An Embarrassing Trip To The ER

Katie Young
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Wednesday - May 19, 2005

I could feel the world closing in on me. Everything started to get fuzzy and the sound of Sebastian’s voice telling me to “breathe and relax” seemed to be fading farther and farther into the distance.

I tried to focus — to ground myself and open my eyes wide — but it was no use.

Was I still awake? I couldn’t tell. I actually started to dream, or so I thought, until I heard Sebastian’s voice again.

“Stay with me,” he said. “Katie, stay with me.”

I opened my eyes, not knowing where I was. I had been sitting on a chair in the dining room. Now I was lying on the floor, looking up at the ceiling. It felt like days had gone by.

“You passed out,” Sebastian said. “We’re going to the hospital.” I was carried to the car, without any shoes, still not quite aware of where I was or what was going on.

Once in the emergency room at Straub Hospital, I was plugged into an IV drip of saline and given Tylenol to bring down my 102 degree fever. My entire body ached.

I struggled to get warm on my hospital bed. I curled up in the fetal position, trying not to disturb the IV needle in my arm or the myriad of wires stuck to my body, which measured my blood pressure and heart rate.

I spent four hours in the ER. The diagnosis: A fainting spell brought on by moderate dehydration.

It doesn’t sound that serious, I guess, but I was beyond miserable.

It all started on Friday when I went to get a much needed massage, then on Saturday spent the day on a pretty mild hike. I don’t think I drank enough water after either, and by five o’clock in the afternoon I could tell something was wrong.

I tanked a gallon of H20 and felt a little better. But by Sunday morning I felt bad again. The fever was burning off a lot of the liquid I was taking in. I ached and felt really lethargic. Again, I tried to drink more water, but it wasn’t helping. At four o’clock, I passed out.

You don’t have to be a worldclass athlete running marathons and sweating up a storm to be dehydrated. In fact, according to physicians, most people are chronically slightly dehydrated.

“By the time most adults feel thirsty, they’re already partially dehydrated,” explains Dr. Marti Taba, a family medicine doctor at Straub Kailua, “especially elderly people who don’t have as acute a sense of thirst or how much fluid they need.”

Taba says if you don’t get enough fluid, there’s a lot that can happen. You can feel dizzy, tired, light-headed, and have constipation, headaches or dry skin. You can develop a urinary tract infection because you’re not urinating enough. You can also pass out without ever experiencing any of the other symptoms first.

“Most people don’t keep track of how much water they’re drinking,” she adds. “You’re running around at work or school and you don’t remember to drink water, except maybe at meals.”

Then there are those whose major source of liquid throughout the day is a soda, cup of coffee or tea. This is hardly a substitute for drinking water — in fact, liquids with caffeine (or alcohol for that matter) will dehydrate you even more.

The standard, says Taba, is to drink eight glasses of water a day. “If you have a hard time keeping track, I tell my patients to fill up a pitcher with eight glasses of water. The pitcher should be empty by the end of the day.

Taba has heard all the excuses why drinking that much water is an inconvenience. “People tell me water tastes boring, they don’t want to have to pee all the time, it’s too hard to keep track, etc.”

It doesn’t matter if the water is hot or cold, says Taba, but stay away from drinks with caffeine. Add a twist of lemon or orange to your water if you’re looking for a little flavor.

Think you can drink less water because you’re not that active?

“Eight glasses a day is a standard amount,” says Taba. “That’s for people sitting at their desks all day long. If you sweat from exercise or, say, you’re sick and have diarrhea, you’d need to drink more.”

Water affects all our organs, and blood vessels need a certain amount of fluid in them. Taba says dehydration is a clinical diagnosis meaning you have 5 percent or less than the optimal fluid you need in your body. Moderate dehydration equates to 5 to 10 percent less optimal fluid, and severe dehydration is over 10 percent.

It’s likely I was only moderately dehydrated when I passed out, but I was so uncomfortable I cried through my entire ER visit.

Dehydration is more common than you might think. Straub RN and emergency room supervisor Raylene Nolen says the ER sees quite a few dehydration cases, especially as the heat increases during the summer.

Cases include both tourists and locals who are dehydrated from over indulging in alcohol, going to the beach and not drinking enough water, and from fevers, colds or the flu.

“Dehydration is one of those silent things that people never seek medical attention for, but can really impact their day-today functioning,” says Taba.

The best way to know you’re well-hydrated, she adds, is when your urine runs clear. So drink up, Hawaii. Take an example from me.

It’s quite embarrassing to end up in the emergency room because you didn’t do something as simple as drinking enough water.

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