My first blog was going to be about Independence Day, and about our spectacular night of watching the Macy’s fireworks from a rooftop of the ultra-cool Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District. Instead, our first July 4th was spent at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center on 68th Street East.
The H1B had been experiencing some stomach pains for about a week, since we hit the East Village $5 cuba libre drinks with a friend from the UK the previous Sunday afternoon. Given the current heat and humidity of NYC and the general stress and excitement of moving countries and living together for the first time – plus a few business trips to South America – we didn’t pay much attention to the odd gut grumble.
Yesterday we decided to spend the day in Central Park – an oasis of cool in a big, dry, hot city (more on that later) – and by the time we got home, the grumble turned into a complaint, which turned into an outrage, which left the H1B doubled over in pain. Completely unprepared and panicking now that my normally unflappable man was helpless, I manage to Google ’emergency rooms’ and find one that was only two streets away.
Since H1B couldn’t do more than stagger, gripping onto walls and rails (dressed in shorts and no top, and sweating buckets, he looked like your average British drunk on a national holiday) we jumped into a cab and shouted ‘hospital!’, ‘ER!”, where the cabbie, who from memory looked like an extra from Shaft, rather pedantically asked, “Maaan, are you alright?” to H1B who now was turning from white to yellow, had the mad eyes of a wild animal and was perspiring rivers of sweat all over the wipe-clean seats.
If you’ve never experienced hyperventilation bought on by extreme pain, let me tell you it ain’t no comedy sketch involving a brown paper bag. The pain meant that H1B couldn’t breathe – and the overload of CO2 in his body started to paralyse his face and hands, contorting and twisting his mouth and fingers in a very Edvard Munch manner. Scary.
Fast forward 12 hours of tests, X-rays, morphine, blood tests and many visits by student doctors, who wrote furiously – and I believe a little too gleefully – on their clipboards, and the diagnosis was ‘unexplained abdominal pain’, probably a bacterial infection. A bit of anti-climax all-in-all. The pain hasn’t really returned apart from the yells as H1B pulled off the electrode stickers in the shower.
Much is made about the difference between the NHS and the American all-pay system but emergency rooms in my experience are pretty much the same the whole developed world over. The same interminable hours of waiting between visits from different doctors (once H1B was downgraded from a potential ruptured appendix or other abdominal explosions, and a few gunshots victims had arrived, the attending physicians interest quickly went elsewhere), the bright lights, the endless inexplicable pinging of machines that sound like the warnings that tell you to put on your seat belt during turbulence, the abrupt night nurses who’s smile muscles atrophied years ago.
Despite rumours spread by fervent NHS supporters, H1B wasn’t asked to choose between a thumb or a finger before he signed his insurance papers. In fact, it took about two hours for the staff to notice we hadn’t filled out the insurance element of the forms (both myself and H1B have comprehensive health insurance via his company).
NB: You don’t need to take your insurance papers to hospital. The hospital will either send you the bill (which you can pass onto your employer or insurance company) or send the insurance company the bill direct, if you have the details.
Plus, I was provided with a full cooked dinner and as much jello (or ‘Smart Gel’ as it’s called) and juice as I could consume, which I helpfully ate in front of H1B who was nil-by-mouth. Not that he cared, he was on a steady drip of morphine and was rambling happily.
For all you Trailing Spouses (and H1Bs) out there who might find themselves in a similar, unprepared situation, here are a list of the main emergency rooms in New York City:
Bellevue Hospital Centre
462 1st Avenue, New York
Nearest cross street Ist & E 26th St
Beth Israel Medical Center
286 1st Ave, New York
Nearest cross street 1st & E 17th
New York Presbitarian Hospital
525 68th Street, New York
Nearest cross street 1st Ave & E 68th
New York Downtown Hospital
170 William Street, New York
Near Fulton Street in the Financial District
St Lukes Roosevelt
1000 10th Avenue, New York
10th Ave between 58th and 59th