An ambulance made from a curly phone cord. Scissors are cutting the phone cords in front of the ambulance.

Wait! Don't Call That Ambulance..

“Please don’t call an ambulance. I’m fine. I promise. Really. My leg bends that way normally. I swear.”

Those of us who have been suffering from RA (and other musculoskeletal autoimmune illnesses) for a long time know this dance. You are out at a store, or the movies, or in someone else’s bed, and bam! You fall, something dislocates, or you suddenly feel faint and before you know it, good Samaritans are calling 911 without even asking. Good Samaritans or that girl whose bathroom you’ve been locked inside for forty-five minutes trying to figure out how to climb out of a window with a dislocated hip. You know, either or.

Why I avoid ambulance rides to the ER

The lights, the crowd, the whispers: it’s like all the trappings of fame without any of the benefits. It’s why those of us with RA dread it, and why I’ve personally experienced this horror of humiliation so many times that now I just wave like The Queen when they are wheeling me out. It wasn’t always like that, though, and some of my early experiences were as crazy as they were embarrassing.

One of the first times I needed an ambulance in public was at the shoe store. I touched on this incident briefly on one of my podcast episodes, but now we can dig in a bit more. I swear everything I’m about to tell you is true.

It happened when I was trying on shoes

It was one of those shoe warehouses, you know, the ones that are so large they have their own weather systems? Of course, the men’s shoes were on the top floor, farthest from the escalator because...why not? I remember I was wearing my new jeans and they were super skinny, like Kate Moss on a cleanse skinny. I looked good back when I could still fit into regular shoes, and I thought “You know what would go great with these jeans? Some boots...yeah. Cooool.”

So I grabbed a pair that looked good, sat down on the tiny mirrored stool that is too small for everyone, kicked off my shoes and then bent over to put on the boots. The right side went on without a hitch and felt luxurious. Ohhhh – sheepskin lined! I was in footwear nirvana so, without thinking, I whipped my left leg up to pop on the other boot and...bluuump! I say bluuump because that’s pretty much what it felt like. There wasn’t a pop or a snap or a big hit of lighting style pain. It just felt like I had put my live fish in the wrong size container and it flopped out.

When I dislocated my hip

I instantly knew what had happened. I mean, part of my brain desperately wished I was wrong, wrong like the Mayan calendar in 2012 but just like the apocalypse, it wasn’t to be. I tried to get up and although my brain said “Yes we can!” my body said “Really..?” There I was, at this galaxy of footwear, stuck on my shoe stool desert island. It was only one floor away and 200 feet to the entrance but it might as well have been the moon.

Recruiting mom for some assistance

Fortunately, my mother was available for assistance, so I called and she eventually tagged in. Now after years of having a child with RA, she is an expert at thinking on her feet so she immediately grabbed the shoe store stool and began pushing it like a toboggan over brown shag snow. After getting halfway across the top floor, we realized that the designers of this particular shoe universe had neglected to grace the building with elevators. Damn you, you thoughtless shoe purveyors! People in wheelchairs need shoes too! Not content to be defeated, my mother found a poor, unsuspecting shoe store minion who was about to have a bad day and dragged him by the collar to where I was, sitting dejectedly on my shoe fortress of solitude.

Don't call the ambulance!

The poor boy began to say “Do you want me to call an --” before the look I gave stopped him cold mid-sentence. He had already dialed 911 by then, and I told him that if he pressed send the ambulance was going to be a two-fer. Smart boy, he put the phone down and, berated by my mother and clearly shaken, he eventually pointed us towards a freight elevator used for stocking. We shimmied our way over and I log rolled into the lift. My mother forced the poor stock boy, who was so far out of his league that he hadn’t said a word in a while, to send us downstairs and she made damn sure he was there waiting for us when we landed.

The cost of an ambulance ride

As the doors opened on the first floor, not only was the terrified shoe minion there but so was his manager and a much, much less terrified shoe minion. I would even go so far as to call him a shoe goon. They were holding a cart for moving boxes and it was clear what was to happen. Before anyone moved though, the manager started to say “Are you sure you don’t want me to call an --” and before he could finish the sentence I had educated him on all the costs and fees involved with getting an ambulance, as well as the written proof that would then exist of an incident happening in his store. He got the message, and with a quick nod to his large associate, the shoe goon flew to me and swept me up in his arms like Kevin Costner in the bodyguard and gently put me down on the stock cart.

Better off driving to the ED

Like leaves in Autumn, we flew through the first floor of the shoe universe and made it almost all the way to my mother’s car which was waiting just outside the entrance. Unfortunately, the cart I was currently residing in was not going to be able to brave the terrain beyond the vestibule, so once more I was swept up like Whitney Houston and plopped into the front seat of my mom’s car. We said our thanks, promised not to sue, and off we flew to the ED!

As you can see, some of us go to great lengths to avoid the brouhaha of calling an ambulance: the material costs are steep and the emotional toll is even higher. This is a tale that I have been privy to many times since then and, in every case where I broke down and used an ambulance, they didn’t even turn on the siren. Trust me, I asked. More than once. Apparently, the jeopardy I was in wasn’t “siren worthy.” Meh, I’ll give you siren worthy Chad... But I’m not bitter, no. It’s just another part of living with that wonderful disease called RA. Talk soon.

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