Yesterday was a beautiful, crisp autumn day that I spent in the emergency room because of a fat face.
I had been dealing with a cold for a week, and the last few days I had experienced a buzzing in my right ear, as if there was a tiny bug zapper (and lots of bugs) in there.
When I woke up yesterday, the cold seemed to finally be gone, but there was a new sensation: I could feel my face.
It wasn’t pain, exactly. It was more like the stinging you get when a dentist gives you novocaine. I didn’t think much of it, though, until two hours later when my wife, Barbara, woke up.
“Does my ear look weird?” I asked her. She looked up, comparing my two auricular protuberances.
“It’s really big,” she said. “And, like, deformed. And that whole side of your face is red.” I wondered how it was she didn’t notice all this until I asked.
I looked in the mirror and, sure enough, my right ear resembled the cauliflower ear of a melancholy boxer (preferably, for the sake of literature, with a collie for a pet). Meanwhile, Barbara had consulted a doctor, by which I mean her iPad, and concluded that this was an allergic reaction. She jumped into appropriate wifely action, giving me a Benadryl and an ice pack. She tried to take my picture but couldn’t get my face to fit on her iPhone’s screen. She told me later that she stifled the urge to squeeze my face like a pimple.
She had plans for the day with an old friend and asked our daughter Casey to keep an eye on me. Casey instantly came upstairs to see what she was supposed to keep an eye on, and stared at my face with a mixture of horror and hilarity. I could tell she felt obligated to be concerned, but overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of my widened, reddened face, which looked somewhat like the title character in the classic French silent film, Journey to the Moon, only colorized to a bright crimson.
“Oh, dad,” she said, suppressing a giggle, “you’ve got to go to the clinic.”
Now for people of my generation, a walk-in clinic does not immediately rise to the top of available health care options. Maybe it’s because we grew up in a world before the entire medical industry was built for efficiency…or before it was an industry at all. Casey’s boyfriend Alex, who is a bit of a hypochondriac, visits clinics so often he should have a punch card. Every 11th visit is free.
“Seriously, dad,” Casey said, her hand in front of her mouth to hide her smile. “That just doesn’t look right. Heh heh.”
Well, I appreciated her concern, not to mention her willingness to walk the dog while I was gone, so I went to the Immediate Care Center that is attached to the Tully Health Center which is part of Stamford Hospital, although the Immediate Care Center, while physically attached to the Tully Health Center, is not affiliated with either the Tully Health Center or Stamford Hospital. It’s kind of like the concession stand at your local sports palace: it’s in the arena but run by a third party.
The physician there (who, a large sign advised, was in no way affiliated with Stamford Hospital) took one look at me and said I needed a large dose of antibiotics. Intravenously. And quickly–before the infection went to my brain.
My mother visited us just last weekend, and I knew that if she was any indication, I could definitely not allow the infection to get to my brain. I’d likely be in enough trouble through genetics alone.
The Immediate Care Center doctor sent me to the emergency room at Stamford Hospital which, while affiliated with the Tully Health Center is not physically attached to it. So I drove over there, all the time looking in the rearview mirror to see if my ear was getting any bigger.
I also called Casey to tell her what was happening. She wasn’t laughing anymore. I don’t think.
Upon arriving at emergency, I answered the same questions for five different people, none of whom seemed to have the ability to enter my answers into a computer so others could see them. Each person who approached me began with the same script: “So, Mr. Hallen, what brings you to us tod…WHOA!” I know they wanted to add, “What the hell is wrong with your face?” but it wouldn’t have been professional.
In fact, it wasn’t very confidence-inspiring that no one below the rank of doctor reacted as if he had ever previously seen an inflated face side.
But the first actual doctor I saw knew right away what it was. “Oh, that’s cellulitis,” she said. I wondered (to myself) what my thigh fat had to do with the swelling on my face. Then she said, “I have to call someone in infectious diseases.”
Now, let me just say that there are a lot of things you don’t want to hear a doctor in a hospital say to you, and “I have to call someone in infectious diseases” has to be in the top 10, about eight notches below “You should get your affairs in order” but ahead of, “I think I saw this condition once in Africa.”
I found out three hours later that it was just protocol to ask an expert which antibiotic to use, but during that time I expected scientists from the Centers for Disease Control to show up any minute wearing hazmat suits.
They took me into a room, and Larry the P.A. came in to ask the same questions again while Kim the R.N. hooked up the IV. I nervously joked about my condition (“It’s an ego problem. I have a swelled head.”), thinking the whole thing was too stupid-looking to take seriously. Larry told me they would be doing a Cat Scan “to make sure it’s not caused by an abscess that needs to be drained.”
“In my head?” I asked, suddenly taking things a little more seriously, but Larry was gone.
An hour later Megan, a person with no initials, wheeled me about 20 miles to the Cat Scan machine. “You know,” she said, “your right ear is about three times the size of your left ear.”
“I’m in for toenail fungus,” I replied, “but I’ll be sure to mention the ear to the doctor.”
The radiology technician had some trouble lining up my head, or maybe fitting it into the machine at all. Then Megan wheeled me the 20 miles back. About a half hour later, Larry returned and said, “I know this sounds like a waste of a Cat Scan, but all it showed was some swelling.”
So they sent me home with a prescription for more antibiotics, and I sit here now writing this, my vision slightly blurred because my right cheek is lifting my glasses out of their preferred position, and I realize that I never asked how long it would take for the swelling to go down.
Casey, for one, wouldn’t mind if I was still a balloon head on Halloween, “Just so you can scare the trick-or-treaters.”
I guess my family has used up their supply of concern.
See you soon.
P.S. Everyone at the Stamford Hospital Emergency Room was really nice. If I ever need emergency room assistance again, and I’m in Stamford, I’ll be sure to come back. Thanks!