When I lived in Ireland, I woke up one morning and coughed, clutching
my chest. My wife's a cardiologist and she said "That's it. Come on,
we're going to the hospital." And, off we went to merry St. Vincent's in
We checked in at the Emergency Ward and my wife casually mentioned that
she was a doctor, hoping that her status would grease the skids, as it
They wheeled me into the examination room and hooked up an ECG machine.
Then, they rolled up a red cart. Evidentally, the red cart was
used for especially serious cases. When my wife saw it, she immediately walked in
from the waiting room and asked what was going on. The resident replied
"It looks like an abnormal ECG". He said "Let's do one more and see".
My wife took a look at the second ECG and said "Well, you've got the leads
on wrong. This lead should be over one and so should this one and this
one, too." So, he moved the leads and did a third ECG. It looked
normal. About that time, the consultant walked in. She looked at the 3 ECGS
and announced that I should lift my tongue and get a blast of nitro. She
said it would give me the worst headache of my life. It did. Then,
after being there for about an hour, she gave me some aspirin.
Then, the attending said, "Just to be on the safe side, we're going to
check you in for observation, since we had 2 out of 3 ECGs look
abnormal". My wife asked "The leads weren't attached right. The last ECG looked
fine. Do you think this is necessary?" The consultant answered "He's
under my care and that's what I recommend." So, off I went to the cardiac
critical care unit.
When I was wheeled into the unit, the patients looked at each other and
said "Holy God, he's so young!" I spent the night there in a room full
of 5 critically ill heart patients, most near death. I waited all day
for the physician to come in and examine me, Nil.
The next day, they moved me into a private room. A nurse walked in
holding a syringe full of clear liquid. I flashed to Nurse Hatchet from One
Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She asked me if it was alright to give me
the injection. I said "What? You're asking me? I haven't got the
slightest idea, but if you have to ask, the answer is no!"
Then, a little later, my wife came to visit me. They moved me into a
public ward. As we went in, my wife looked around and said "Don't be surprised
if someone in here dies tonight". I guess doctors have a sixth sense
about those things. A little later, I walked out to the living room to
watch TV and all of a sudden, lights flashed on the walls and a siren
went off. I saw nurses running to my room. Evidentally, the poor fellow
my wife referred to had a heart attack and died.
The custom in Ireland is to wrap the body up like a mummy and leave it
in place on the bed so that the family can come and pay last respects.
We were not allowed back in the room and the hallway filled up with
what could only be the odor of death.
Finally, 3 days later, my attending physician decided to pay
me a visit. He was doing grand rounds with the residents. My wife, then
only a year out of fellowship but still a full-fledged consulting
physician in Ireland, showed just a glimmer of irritation at my attending's
tardiness. He proceeded to read her the riot act in front of all the
residents and totally intimidated both of us.
I was released that day. At the time, I was consulting through a
company called Vantage. It was Friday afternoon and
Vantage had a party planned that evening in Galway. So, we packed our
overnight bag and headed off, across Ireland to Connemara. It was an
unbelievably beautiful drive under blue skies with puffy white clouds. I
swore to myself I would never forget how lucky I was to be alive.
Sometimes, when I get pissed off I think of the way it felt to be out
of that cardiac critical care ward with the stench of death, worried
about whether I was having a heart attack. I usually feel better.