The car was hooked up to computers, looking for all the world like a patient in an examining room. The mechanic looked at me helplessly, his hands held up in a sign of resignation.
But I had heard a funny sound in the engine. The car just didn’t drive right. I knew in my gut that there was something amiss. “Are you sure?” I asked. “You can’t find anything wrong?”
“Gremlins,” he said, a dour expression on his face. “The machines don’t show any problems, and I can’t hear anything out of the ordinary. It’s not a new car, ya know. Must be gremlins.”
“You’re the expert. How much do I owe you?”
It’s one thing when the auto mechanic diagnoses your car, but it’s quite another when the ER doctor diagnoses your swollen wrist and the red line creeping up your arm towards your heart. The intense pain and swelling was a repeat of an incident just ten days earlier. I hadn’t gone to an urgent care facility then; instead, I wrapped my wrist in ice packs and chalked it up to the recent spate of “itis” type pains I had been having since erupting in shingles a few weeks before.
This time my daughter decided that two episodes in such a short space of time, as well as the severity of the pain, demanded that someone see me. So off we trundled to the local walk-in clinic.
“Sorry,” the doctor said, with alarm in her voice and the look she gave me. “But you have to go to the hospital’s ER. We will phone and tell them you are on your way.” Except for my wrist, which was still hot and swollen, I felt fine. “Why?” I asked. Her response was not encouraging. “See this red line? It could be a blood clot, could be an infection.” “Okay, guess I’m not headed home to bed and an ice pack.”
Three hours later I was in a bed being prodded, poked, and interviewed. The ER doctor shook his head and said, “Maybe gout? If so, no more red meat or red wine.” (I have eaten red meat daily for most of my seventy-five years on this earth—give up steak? I doubt it.) “Could be arthritis, maybe something else, but there is definitely an infection,” he went on. “We will do a blood panel, and maybe take some fluid from your wrist.”
I could have told him I had an infection; I wanted him to tell me why. He stepped out of the room and a very attractive resident walked in. He began to take my medical history, so detailed that it could have been a memoir. Then he played with my hand and wrist. “Does this hurt? How about now?”
He also left the room but returned quickly with a colleague. Cute or not, I was not relieved to see yet another young man prodding my wrist while hemming and hawing. It turned out they were orthopedic surgical residents trying to determine whether I had a septic wrist and was in need of immediate surgery. Suddenly I didn’t feel so fine.
“No, not in the bone. Don’t know what is going on, but she doesn’t need surgery or a painful fluid tap,” the second resident said to the handsome one. They smiled, they left—no answers there.
The ER doctor returned. Some of the blood tests had come back. He said there was no indication of rheumatoid arthritis or gout, but that more definitive lab work wouldn’t be available for several days.
In the end, they treated the infection with an IV full of antibiotics and an extra eighteen-day course of even stronger antibiotics, just in case I had Lyme disease. The ER doctor advised me to eat yogurt, since the meds would kill off my stomach bacteria, and to return to the ER if the red line continued on its path towards my heart. He might as well have told me, “Gremlins!”