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Avia S-199 in Israeli Air Force Service

The angry little man in the plastic bubble

My GP is away so I went to the nearby CLSC (which is a medical clinic with nurses only). I considered walking but it’s a bit farther than the garage and that walk tired me out yesterday, so I drove. I left around 3:30 p.m.

When I describe my symptoms to the woman at the front desk, she gives me a medical mask to wear and tells me to go into the first door down the hall that faces me. That door has a big “do not enter” sign on it so I return to ask if she’d meant that one. She confirms, explaining that it is the quarantine room.

The first nurse to see me asks me some questions, measures my blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature (a slight fever of 38.1 degrees C), and listens to my chest. A more senior nurse joins us to confer and ask me about my symptoms. Do I have a cough? Infrequent and dry, but yes. Are my aches in the joints or muscles? Muscles. Have I been doing any traveling? I was in Texas until April 19.

She calculates that my symptoms started seven days after my flight home and announces that with the fever I had fulfilled four criteria for suspicion of swine flu. I explain that I have had absolutely no congestion but she only shrugs. She says she will arrange an immediate appointment at the hospital.

The nurses leave the room. I was pretty sure I didn’t have swine flu, but I thought the hospital would have a better chance of finding out what was really wrong with me.

The senior nurse returns and asks if I have my car. She tells me she made me an appointment in the emergency room at the Jewish General and that I would be seen right away. I would have to drive straight there. I’m not allowed to stop anywhere and I have to wear my mask. I call home and explain what’s happening to Child Two.

I walk to my car masked and feeling very Japanese but take it off when I sit. I somehow found great parking and put my mask back on and walk into the Jewish. The triage nurse took one look at my form and leads me to a clear-plastic-curtained germ isolation booth. It isn’t really a booth, more like a chair surrounded by short shower curtains and ventilated powerfully enough to keep anything on me from infecting the rest of the hospital. A doctor takes my temperature again and reconfirms my short history and hands me a much more robust mask.

An orderly escorts me to isolation room 27, which is a lot like the patient rooms you see in “House” with one glass wall – smaller, though. A different doctor comes to see me, looking like he’s about to face a case of the plague with a hard plastic face shield and sealed wrists and ankles on his contamination suit. He briefly confirms the info I gave the CLSC and listens to my chest. He explains that the test for swine flu takes about two hours to incubate. He will irrigate my nasal passages, take the liquid, and send it to the lab. If the test is positive, we’ll know I have swine flu, but a negative may be false.

The doctor tells me the procedure might be uncomfortable. The kit is a syringe of liquid attached to a soft plastic tube. He snakes the tube up my right nostril. And up. And up. And up, in excruciating discomfort. I hope you have no idea how horrible that is. It is the second worst medical procedure of my life, after having my toenails ripped off with pliers. I’d easily rather re-experience removal of wisdom teeth, gum surgery, or anything else.

He injects the saline as I’m writhing and I feel it roll down the back of my throat, which means it didn’t go where he wanted it to go because he’s supposed to draw it back into the syringe. He pulls out, sees he missed, and says he’s going to have to try again.

During the second try, also in my right nostril, I have tears streaming down my face, and I am thrashing in the bed, and he doesn’t get enough sample. Failing to hide his frustration, the doctor leaves my room and I hear him ask the nurse to try. I’m in the bathroom feeling terrible. I wasn’t congested before but I am now.

The nurse has me lie down flat instead of inclined upright the way the doctor had me. She tries my right nostril, too, and it feels like she is shoving the biggest gauge needle into my skull. She shoves and shoves against the congestion and finally I just can’t stand it and I rip the tube out of my nose. She is not pleased. I am even less pleased.

I explain that that was far beyond discomfort and ask half-jokingly if they have any IV Valium (which I had when I got my stomach scoped). She seriously tells me no.

It dawns on her that the right nostril is too congested by now and she’ll try the left. I get a little break while she looks for another kit. I spend the respite in the bathroom, nauseated and with my previously mild headache now splitting.

We meet back at my bed and the nurse tries my left nostril. She’s slower and more methodical than the doctor, and it just prolongs the process and gives me ample time to flail around, and she doesn’t retrieve enough. By this time I think she going to call in one or two of the burly orderlies to hold me down but I don’t suggest it.

Without orderlies, she tries my left nostril again. She guides me with breathing exercises, and asks me to hold my breath while she was puts the saline in. I’m good this time – but when she injects the liquid it runs out of my nasal cavity and into my trachea. I cough a fountain of the stuff that flies into the air like a whale spout. The nurse gives me a very curt “You know what? Forget it.” and leaves my room.

Apparently, between the five attempts, they get enough liquid to run the test, because they do send it off to the lab. My waterboarding ends around 5:30 pm. I asked the nurse for Advil for my headache but I get none. I alternate bouts of fitful sleep and listening to the iPod. A second nurse checked on me and also failed to produce Advil when I asked for it. I had neither food nor drink, not even water, and I’d eaten very little that day.

At 8:00 p.m., A nurse woke me to wheel me to radiology for chest x-rays. I asked her for Advil and she told me she’d get me some after the x-rays. On the way back, I ask if we can stop for food and drink and she says she’ll find me some. She says she’ll find out about the Advil, too.

She brings me what food she was able to find, which was two half-bowls of cold carrot soup (meant to be served hot, but fine anyway), two slices of bread, two slices of individually wrapped cheese food, a cup of either canned pears or peaches (couldn’t tell which), and a small vanilla yogurt. She also was nice enough to take my money and bring me back a Diet Pepsi from the vending machine. The food doesn’t sound like much but I wolfed it down. She also brough t me a phone so I could call home again.

At 9:10, the doctor on duty tells me it’s probably not swine flu, but absolute determination can only be made in two days. He says I should go home and spend the next two days there wearing my mask at all times. I look at him and say “That’s great, but when I went to the CLSC this afternoon, it wasn’t because I thought I had swine flu, it was because I feel crappy, my body aches, I’m tired all the time, can’t concentrate, and I have constant headaches. Is there something you can do about that?”

He says, “Oh, you probably have some kind of virus. The only thing to do is wait till you get better.” I didn’t bother asking him for Advil.

I trudge back to my car, drive home with a splitting headache and aching nasal passages (which still hurt as I write this), and finally, at home, take four Advil.

I felt so much worse by the end of this ordeal than I did at the beginning.

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