A funny thing happened on the way to what I hoped would be a casual dinner with my wife and my daughter and her family eight days ago at a Stevensville restaurant. As I awaited an appetizer, I fell backward. I ended up on the floor.
Subsequently I spent 18 hours at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. I never ate dinner. Nor did my wife.
I blacked out. I took the table with me as I fell to the floor. It was frightening. I was conscious.
The medical term for what I experienced is a “syncopal episode.” I fainted. I had no warning, as I repeatedly told the skeptical medical professionals.
I was not seeking attention. I got more than I ever would have imagined.
The 18 hours in the hospital were miserable. More so than losing control of my body and suffering a visible bump on my forehead from the table.
Waiting, waiting and waiting. The hospital regimen is frustrating. Answers are elusive. Communication is sporadic, particularly in an emergency room, often the pathway to further treatment.
So, why did I black out? The diagnosis pointed to dehydration and low oxygen. Because of my heart attack in 1993, this medical history loomed constantly in the background.
I underwent two CT scans, one to look at my brain (that’s intriguing) because of the bump on my forehead, and the second to view my lungs for a possible blood clot or, technically speaking, a pulmonary embolism. Both tests proved negative.
When I was discharged and released from all sorts of tubes, wires and monitors, I was instructed to go home to see my cardiologist for a two-week heart monitor. After all, I wouldn’t want to detach myself from medical inspection. The attention is unwanted but vital.
As I think back about my disrupted dining experience, I cringe. The thought of lying on a floor next to the bar area (our preference instead of the dining room to accommodate our restless grandchildren) haunts me. My wife and a waitress (a trained nurse) tended wonderfully to me before the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and ambulance arrived.
And the EMTs were professional and spot-on with their initial diagnosis. Kudos to the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department.
Despite my faint attempt at humor, I remain scared that a blackout could recur. Loss of control, at least in my case, was a sensation that I would like to avoid, if possible. I would like to address the underlying causes as diligently I can under medical supervision.
At the risk of chastising an excellent hospital, I believe that emergency rooms—which are handling very serious problems—are inherently chaotic. Doctors seem to be in short supply. When they do visit, the patient or family member must be prepared, first, to listen carefully, and, second, to ask
unemotional questions. The stress is palpable.
Registered Nurses (RNs), the unyielding backbone of any hospital, also seem to be limited in number. In both the ER and my room, I dealt with traveling nurses. Paid well, so I understand, they typically are extremely competent itinerant nurses who live outside the state, love to travel and provide a valuable service to hospitals throughout the country.
The incessant waiting typically involves the expected arrival of doctors and their words of wisdom. For impatient folks like me, waiting is just awful. Family members also suffer from living in limbo.
Like most others, I feel thankful for the medical treatment that I was fortunate to receive. I don’t want to seem impatiently ungrateful. The two doctors, three nurses, physician’s assistant and numerous technicians were undeniably capable.
My syncopal event was stunningly quick and immediately alarming. I hope it never happens again. I trust that if the episode were heart-related, I can do something about it.
I plan to eat dinner again at the Stevensville restaurant. Uninterruptedly and painlessly.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.