One night in November during my freshman year, I was talking to my friend in a different time zone. Suddenly, I felt like I was about to black out. There was blinding pain in my abdomen that made it feel like I had gone into labor, been hit by a car, and shot, all at the same time. I had trouble talking at first because I was in so much pain. Luckily, I was able to quickly get medical attention and received a diagnosis for what was going on. Below, I have outlined the steps I took to dealing with medical emergencies in college, as well as other tricks I have learned from friends.
Call the RA on duty
I lived in a single room that had a bathroom separating my room from my resident advisor’s (RA) room. I texted her telling her to come in my room as something is horribly wrong, and she entered my room via the bathroom, and contacts not only the RA on duty, but also the head RA for the building since they had the most experience. That’s three RAs involved in this situation, but normally one or two is enough. They took a note of my symptoms and call 911.
When one of my friends had a similar emergency and had trouble reaching the RA, they called the 24 hour housing desk for assistance, and the desk was able to contact the RA and call 911 on their behalf. While students can call 911, it is preferable that they tell the RA before doing so, or shortly after, so there isn’t a surprise ambulance or fire truck.
While the other RAs called 911, I had my RA walk around my room and grab things I would need for the hospital. This included my medical and state IDs, which we put with my room key on a lanyard around my neck. Other things we grabbed included phone/iPad chargers, my blindness cane, a pair of shoes, and my favorite stuffed animal.
One of my friends keeps a folder with their medical history and other important information for paramedics next to their bed along with a pre-packed bag, so this information is easy to locate.
When the paramedics arrived, I explained that I was in intense abdominal pain, and mentioned that I had low vision immediately, because I didn’t want them to remove my glasses or have me sign a bunch of paperwork without explaining it to me first. I also told them I had been diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, but the pain I was feeling was something I had never experienced before. In addition, I requested they turn off the flashing lights on the ambulance while I was getting in, as I have photosensitivity. They were very understanding and honored everything I requested. It’s worth noting I do not have a medical bracelet.
I rode in the ambulance alone, my RA legally could not go with me. Having the ID cards around my neck was very helpful as they were able to easily take down information. Also, while in the ambulance, I took a picture and sent it to my professor for class the next day, saying that there’s a strong chance I wouldn’t be in class the next day. I also sent the picture to a friend in the same class in case the teacher didn’t receive it.
When I got to the hospital, I was immediately taken to an ER bed, and I again repeated that I had low vision and Chiari Malformation. Someone came in and read me all of the paperwork for consenting to treatment, and then I was able to sign everything. I also went over my allergies and past medications (I was not on any medication at the time), and then they started giving me painkillers and running tests to rule out things like pregnancy (my symptoms strongly resembled an ectopic pregnancy), alcohol, and drug related factors. Because I was under 21, I was seen by a mix of adult and pediatric medical staff.
I called my mom from the hospital bed and explained what was going on. About four months earlier, I had been in the ER for similar symptoms but the tests came back inconclusive. She called a local family friend to come sit with me in the hospital while she drove up there. Having someone else there was extremely helpful.
Tests on tests on tests
Each time I went for a test, I would remind the person running the tests that I have low vision and can’t see very well with or without my glasses. Eventually after several different tests, one which involved me drinking 64 ounces of water in less than ten minutes followed by an additional 24 ounces, they finally figure out what happened. I had at least four large ovarian cysts burst all at once (my friends and I would later refer to this experience as the time I exploded), and my mom arrived at the hospital just in time for that diagnosis.
I was discharged about twelve hours later, and received prescriptions for me to fill. My mom and I were able to fill the medication with no issues, but had I been alone and able to walk, I would have taken a university shuttle to the pharmacy. The hospital staff said I had to go home, not to my dorm, to recover from this, so I went back in my dorm to grab necessities and then left. I contacted my other professors to let them know I would be absent from class indefinitely and attached hospital selfies from earlier in the morning. This was temporary documentation until my mom could scan in the discharge papers. Other ways my friends have documented their hospital visits besides hospital selfies include sending pictures of hospital bracelets and having a nurse talk to professors on the phone.
Although my hospital experience went fairly smoothly, I wish the symptoms I had on no one, as it felt like the pain would never end. I hope that this post is helpful for people dealing with medical emergencies in college.