An occasional column about city life
On the first Friday of May, I went to sleep next to my husband and woke up early Saturday morning being transported from our bedroom to an ambulance. “What hospital do you want to go to,” one first responder asked. “Mass General,” I replied. We raced off to Massachusetts General Hospital, 1.8 miles away, but I don’t remember the siren. Actually, I don’t remember much of anything until I asked: “Where are we now?” One of them replied, “We’re at the Mass General Emergency Room.” I was drifting in and out of consciousness so I don’t remember the valiant front-line workers unloading me and wheeling me in to the hospital, but they did.
Over the next 12 hours, doctors, nurses, nurses’ aides, and orderlies worked very hard for me. I was tested for many things, including brain bleeds, lung tumors, heart attacks, and COVID-19. My temperature was taken at least 100 times, sheets and hospital gowns were changed. I was asked often how I felt, what I remembered, where I was, and what day it was. Eventually, a very nice neurology resident gave me a complete workup and probed with many questions (What day is it? Where are we?). At the end of the battery, I thanked her for not asking who the president is. She tried not to smile. I realized I was feeling better.
Being at Mass General already made me feel a lot better. We are blessed to live in one of the country’s cradles of science and technology. I’ve always taken this for granted but, during this pandemic, I am so grateful for hospitals, doctors, nurses, scientists, politicians who listen to doctors, nurses, and scientists.
During my long night’s journey into day, I gradually learned I had had a seizure, a reaction to a new medication I had been given for recently-diagnosed MS. It was my first day taking this drug. Ultimately, it was my last. Before I took the initial pill, I vaguely remember reading the warning label that cautioned about a minuscule chance of seizures. I wish the small percentage had won me the lottery instead. But I did win a big prize when I look back on a very frightening experience. In the middle of a scary pandemic, I got emergency medical care, which I got at one of the best hospitals in the world.
I thought the same when I was in my 20s and had just moved to Boston. My roommates and I found an apartment on Grove Street up on Beacon Hill. Mass. General was right down the street. One night, when I had an irregular heartbeat, I walked down to the emergency room where I was triaged and waited forever. Ultimately, they gave me an EKG, told me I was fine and sent me home.
Over the years, I’ve had many other tests, even a couple of surgeries at MGH. My primary care doctor was there. Long after I moved off Beacon Hill, I continued to go back to the hospital for routine medical care until I realized how inconvenient it was to drive into the city and circle the MGH parking garages looking for a space. The hospital is so overbuilt on such a small quadrant of land, it can seem more annoying than healing. I decided to find a doctor’s office closer to my home—until that fateful first Friday in May when I was asked what hospital I wanted.
In the MGH emergency room, as I recovered my senses, I had moments when I just lay there feeling scared. I tried a Zen mindset until I got scared all over again. I asked for my husband, but he was not allowed to be there because of the COVID-19 crisis. And I inquired of a nurse whether there were any coronavirus patients nearby. She told me the hospital had many patients sick with the virus, but none nearby. Actually, I somehow trusted them not to risk exposure.
They moved me upstairs to an emergency room annex with beds and bathrooms. As I was wheeled there, I looked out a window and saw the sun was shining. It was a new day. I was told I would stay until all the results of my tests were known. The one they were waiting for most crucially was the hallowed COVID-19 test. To insure safety, anyone coming close to me had to put on fresh PPE gear – a robe, mask, and nitrile gloves. A single patient can generate mounds and pounds of spent sanitized gear. The orderlies wheeled away towering refuse carts.
Eventually, I got the word I was waiting for—the COVID test was negative and I could go home. A nurse wheeled me out into the sunshine.
For a few hours, I was inside the belly of the beast. It was dark and scary, but I remain so impressed by the calm, clear professionalism and the efficiency of a large Boston hospital (and ambulance crew) in the throes of a toxic plague.
We’re all in good hands. I feel so fortunate to be able to recognize the obvious.
Monica Collins lives on the Waterfront with husband Ben Alper, a comedy writer, and dog Dexter.