Saturday, March 21, 2009

Time Dilation


Physics tells us that one person looking at two clocks passing by at different speeds will see them measure time differently. The faster the clocks move by, the slower the time they show will change. The equation above is the ratio that describes the difference relative to a clock the person sees as not moving. It's a strange, unintuitive thing, but luckily it doesn't really come up at the speeds we live our lives. Physics also tells us that our perceptions of reality don't always match up with how things really work. For better or worse, our perceptions completely dominate our everyday lives. Sometimes that can be good, and sometimes that can be bad. After all, as Einstein never actually said, everything is relative.

I had a bad day this past Monday. It was my first day back to work after a productive, but not very restful week of furlough. I was thankful that I didn't have to join the ranks of the unemployed this month, but worried about the deadlines that had just contracted a week. Naturally when I returned to work and tried to turn my computer back on, it failed to boot. I lost several hours fiddling with it, waiting from someone from our internal hardware support group to get back to me. The day crawled by as I hit one dead end after another. Eventually, based off an idea by a co-worker, I was able to recover enough of the previous week's work to continue on using one of the other machines available. It didn't have my setup or tools, but it had enough to make some progress. I went home tired and frustrated, but knowing that I could at least start moving forward again the next day.

Tuesday started off dark and early. I didn't feel particularly good, but I wrote it off to stress, had my breakfast, and headed into the office. After a couple of hours it was clear that my stomach was bothering me. By the time of the daily "stand up" meeting, I knew I was going to have to go home and try to do what work I could. The morning at the office had flown by in a haze, but the hours leading up to lunchtime crawled. By then I knew that something was seriously wrong in my gut.

I called my General Practitioner, and the person answering the phone told me there was nothing available, she would forward me to the nurses to see if they could get me in. The hold time lasted for minutes that seemed like hours. The nurses too said that the doctor's time was completely filled, and would I like to make an appointment? No, said I, I will go to an emergency clinic. Was I sure? Yes, thank you, goodbye. A few more eternal minutes passed while I waited for my father to pick me up. I was too distracted by pain at this point to drive. As we headed to the nearby clinic, Dad noted that red lights seem to last the longest when you are in a hurry.

The clinic started off as all doctor visits do, with paperwork and waiting. I was well into eight on the pain scale (out of ten), with an option on nine. My unsteady hand flew across the paperwork, and eventually they called me back. Nurse comes in, check the vitals, ask about symptoms, wait a bit, see the doctor's aid, pushing and prodding, yes it hurts there, and there, not so much there. They need a blood sample. It takes two tries, thanks to my first ever rolled vein. We need a urine sample and an x-ray. More waiting. Cold water in the sink, the x-ray room smells odd. The doctor stepped our for some lunch. More waiting. The x-ray is inconclusive, but I'm in enough pain they refer me for a CT scan. Back to the waiting room. Mom has joined Dad. She says I was back there for a long time...

Another drive to the place where I would have my scan. More paperwork and more waiting. The receptionist there was beautiful, with an equally beautiful diamond on her finger. I had fully arrived at nine on the pain scale, and decided that moving around out in the cool wind helped. I paced in and out the heavy doors several times as the delay stretched. They called me back and I had to lie still for the scan. Quieter than the MRI I had for my back. Not as comfortable. Kept my eyes equally closed, not out of claustrophobia, but because there was nothing to see. That done it was off home to wait some more.

The work day was almost done by the time I got the call back from the clinic: appendicitis. Thank God it's something they can identify and fix. They gave me the surgeon's name and the instructions to head on over to the emergency room, where they would be expecting me. Another long car ride. One I know actually takes less than fifteen minutes. By now my time sense was completely suppressed under the haze of pain. I couldn't stop myself from moaning. Logically, I know the wait in the emergency room was quite short. My body wasn't heeding logic at the moment. So this is what ten feels like. Finally, people came it to put in an IV. I was looking forward to it because I knew that had to happen before I would get any relief. Three folks, EMTs from the uniforms. A supervisor, older gentleman. A small woman maybe close to my age, and a large man, quite a bit younger than me. The latter got the honor of trying to hook me up. I warned him that needles and I don't get along. He smiled and told me not to worry about it. By his own admission, he was a sweater, but I actually didn't mind because I could tell he was taking his job very seriously. There was some conversation during the four attempts it took to get the IV in (first two from the man, once by the woman, and the final successful attempt from the man again) and a bit of advise from the supervisor. I don't really remember the details. More waiting. Now I can't writhe around anymore because of the IV in the crook of my elbow. How long was it before they wheeled me down the hall to meet the anesthetist? I didn't know.

There was a nice lady and gentleman with pleasant bedside manners and even more plesant drugs. Then for a while there was nothing at all. A tired haze of pain meds and the grind-whir-click of an IV machine. Catnaps through the night, the usual hospital routine. The doctor visited before sunup the next day. Everything went well. He got the appendix out laproscopically, and didn't see any sign of other problems. Departure instructions and paperwork. Icky jello and broth for breakfast. Nothing on the History Channel but stupid UFO garbage. Parents watching over me, a relative and a pastor calling. More napping.

In the end I was home in just over 24 hours from the time I went to the clinic. It sure felt longer than that. The next couple days passed in the expected haze. Today, I am more or less back to the usual routine, though still reacting slower than normal. I have a bunch of recovery still to do, and I won't be lifting anything for a couple weeks, but the story so far appears to have a happy ending.

And looking back, I guess Monday wasn't all that bad a day after all.


fergus said...

Wow. Glad you're recovering well.

Lee said...

Glad everything came out ok.

Seriously, I have seen my wife hit a 10 and I have no desire to go there myself. Hooray for happy drugs.

I hope your recovery is swift.