A Tale of 2 Ambulances and a Sickle Cell Crisis

A columnist describes her harrowing trip to the hospital of her choice

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by Mary Shaniqua |

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I was recently hospitalized for a sickle cell crisis.

You see, I’d planned to go to dinner with a lovely friend whom I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. But that was for the evening. When my sister-in-law reached out to ask my sister and me to join her for lunch to celebrate my brother’s birthday, I happily obliged. We went to a lovely new local restaurant. I’d been there before, but I ordered something different that day.

After lunch, I went home and chilled until it was time to get ready for my evening plans. When I was leaving, I grabbed my pain relief as normal, but then remembered I was driving and hadn’t felt any pain earlier in the day. So I left it.

I came to regret that decision very quickly.

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I was about 10 minutes into my drive when — surprise, surprise — pain struck. It wasn’t the worst pain in the world, maybe 5 on a scale of 10, but it felt different. In addition to the pain, there was also a funny feeling. Still, as I’d already begun making my way, I remained on course to catch up with my friend.

In the restaurant, I started feeling light nausea. Then things compounded, and I had to leave my friend within 30 minutes of getting there. My partner came to pick me up, and I spent the next two days in bed with much vomiting and diarrhea.

It seems I’d contracted food poisoning. The loss of fluids caused me to dehydrate, and this resulted in a sickle cell crisis.

I called an ambulance. A single paramedic with no opioids arrived. However, he did have Entonox (half oxygen, half nitrous oxide), so he gave it to me, which alleviated some of the pain that gripped me.

But he then said the sentence I didn’t want to hear: He couldn’t take me to my local hospital, close to where I live and where I receive my sickle care; he had to take me to the hospital where his ambulance was assigned — even though that hospital didn’t have a hematology clinic, and even though I’d had negative experiences there. I begged and pleaded with him, and he with his supervisors over the phone, but bureaucracy reigned.

I declined to go with him.

I called my partner and asked him to take me to my parents’ house. The paramedic was kind enough to let me continue using the Entonox until I was in my partner’s car. My parents live closer to the hospital where I receive treatment, so I knew that’s where an ambulance at their home would take me.

It was an agonizing drive, but we made it. Shortly afterward, the second ambulance arrived and took me to my hospital.

Having to call two ambulances was inefficient and wasteful, and that must change because it’s not sustainable, particularly as the National Health Service is struggling. I intend to write my local ambulance service on this matter. I understand the strict rules, but surely there should be some flexibility when a patient has a condition that requires specialist care — or is simply under the care of a particular hospital. I’ll also ask why a paramedic with no real pain relief is being sent to a sickle cell patient who’s in crisis.

Now, you may ask, why did I bother calling an ambulance a second time? Why didn’t I ask my partner to take me to the hospital directly, as opposed to going to my parents’ house? The answer is simple. Presenting to a hospital via an ambulance will get my pain addressed faster than if I presented myself. When battling agonizing pain, the choice is simple.

In this case, finally, there was success. I made it into the hospital and began the treatment to combat and hopefully overcome the crisis as I could never do at home alone.


Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.

Comments

Orin Lewis avatar

Orin Lewis

Many thanks Mary, for sharing your experience with us all. You and all of the other contributors are giving us all a valuable insight into your world of living with Sickle Cell. So many lessons to be learned.

Orin Lewis
(Chief Executive of the ACLT (African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust)

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