The secret password to a ‘deluxe’ emergency room experience

     (<a href=''>Emergency room</a> image courtesy of

    (Emergency room image courtesy of

    No one likes going to the emergency room, but if you ever wondered what magic words will allow you to jump ahead in line, here they are: “chest pains.”

    No one likes going to the emergency room. It generally means that the day isn’t exactly going your way. For interminable hours, you’ll thumb through back issues of Yachting World in a room full of people seething with anxiety, micro-organisms and resentment. If you ever wondered what magic words will allow you to jump ahead in line, past the 6-year-old with an action figure stuck up his nose, the guy with the steak knife protruding from his forehead, and the woman going into labor with triplets, here they are: “chest pains.”

    That was what I said to the receptionist in the ER on an otherwise lovely Friday night. I was whisked so quickly into a private room you would’ve thought I had said, “Ebola.” Suddenly, the entire cast of “Grey’s Anatomy” was hooking me up to machines that beeped and booped.

    I felt like an imposter, as McDreamy and his assistants fired questions at me. History of heart disease? No. Blood pressure? Reptilian. How long did the pains last? Five minutes. This is a mistake, I thought. I should be home indulging in the guilty pleasure of watching “Dateline,” the series through which we women of a certain age vicariously murder our spouses. After all, that pain in my chest may have been indigestion. (Eat a meatball grinder, pay the price.)

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    After an hour or two of tests, I received good news and bad news.”We can’t find anything wrong,” said Dr. McDreamy, “But we want to keep you here overnight just to be sure.”

    Um, thanks very much, but I’ll take what’s behind door number two. See, I hadn’t wanted to go to the ER. It was my boyfriend’s idea. Better safe than sorry. But overnight? No way. The last time I spent a night at a hospital, I was nine and woke up without tonsils. Who knows what would be missing now? I was ready to bolt. But my boyfriend, who is good with numbers, informed me that if I left the hospital before they were ready to release me, the entire ER tab would be on me!

    It was already midnight. I figured I’d take an Ambien and wake up to breakfast in bed. But not before a nurse wheeled in a contraption that looked like R2D2 and asked the same questions I had answered when I arrived. I decided to take liberties. How often do you drink alcohol? “On days with a Y in them,” I said. Do you smoke? “Only marijuana.” The nurse did not smile. Have you ever felt suicidal? “Not until now.”

    I was wheeled into a hospital room with two beds, both empty. Thank God. Except now it was one o’clock in the morning and the hospital staff had no intention of letting me sleep. Every other hour, someone entered my room to draw blood, cover my body with Post-its or torment me in other nefarious ways. It occurred to me that I hadn’t really read the sheaf of papers I signed in the ER. Had I willed my body to science? Apparently so!

    At 3 a.m., another patient was wheeled into the room and deposited on the other side of a flimsy curtain. From her deep groans, I knew what was going on. Torquemada had her on the rack! “I want to go home,” she cried. Me too, sister.

    At 4 a.m., they came for blood. Again! At 8 a.m., they gave me a heart ultrasound. It consisted of an athletic young woman pressing down hard on my ribcage with a metallic wand for 20 minutes. When my ribs failed to crack, she unplugged the machine and walked away disappointed. A half-hour later, my long-awaited breakfast appeared on a plastic tray. Judging by the icy scrambled eggs and cardboard French toast, the hospital chef must’ve been fired from Denny’s. The coffee tasted as if it were brewed during the Carter Administration. Even the banana was suspect.

    Mercifully, my pert primary care physician appeared at 9 a.m., and, after much groveling and pleading on my part, agreed to let me leave the hospital before another team of nurses arrived to squeeze the last drop of blood from my body.

    “Well, we can’t find anything wrong, but you’ll have to see the cardiologist and get a stress test in the next two weeks,” my doctor said.

    I nodded but knew in my heart, which I had just viewed in all its Technicolor glory on the ultrasound screen, that I had just passed the only stress test I would ever take. If they want me, they’ll have to find me. But for now, I’ve got to catch up on “Dateline.”

    Stacia Friedman is a frequent contributor to NewsWorks and is the founding editor of

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