The doorbell rang around 11 a.m. on Saturday as I pulled myself off the couch and tried not to heave on my way to the door. I had just popped a pair of Ibuprofen in an attempt to treat my raging headache, but this was the kind of brutal, throbbing hangover that demanded a serious, if not desperate, course of action. The tiny, middle-aged woman at my apartment door wasn’t wearing a nurse’s uniform, but the fact that she carried a portable IV stand was enough for me to let her inside.
Upon waking up two hours earlier, I’d ordered an I.V. Doc, the on-demand service in which medical professionals pay house calls to intravenously administer a saline solution purported to alleviate hangovers by pumping fluids into the bloodstream. A press release sent by a P.R. firm two weeks earlier had touted I.V. Doc as the "Uber for your hangover," with a celebrity clientele including Rihanna, Madonna and Ryan Phillippe. According to the press release, I.V. Doc was officially launching in Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend. The timing for my hangover, it seemed, couldn’t have been better — if, that is, the I.V Doc actually worked.
The I.V. options on theivdoc.com range from a basic 1,000-milliliter Lactated Ringer's solution called “the cleanse,” which costs $199 and promises to replace lost fluids and electrolytes within 30 minutes, to a 2,000-milliliter Lactated Ringer's solution called “revive,” which boasts “deathbed” relief via an injection of Zofran for anti-nausea, Pepcid for anti-heartburn and Toradol for pain.
I ordered “the cleanse," and was prompted to enter my name, age and gender before answering a series of questions to gauge the intensity of my nausea, pains and headaches, only for the website to suggest that I upgrade to the $249 "revive" treatment.
I stuck with the cheapest option. A confirmation email followed, and then a text message from a New York phone number 20 minutes later: “We are still searching for a nurse… We will be in touch in 10 minutes.” By then it was already 9:30 and my head felt like it had been cracked in two. Fifteen minutes later, I got a text message from another New York number, this time apologizing for the wait and reassuring me that a nurse would be arranged shortly.
If the I.V. Doc had launched in Los Angeles on Friday, why were no nurses ready to handle my call? And even more puzzling, why were these cryptic texts coming from a New York number? To find out, I dialed the same number from which I'd earlier received an apologetic text. To my surprise, the voice on the end announced himself as Dr. Adam Nadelson, the general surgeon who co-founded I.V. Doc with his urologist father earlier this year.
He seemed as flustered as I was. I imagined him lounging in silk pajamas, nursing a hangover with a tall Bloody Mary at a Hamptons vacation home over Labor Day weekend. Had I mistakenly called his own private cell number, or did he always personally answer calls from I.V. Doc patients in desperate need of hydration and reassurance that everything was going to be OK?
Our conversation didn't yield many answers. Nadelson declined to say how many nurses were on call in L.A., nor would he tell me exactly where the company's West Hollywood office was located, or where the nurses were being dispatched from — only that one would be on her way shortly. I hung up the phone and still had no idea when I’d find sweet relief, or whether the I.V. Doc would ever show up at all.
So I called the same number again and again, and each time spoke with a different member of Nadelson's cheery but unhelpful New York staff, until finally I was told a nurse would arrive at 1:30 p.m. And that was too late. I had to be on the other end of town by 2 p.m. Besides, what’s the point in paying $200 for an on-demand service that takes four and a half hours to arrive?
Unlike Uber, the I.V. Doc doesn’t have a mobile app or a GPS tracking device, so it’s impossible to know when a nurse is available and what her estimated arrival time will be. I couldn’t imagine waiting on a street corner for four and a half hours for my Uber to arrive. Waiting just as long for medical treatment — albeit a particularly vain one — seemed similarly absurd.
Via a text message from the same number I'd used to call Dr. Nadelson, the I.V. Doc offered me a payment refund, but by this point, I was feeling even more deathly than when I’d originally placed the order at 9 a.m. I called the 646 number again, and this time, a staffer agreed to swap my appointment time with another “patient” ahead of me. By 10:45 it was confirmed: a nurse was finally on her way to my apartment.
Up next: the I.V. Doc administers the home injection.
At 11 a.m., I opened the door to meet Monina, a contracted nurse who primarily worked at a hospital in West Covina. Since she'd previously done stints as an in-home caregiver, she was familiar with setting up a mobile hospital in a stranger’s home. (That said, she didn't wear any credentials and refused tell me any other personal or professional information, so I had to trust that she knew what she was doing.)
Monina prompted me to lay down on the couch and get comfortable while I signed a release form that most likely waived all of my rights to sue should anything go wrong – but who can read the fine print when you've got a raging headache? She took my pulse and blood pressure, both of which she said were incredibly high: either I was super dehydrated or just really nervous about I.V. Doc. Probably, it was a little bit of both.
Monina set up the metal I.V. pole and fastened the bag, which contained the saline solution that's typically administered to hospital patients for post-surgery fluid resuscitation. When I asked what exactly was in the bag, she simply replied, “it’s like magic.” With that, she tied a blue rubber tourniquet around my forearm, located a vein, and pricked me with a needle connected to a syringe and a plastic tube from which the solution would drip directly into my bloodstream. I began to feel a cold sensation as the clear liquid in the bag slowly dispensed into my body.
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A half hour and 1000 milliliters of water and electrolytes later, I was feeling slightly better, as if I’d just chugged 10 bottles of cold water, but without all the effort of actually having to open a bottle and bring it to my lips. My headache had mostly gone away, but maybe that was because of the Ibuprofen I swallowed while waiting for Monina to get there. She tore off the sticky tape adhering the syringe to my forearm and blotted the blood away with a strip of gauze. A Bandaid would've been handy, but Monina said the I.V. Doc didn't have any. She'd checked at the company's West Hollywood office, which she described as more of a storage closet where on-call nurses can swing by to pick up medical supplies such as plastic gloves, gauze and alcohol pads. The actual I.V. stand, she said, was her own.
And here, it turned out, was the real problem: According to Monina, she was the only nurse on duty that morning in all of Los Angeles. And this, during I.V. Doc’s official launch weekend. No wonder it took hours for her to get to my place. Another nurse, based in Long Beach, would pick up her shift later that afternoon. Perhaps growth has been a bit too rapid: The company plans to launch in San Francisco in the fall, in addition to their existing services in New York City, the Hamptons, Chicago, and now Los Angeles.
Monina disposed of the needle in a container marked with a "biohazard" sign that was tucked into the front pocket of her medical backpack on wheels. When the bleeding finally stopped, she was out the door, on to yet another appointment to nurse yet another hangover.
But even after the I.V., I was still so queasy at the thought of driving across town that I contemplated calling an Uber. At least I knew the driver wouldn't take four and a half hours to pick me up.