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Sunday Lifestyle

The ERs of New York

CURTAIN CALL - Joy Virata - The Philippine Star
The ERs of New York
Author Joy Virata and daughter Gillian: The wounds are healing; there is so much to be thankful for.

On this trip I have to say I did something different. I rode in an ambulance through the streets of New York. I experienced a 911 call, just like I see on TV. I was an actual patient in a New York emergency room, just like in a TV series.

East Side, West Side

All around the town

The tots sang ring-round-a-rosie

London Bridge is falling down

Me and Mamie O’ Rourke

Tripped the light fantastic

On the sidewalks of New York.

This is a tune from a Broadway musical. Well, trip my daughter did, but not the “light fantastic.” She tripped over a planter as we were walking on a sidewalk in New York and fractured her elbow.

My daughter Gillian and I had arrived in New York the day before. I had brought her there for treatment for a rare type of cancer called Angiosarcoma. It’s so rare that I think there is no known or recorded case of it in the Philippines, and from the internet I learned that there have only been about 100 cases in the whole of the United States.

It manifests itself with wounds on the scalp and, in my daughter’s case, by the time it was diagnosed they were huge wounds constantly leaking blood and fluid. She had to wear heavy bandages on her head that had to be changed at least twice daily.

I was bringing her to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which is one of the top cancer centers in the world and one of the few that has experience in treating Angiosarcomas. (I found it surfing the internet.)

I think I screamed when I saw her go down. Had she hit her head? There were three men and one woman who saw her go down. Immediately they came to find out how they could help. Without my telling her, the woman (how I wish I had gotten her name but I was in a panic) called 911. In about five minutes the Emergency Medical Services ambulance arrived. Immediately the two obviously highly trained men who came with the ambulance assessed the situation. They brought us into the ambulance, got my daughter’s history and personal data, took her vital signs, and immediately recommended that they take her to the nearest emergency room, which was in NYU Langone Hospital. That was ER visit No. 1.

The ER was busy. My daughter was put into a cubicle and, to make a not-so-long-story (about four hours) short, she was seen by a doctor, her elbow was X-rayed, it was confirmed that she had indeed fractured it, she was fitted with a sling, the nurse gave her instructions, she was told she should see a specialist and she was allowed to leave.

They, of course, took all her personal data (including that we had no insurance), and we signed forms but were not directed to the cashier. No payment was required at that time. We just left. (The bill came several weeks later and it wasn’t as bad as I feared.)

After a few days, my daughter had her first chemo treatment — the first of six. I don’t know what it was — the weeks of waiting for the diagnosis, that accident, seeing my daughter wilt after the chemo, or what, but that night I had a recurrence of an Atrial Fibrillation (AFIB) episode (irregular heartbeat) that I had not had for three years since I had a procedure called an ablation. I took my ECG with my Apple Watch app and emailed it to my doctor in Manila. He told me what to do, but if my heartbeat didn’t slow down or if I had difficulty in breathing, to go to the emergency room of Mt. Sinai Hospital. Well, it didn’t slow down so the next day my son came from New Haven and brought me to the ER of Mt Sinai. That was ER No. 2.

They did lots of exams and made a recommendation for another ablation, but I decided just to keep corresponding with my doctor and sending him my ECGs, and since my heart seemed to be behaving (my watch showed I was no longer having AFIB episodes), I decided I would wait until I got home to do anything.

Then, wham! I think it was a few nights later that I didn’t feel right. I couldn’t breathe and I remembered I had had this same feeling before and had ended up in the ER of St. Luke’s with fluid in my lungs. I told my daughter to call 911. Again the EMS crew came in about 10 minutes and, as we were staying in a hotel, they put me on a gurney in the hotel hallway, took my pulse, gave me something to put under my tongue, put an intravenous something in me, gave me oxygen and brought me to the nearest hospital. ER No. 3.

As they wheeled me in, I thought, “Hmmm, this looks familiar.” Yep! It was the ER of the NYU Langone Hospital. I was right. I had fluid in my lungs. Anyway, they got rid of the fluid, did a lot of tests, I stayed a couple of days, and they let me go. My AFIB had disappeared.

Now back to my daughter, who kept her cool through all of this. She had her second infusion (chemo) and a week later developed a fever. We were told that at the first sign of a fever she should report to her doctor. She did, and was told to go right away to the urgent care of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which is where she was receiving treatment. ER No. 4. (She stayed in the hospital about a week.)

We had two more ER visits, but those were in the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven, where we had to rush my daughter with an extremely fast heartbeat. (Turns out she has SVT, which is sort of like, but not exactly like, my AFIB.) Luckily my son is a doctor at the Yale New Haven Hospital. Those were ERs 5 and 6.

Whenever I go on a trip I want to do something different. I want to see something different. Well, on this trip I have to say I did something different. I rode in an ambulance through the streets of New York. I experienced a 911 call, just like I see on TV. I was an actual patient in a New York emergency room, just like in a TV series.

But I also saw how well equipped and organized first-world ERs are and how well trained the nurses and staff are. I don’t think I saw anyone holding a pen or piece of paper. All the cubicles and rooms had their own computers and everyone went to those computers for everything: medicines, dosage, records, lab results, instructions. Name and date of birth — that’s all that was required. Lab results took minutes. Not hours. Not days. In all the ERs the setup was the same, the equipment was the same and the procedures were the same. And in all the hospitals the doctors, nurses and staff were efficient, kind, accommodating and very pleasant.

Needless to say, there are happier experiences that I would rather have had, but hey, my daughter is healing, her wounds no longer leak, they are drying up, the chemo seems to be working, the doctor is pleased with her progress, and as I write this we may be able to go home and have her treatment continued there. Aside from a day or two after each monthly infusion, she feels fine and is looking forward to going back to work. There is much to be thankful for and now I know a little more about something more — the ERs of New York.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” said the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

EMERGENCY ROOM

NEW YORK

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