor, I start sweating, feeling light-headed and getting a weird pressure in my chest. My heart goes arrhythmic. I feel it jumping, and as I check my pulse, it’s clearly all over the place.
The first time I experienced such arrhythmia was the very same day that I received my latest booster vaccine (which I was forced to take because I wouldn’t keep getting hired as a computer technician at any hospital otherwise). From then on I experienced such “heart jumps” semi-regularly, moments in which my heart seemed to hiccup in a disturbing way, but it had always passed a couple of heartbeats later. This time it didn’t stop. I could tell it wasn’t normal in any way, but I figured that I would give the Ophthalmology crew a new laptop to solve the issue they had been badgering us about, then visit the Workplace Health department or however it’s called in English.
As I waited for a few nurses to get me some disposable operating room clothing, one of the chatty nurses (have I said enough times that talking to people in person makes my skin crawl?) approached me and asked me, “by the way, do you work for [our Healthcare Organization]?”. Me, wearing a lab coat that features prominently the logo of said organization: “Yes.” “Can you help me with a problem? I haven’t been able to print reports with my credentials in forever. My coworker can’t do it either. We keep asking around and going crazy because nothing works and we have to ask other nurses to let us enter with their credentials.” “Have either of you opened a ticket for it?” “Well, no.” I realized quickly that they hadn’t assigned the printer correctly in the program like virtually every other department is told how to do.
I was expecting any of them to point out that I seemed sick, because I was sweating profusely, my pulse was trembling, and in general I must have looked like death. But they just ended up giving me one of those disposable sets of clothes. When I found myself alone in the locker room, my heart kept going crazy, I was getting weaker and weaker and experiencing weird electrical pains along my collarbone and shoulders. I thought, “I’m having a heart attack. I’m having a heart attack and the last thing I’ll do in my worthless life is set up a laptop for these motherfuckers who have been pestering us for weeks without following any proper protocol.” I wanted to cry, or throw myself out of the window. Instead I got dressed and walked to the operating room. There I discovered that changing the old laptop for a new one didn’t solve the issue, and I explained to a few nurses that we’d have to coordinate ourselves to arrange a Wi-Fi coverage study in the following days.
When I left that department, it was already time to go home. My arrhythmia hadn’t stopped; if anything it had gotten worse. I felt dizzy and confused, and I can’t remember almost anything about the ride home. I realized that my heart issue was serious; although usually I would avoid going to a hospital for any reason because it would be too much of a bother, this time I got my father to drive me to the Emergency Department of the local hospital at Irún. By then I could barely stay upright, so an orderly wheeled me to the Observation Unit in a wheelchair. They hooked me up to a vitals monitor that kept beeping because my heart rate was out of whack, jumping wildly from the 80s to the 140s, and beeping even more urgently when it hit the 140s. The main nurse that treated me had the same name as the girlfriend that fucked me over the worst, but this young woman was very kind. They referred to my condition as atrial fibrillation. I have forgotten most of the stuff they did to me, but they made me swallow three flecainide pills and told me that I would lie in bed for the foreseeable future. If in six hours my heart hadn’t gone back to normal, they would defibrillate me.
I lay there for hours (most of the afternoon), staring at the hooks hanging from the ceiling and at the curiously designed ventilation slits, which looked like the bidimensional version of one of those spiky balls that they use to detonate minefields. On the opposite box some woman in her forties was being treated for covid. I would have supposed that these observation units were reasonably quiet due to the rest that the patients require, but the son of a bitch they had on the box immediately to my left kept groaning in an obnoxious, obviously fake way every few seconds, annoying everyone to the extent that the nurses kept saying, “we have to do something about the guy from 7”, and even other patients were shushing that idiot. I figured he must have been an elderly man with dementia or such shit, but the orderly that later wheeled me around to get an X-Ray of my chest told me, “he’s a Hispanic guy, just forty years old. I don’t know what is it with these Hispanics, but we get such kinds all the time: habitual drunkards who sometimes come in also drugged up to their eyeballs.”
After the nurses had to rush at the Hispanic guy because he kept trying to get up and even push stuff around, they decided to move him to another box. Regarding where they had to move him, they specified that he should be “distanced from the guy on 6 (me); he has a heart condition.”
Eventually my heart stopped hiccuping. The main nurse talked to me about the health issue assuming that it would happen again in the future, and that when it does I should go immediately to the nearest Emergency Department to get an ECG. They also told me I should make an appointment with a cardiologist. I asked them if my stressful routine may have caused this, but they told me it was a purely physical issue. I asked them if I should end up carrying with me the kind of pills they made me swallow, in case I experienced such an episode again when I was out there in the wild. They told me no way.
Later on I googled flecainide; most of the websites warn against its use with notices like this one: “This drug has a Black Box Warning. This is the most serious warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A black box warning alerts doctors and patients to potentially dangerous effects. If you’ve had a heart attack within the past two years, flecainide may raise your risk of having another heart attack, which can be fatal. This drug should only be used if you have a life-threatening irregular heart rate. Tell your doctor if you have atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter. If you have these conditions where your heart does not beat correctly, you have an increased risk for developing certain types of irregular heartbeats. Flecainide is not recommended if you have chronic atrial fibrillation.” So either my nurses (or their hospital) were incompetent, or I’ve gone through a life-threatening irregular heart rate. Good to know.
They gave me the following report:
When they told me I could go home, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t even sit down without breaking in cold sweat and getting nauseous. I felt like I would pass out at any point. The same orderly wheeled me out to my father’s car. Soon after I got home, I emailed my boss to tell him that I would take it easy the two following days and that I would contact my GP to figure out what to do about this matter. Shortly after I went to bed and passed out.
I woke up at half past two in the morning and I decided to write this account, as I had nothing better to do. My heart feels physically weak and sore. Of course, I’m paranoid about it failing at any point. I read up on atrial fibrillation, and the following stuff bothered me the most: it’s associated with an increased risk of heart failure, dementia, and stroke. That’s on top of my regular migraines, which are also linked to an increased risk of stroke. The two fates I fear the most health-wise are dementia, Alzheimer’s and the likes, and strokes. One of my favorite writers, John Fowles, who wrote ‘The Collector’ and ‘The Magus’, suffered one in his sixties. Fowles never wrote another novel again, and stated that the stroke had “robbed him of his imagination”.
It’s nearly six in the morning, when I would need to wake up to go to work, but I’m going to sleep. I won’t have to work, which will likely cause me untold issues next week. However, as far as I care at the moment, it can fuck right off along with my failing body and my pointless life.