We're having a late dinner at a restaurant. It's my parents, my brother and I. I grab my soda, take a gulp, and start feeling this intense spreading pain in my chest. That's okay, it happens occasionally, but it goes away after a few seconds.
Apparently I have a weird look on my face, because Dad asks if I have brain freeze. I tell him no, I just swallowed funny; I don't realize it, but that came out as a mumble.
It's not going away. It's getting worse...
I look around. Everybody's standing up, and Dad's trying to pull me out of the booth. He asks if I'm okay, but I don't really understand it, my brain's not really focusing right and I can't move properly. I stand up briefly, then decide there's no reason to and sit down again. The confusion takes a minute to pass.
A waiter comes and wipes up soda from Mom and Dad's side of the table. He offers water, but I wave him off.
When we're all sitting down again, I find out that I slumped over, eyes rolled up, and was actually unconscious for ten or fifteen seconds. The pain in my chest is gone. My left arm feels a little odd, but I think I was leaning on it. There's a bit of liquid on my face, which I wipe up.
I look around, and realize that my drink is empty and some of my fries are on the table. I must have knocked them over.
I don't eat or drink any more, and we leave, subdued, a few minutes later. I'm sort of doing a self-check of my brain, the mental equivalent of feeling around your body when you've been shot at to make sure all your parts are still attached. I can remember the names of friends and family and can model algorithms in my mind, although I'm a bit too unfocused to mentally write any code for them. Motor skills seem unimpared, save a tiny jitter in my left hand that could easily be from caffeine. I can feel a little headache, but nothing major.
Mom and Dad suggest we call an advice nurse at Kaiser when we get home, which is fine by me. We get home and I go to the bathroom before we call.
The nurse asks Dad all kinds of questions, occasionally repeating them, then tells him to take me to the ER at a nearby (ten minutes away) hospital. Mom and I grab books; Dad doesn't have one, so I give him Cryptonomicon.
We get to the hospital about ten-thirty, and I sign in and talk to a triage nurse. The place is pretty empty, so I'm able to go in almost immediately. I'm only allowed one visitor with me, so Mom (who would worry insanely otherwise) comes with me, leaving Dad in the waiting room. They take me to a bed in the ER, give me a hospital top to change into (shirt only, my pants stayed on), and the doctor (a guy named Mading, if my armband says what I think it does) comes. He talks to me for a bit, I describe my symptoms, and he tells me what his theory is based on that. Apparently he thinks that the vagus nerve, which runs along the esophagus, was pinched by carbonation expanding in my throat, which can cause chest pain and unconsciousness. But he wants to run a bunch of interesting tests to make sure it's not something else.
He also tells me that if they don't figure out what it is during this visit, he'll have to fax the DMV to temporarily suspend my license, until I have a follow-up appointment with my normal doctor. Which is alright--it's probably not a great idea to drive until I'm sure what caused this to happen anyway.
He leaves, and a nurse comes in. She slaps an armband on my wrist, puts in an IV (on the second try), draws two tubes of blood, and injects some saline. The IV stays in, in case they have to use it later. She also leaves a cup for a urine sample.
So, I head off to the bathroom. Problem is, I used the bathroom about an hour before, and haven't drank anything since. I think I now know how a two-year-old being potty trained feels.
Give up after ten minutes. The nurse says it's okay, I should just give her the sampe when I could. So I head back to my little bed and wait.
A bit later, a guy with a huge machine comes by. He puts a photographic plate behind my back and aims the machine at my chest, tells me to take a deep breath and hold it, then takes the chest X-ray. No big.
Mom asks the nurse if I can get some water. The answer is "no", for some reason I don't remember.
A while later, a guy comes by to take an EKG (electrocardiogram, basically a heart monitor). He attaches several tags to my chest, as well as to each arm and leg, and tells me to take shallow breaths. It takes more time to attach the tags and hook up the various electrical leads to them then it does to do the actual test, so he's out in a few minutes, explaining taht he'll leave the tags on in chase they need to do it again later.
Twelve-fifteen. The doctor swings by with a cup of water, apologizing for how long this is taking. Soon after, I'm able to give them the urine sample.
One-fifteen. Doc stops by again. He's surprised that the CT scan he wanted still hasn't been done, and says he'll look into it.
Quarter-to-two. Someone comes by to explain that the CT technician punched out without calling in his backup. The backup's been called now, but it'll take some time for him to get there.
Two-fifteen. The CT tech finally arrives, and wheels me off to another part of the hospital.
If you've never seen a CT machine, imagine a fairly thin (maybe nine inches thick), square panel. Punch a cylinder wider than a man through it. Inside this cylinder, there's a glass or clear plastic panel, through which you can see something spinning around rapidly. There's a bed right in front of it, with an odd sort of pillow that just holds up two points near the top of your head. The room is kinda cold (Mom said it was freezing, but I didn't think it was cold enough for that term).
The tech tells me to lie on the bed, chin to chest, and to close my eyes because there's a bright light involved. He then tells me that the scan will take two minutes. So I close my eyes and start counting the seconds. The bed moves during the procedure, sending me through the ring a few times. As it turns out, a CT scan is basically a series of X-rays of your brain; a computer takes the two-dimensional X-rays and builds a 3-dimensional model from them. (Or something like that--I didn't ask, I'm just guessing from what I felt and the "Warning: X-rays" sign outside the room.) The CT machine makes a lot of interesting little noises--I think I now know where about half of all sound effects in sci-fi movies come from.
So they finish the scan and wheel me out. Some time passes while they develop and analyze the CT, and around 2:45 the doctor finally comes by. He explains that I appear to be in perfect health--blood, urine, chest X-ray, EKG, CT all normal--so he's guessing it's just the nerve along my esophagus. On Monday, he tells me, I should make an appointment with Kaiser to do some more tests to confirm this. In the meantime, I can't drive, which doesn't bug me that much unles it ends up going a while.
So...we get home around three. Mom and Dad and I are totally wiped. They go to bed immediately; I pound out a quick post and crash.
And that's what happened last night.