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2008-01-21 11:21 p.m.

night in the emergency room

It was a week ago tonight. I ate some broccoli. Broccoli I had intended to take to school with me and eat for lunch, but which I had forgotten. So I ate it when I got home. And I promptly got sick to my stomach. After several minutes, I felt better, so I ate more, and then I felt worse. I waited for this to pass as well, but it didn't. I vomited. I felt better.

But I entered immediately into the puke cycle. Within 30 minutes I had puked again. Never had the puke cycle cycled so quickly before. I puked again. Then I had diarrhea. Then I puked again. Then I had diarrhea again. Then I puked again. At least they were considerate enough to take it in turns. There was nothing but stomach juice coming out by the third time, but still I puked on.

Not only was the puking unique in its high frequency, but I cannot recall ever having vomited with such devotion, such dedication, such intensity of feeling. I think the noises I made were the best impression I have yet made of the Sound of Ultimate Suffering. I'm not sure I would sound much different were I being tortured to death. I was sicker than I had ever been, and the onset- about 30 minutes from feeling just fine to Pretensions of Ultimate Suffering- was also more sudden than anything I'd ever encountered.

After the 5th puke, my hands and forearms were tingling. I lay down and tried to sleep, but the tingling began to spread. It started in my legs, as well, and about the time my entire body started to go numb I decided to call an ambulance. WTF was with me, fortunately, so I had her call (I didn't seem to have enough feeling in my hands to push the buttons on the phone). She called the Japanese emergency number first. When she finally got the right number, I held the phone to my head and talked to the operator. After that I directed WTF to open the doors, clear the way, and go out and direct them in.

In the meantime, the numbness spread, and it seemed that all the muscles in my body were cramping up. This was especially obvious in my arms and hands, as my index and middle fingers began pressing themselves extremely forcefully against my thumbs. I was vaguely worried that I might break my thumbs, but it didn't progress to that point, thankfully.

Finally the paramedics arrived. It turned out that the numbness and cramping was actually due to hyperventilation. Apparently it's not uncommon in people experiencing severe vomiting. They had me focus on my breathing and slow it down, focusing on the intake and on holding my breath after breathing in. Though symptoms like these can occur in matter a minutes, it can take hours of breathing control to get rid of them. (Incidentally, I often get tingling in my fingers, hands, and forearms when I am intensely focused on something, and it's especially common when singing or playing a wind instrument. Guess I'm hyperventilating.)

At first they weren't sure that I needed to go the hospital, but they changed their minds after they saw me vomit. I vomited again in the ambulance on the way there. On the plus side, I could more or less move my fingers by the time we got to the hospital.

At the hospital, of course, they stuck me in a room and promptly forgot about me. Until I vomited again (for the eighth time in about four hours). That seemed to get their attention, for some reason. So finally they hooked me up to an IV and gave me some nausea medication, fluids, and electrolytes, which I was very grateful for, because I was in dire need of all of those things, and I didn't foresee being able to get them any other way. I had a fever of 103 and continued to shiver uncontrollably for a few hours, but that was the beginning of starting to feel better.

I was not particularly lucid throughout all of this, and, in fact, throughout the entire ordeal whenever I closed my eyes my brain would automatically set up and begin working through a certain class of Go situations called "life and death" problems, which concern whether or not a given group of isolated stones can succeed making itself immune to capture or not. I was almost always white, and the situation was almost always such that there was no possible way for white to live. My brain forced me to try, anyway. It was hours and hours of that.

At some point someone wheeled in a big mechanical contraption with a computer on top. I assumed the next words would be some variation of "And now, Your Highness, we will discuss the location of your hidden rebel base," but it turned out they just wanted to get my information. That was when I realized how tired I was. I could only get out a few words with each breath, and that simple interview left me utterly exhausted. My favorite part of the interview:

Them: "What about an emergency contact?"

Me: "Are you going to call them?"

Them: "Only if there's an emergency."

Me: "I am in the emergency room. I came here in an ambulance. What would have to happen to me to qualify as an 'emergency?'" [Full disclosure: I only had enough energy to get out that first sentence, but I certainly thought the rest.]

Around 2 am I finally reached a kind of stable state, where my breathing was normal, I wasn't shivering anymore, and I could even doze a little bit. Then they decided to do a CAT scan on my abdomen, and made me drink a large cup of some mysterious pink suspension every half hour for two hours. It wasn't too bad at first, but eventually I began to feel like Dumbledore in the horcrux cave. The difference being that I got to the point where I was certain I would vomit if I drank anymore.

The CAT scan was fun. It involved being bisected by a laser and getting slowly fed into the spinning maw of a mass of plastic and metal. Like a log in a sawmill, or perhaps the process of being frozen in carbonite (last Star Wars reference, I promise). I asked if I could get a copy of the image. They said no.

I was feeling a little bit better, so the nurse had me try to drink some water. I puked (lucky number nine). That was taken as a bad sign, but to me it was just proof that I was right about the pink stuff when I decided I would throw up if I drank any more. They put more nausea medication in my IV, then pumped me full of two different kinds of antibiotics, and finally drained a big bag of water and electrolytes into me. Then they kicked me out around 7 am.

Getting home was fun, since neither WTF nor I had managed to bring any money or identification along in the ambulance. I didn't have shoes or even a jacket. It turned out there was a free university shuttle right outside the hospital though, and once at the university we were able to get another one to take us home. And, fortuitously, my roommate hadn't locked the door after the ambulance took me away, so we were able to go right in.

And that was that. I didn't throw up again, though I had diarrhea all day. I'm mostly better now.

I don't think they ever figured out what it was.

I'm very grateful to have had someone with me in the emergency room. It would have been 10 times as bad if WTF hadn't been with me.

the ambulance sings along,