Commentary: A Side-Step Into The Abyss

In this climate of pandemics, new variants and strains, and the fight for all of us to stay healthy and alive, nobody plans to be on the “inside” of the healthcare system. 

It's a very interesting system in itself. If you get sick and if it's irreparable at home, you go seek help. It could be your doctor that you go to. Or, you just go straight to an urgent care or the hospital. 

However, during these COVID-19 times, getting to the hospital is not as easy as you think. There could be no beds available immediately, even in the Emergency Room. If you get an ambulance quickly, you're pretty damn lucky. 

These are the experiences that I feared would happen even today, now 20-plus months after start of the pandemic. The Delta variant is still floating around. It's very prevalent. However, there is a new variant that was found in Southern Africa called Omicron. This variant is said to be much more devastating than the Delta variant or rather the original COVID-19 virus. Now, that new variant is rapidly growing worldwide – including here in the USA.

The healthcare system is taxed to the limit. Even if you don't have any COVID-19 symptoms or any COVID-19 related issues, you might feel that you were put in the back of the bus. It might not be the right thing to do, and you may not feel comfortable with it. However, it is a reality that we're facing right now. 

I tried to avoid the healthcare system for, even before the pandemic. I tried to stay healthy. I tried to do my best to deliver my best to you.

However, it wasn't to be. 

While working at Automobility LA, I remembered having a bit of a back pain, along with leg soreness and whatnot. I slept overnight in the hotel room in downtown Los Angeles, and I felt better. The following Monday, I felt the same soreness from the previous week. The back pain was pretty excruciating. I had limited mobility, and everything else that went with it. On Friday, I acknowledged that this lower back pain was not going away.

In response to this situation, our videographer, George, took me down to an urgent care to check it out my pain. What I got was very quick service – maybe quicker than I should’ve anticipated. All the urgent care doctor did was to feel the areas of pain, then prescribe drugs he thought would take care of it. One of the drugs prescribed was a very powerful muscle relaxer. That muscle relaxer pretty much destroyed the area between the lower and the upper parts of my body. Every time I stood up, I would feel like a disjointed human being. I had no balance, whatsoever. 

After sleeping one night, I decided that I was going to ride the storm out. That was a wrong decision. The first time I fell, I landed in front of my bedroom's door. My roommate heard the thud, and she and her boyfriend came up and helped me up and helped me back to bed. About maybe an hour or so later, I went to the bathroom. After I was done, I fell again. This time, it took a while for anyone to actually pick me up. But I did drag myself into my bedroom and was able to get to my laptop, to get the messages from George. I also sent out a message to my roommate. 

It was, at that time, it was determined that I had to go to the hospital. I was not looking forward to that at all.

First, I called 911. Then, the Robbinsdale Police Department showed up at my door. I looked at the officers and thought “what the hell are you doing here?” I understood what the protocols are, as they were the fastest to get the house. 

Then, North Memorial's ambulance showed up. They were really great folks, but I was scared, nervous, and all the emotions were coming out. I didn't know what the hell I'd had. All I know is I got a back pain. I fell twice. I was disjointed.

I got to the hospital and was checked in. The entire process took a while. It was very stressful. It took around two to three hours before I was able to get a bed in the emergency room. 

It's not their fault. It is a lot of people are flooding the system. Some with COVID-19-related issues. Some, like me, had legitimate regions. Others should not have been there at all.

I got in. I was scared and nervous. I did not know what was going on in my back. I thought, “okay, just get me better drugs and be able to manage this and get back up and running.” That still wasn't the case.

A series of MRIs found that there was an infection around the lower vertebra onto the pelvis. The doctors found some fluid that leaked in that area. The job at that point was to be able to extract that fluid and see what bacteria was causing this infection. Therefore, the care team would be able to get the right prescription for me to be able to manage this. Luckily for me, the procedure happened at the time when I transitioned out of ER. 

It was very interesting the healthcare I was receiving. I had some really great staff working with me. Everybody started to come in, such as infectious disease and neurology specialists. I felt that everyone had an interest in what's going on with me. 

The question turned to how will I be able to manage this? Antibiotics? Transitional care? Who knew what was next? 

Entering the healthcare system at this stage was quite daunting. The fears that I had 20-plus months ago when the pandemic started were there. If you did not have any COVID-19 related issues, what's the point of going into the healthcare system? Knowing my experience and witnessing what transpired during my stay at the hospital, I really should have gone in sooner. It should never have come to this point.

However, I believe that I'm a very strong and resilient person. Although there were moments where all my emotions came out. I was angry over the results of my initial stints with physical therapy, where I wasn't able to walk further without the use of a walker. I was joyous when I was able to take a safely walk a little bit further on the floor without having any problems with the walker. yet, there were moments when I was discouraged about my ultimate outcome from this. 

That feeling of hope was temporarily derailed after a week in a hospital room after being denied by my health insurance for a transitional care setting to improve my physical self. Instead, I was released from the hospital to be in the care of some great hone care professionals in assisting me on self-infusion of antibiotics to cure my back area. Physical therapy was on my own. I had some good days. And, some not-so-good days. My roommate and my friends were there for me, sometimes through messages on social media. 

Still, that week in the hospital was illuminating as to how far we have stretched our healthcare system during this pandemic. I was lucky to get the care I needed – right a proper diagnosis that was targeted and cared for. Still, one cannot ignore what we have done as a society to push our healthcare professionals to their limits and beyond. 

Do yourselves some favors. Thank a healthcare professional. Get vaccinated and boosted. Stay healthy. Stay alive. 

All photos by Randy Stern

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