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Dean's List: The vacation that veered off course

Monday, August 8, 2011
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Summer arrived early on the North Carolina coast in 1963, and by April 22 it was oppressively hot, so hot that two among the big crowd of assembled people passed out.

Fortunately, they were in a place where medical assistance was readily available. The occasion was the formal dedication of the Craven County Hospital in New Bern, N.C., with Gov. Terry Sanford himself on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon.

Fast forward 48 years and a few months and it’s every bit as hot on the Carolina coast, and we — my fiancée and I — are most grateful for the foresight of community leaders in Craven County who pushed for creation of what is today the CarolinaEast Medical Center, a modern healthcare complex on the site of the original county hospital.

Grateful because we spent a few days there recently when our mini-vacation abruptly took a frightening turn. (Is there already a TV reality series called “When Vacations Become Nightmares?” If not, I’d be glad to pitch it to any interested network.)

Have you ever been stricken with a debilitating illness while far from home? It’s a lot scarier than you can imagine.

Here’s what happened.

Our getaway had started with an afternoon and evening in Washington, D.C., where we had dinner at La Chaumiere with friends Jack Cahill and Craig Wilson and then got an insider’s tour of Georgetown courtesy of Craig, who’s a longtime friend and former colleague and who works for the newspaper USA Today.

It was a hot night, and we walked a lot, but enjoyed every minute of it.

The next day we flew to Charlotte, N.C., and then east to New Bern where we were to join in a family reunion with some of Beverly’s relatives.

We had dinner with family on Friday evening and on Saturday took a tour of the historic city — New Bern was the original capital of North Carolina and, among its claims to fame, is the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola. Again, it was sunny and hot with temperatures in the 90s.

After lunch with our family reunion members, we were on our own for the afternoon. Beverly read for a while and decided to have a catnap.

She was asleep for only five minutes when she awoke with vertigo so bad she couldn’t get out of bed. I thought it was heat related but after a half-hour of waiting for it to clear up, we agreed she needed medical help. I called the desk at our hotel and asked for an ambulance.

Anxious relatives who were staying at the same hotel arrived in our room only moments before the EMTs did. After checking her blood pressure and other vitals, the first-responders transported her to the medical center. I rode with Beverly’s cousin Beth behind the ambulance.

Over the next several hours, she had so many diagnostic tests I began to lose count. There were EKGs and a CT-scan, an ultrasound, X-rays and an MRI of her head, along with a test of blood flow in her carotid arteries.

Her blood pressure had spiked and she was nauseated. She was given medicine through her IV drip for her nausea and her vertigo. She also received medicine to lower her blood pressure.

She had consultations with three doctors at the hospital and one by a Skype-type link with a neurologist in Texas who instructed a nurse in performing the Epley Maneuver.

Vertigo can be caused by a shifting of calcium crystal debris in the inner ear. The Epley Maneuver involves firmly moving a

patient’s head to different positions to cause the debris to shift into an area of the inner ear where it no longer causes symptoms.

Beverly later said she felt the maneuver worked. I thought perhaps the passage of time had as much to do with it as anything, but what do I know?

Throughout our stay in the emergency room — about 12 hours — Beverly was cared for by Jude Hale, a registered nurse with a wonderful sense of humor and great compassion. Our friendship was sealed when Jude gave Beverly a shot in the posterior and Beverly responded with an obscene outburst followed by a demure apology. Jude broke up and then confided, “That just made my day.”

We remained in the emergency room at CarolinaEast from about 5 p.m. Saturday to about 5 a.m. Sunday as a variety of tests and drugs were tried. The goals were to eliminate the vertigo and nausea and bring down the blood pressure.

Eventually, the decision was made to admit her, and we settled into a private room in a pediatrics wing early on Sunday morning.

Before we left the E.R., we got a farewell hug from our friend Jude, and we all promised to stay in touch.

More tests followed on Sunday but nothing was conclusive though they did show that the patient was in excellent health if you don’t count the current situation.

The final diagnosis by Dr. Robert Dorlon (whose father was from Saranac Lake) was that it might have been inner ear-related, it might have been the heat, it might have been a virus or a combination of those things, or we just might never know.

We left the hospital Monday morning after Beverly’s blood pressure, which had spiked again, was brought down by medicine, and we made our flight out of New Bern to Charlotte where we had a layover of about three hours. We had no car in New Bern but Beverly’s cousins provided a vehicle for us to use and made sure we got to the airport on time. They also took me away from the hospital on Sunday evening for a real meal for which I was truly grateful.

On the trip home, Beverly was transported by wheelchair from planes to terminals and terminals to planes and mostly slept, thanks to the Valium she was given before we left the hospital.

Like the hospital personnel, the staff of U.S. Airways went to great pains to make us comfortable. In one case, a flight attendant also named Beverly smuggled us a couple of pillows and a blanket from somewhere and reassigned passengers to keep the seats open opposite us in case we needed to spread out.

Back in Schenectady, Beverly’s own physician on Tuesday pronounced her healthy, if still a little wobbly.

Life is back to normal, but we have a renewed appreciation for humane people — like the nurses and doctors in New Bern and the airlines personnel along our route — who go out of their way to help strangers in crisis.

We’ll be watching for opportunities to do the same.

Irv Dean is the Gazette’s city editor. Reach him by email to dean@dailygazette.com.

 
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