How frail we are.
Friday afternoon I was taken to the emergency room for the first time in my life. It was the second time in my life I’ve been admitted to a hospital. I had my first IV, which I told the nurse who was administering it, after begging her to please, please, please let me forgo having it.
The most frightening part for me was having my parents insist that I go. Insist. These are the same parents who when I as a twelve-year-old and fractured my foot, gave me a Tylenol and put me to bed. When I had a concussion they gave me two Tylenols and had my mom wake me up every two hours and make me count down from ten. So you can imagine the urgency in this case was a little unnerving.
I was slumped against the wall outside my school’s health center when I called my mom to tell her it was closed and I was going back to bed. “Your aunt Tricia is coming right now to pick you up and take you to a clinic,” she said.
But by the time my cousin Laura got there in the mini van she told me that plans had changed and I was to be driven directly to the emergency room. What she forgot to tell me was the message that I should bring my toothbrush and a change of clothes because I was by no means being allowed to return to spend the night alone in my dorm room. But that turned out to be an ultimatum that my aunt didn’t have to enforce. Unfortunately.
A very concerned looking doctor at the ER did it for her. “We don’t know what’s wrong with you,” he said, “And until we’ve ruled out all of the serious possibilities, we’d like you to stay at the hospital where we can keep an eye on you.” I imagined he was a grandpa, and I was his little granddaughter who’d fallen and scraped her knee, as he fixed his glasses and shuffled his papers and told me of all the tests I would have to take.
Then gramps and my aunt argued over who would get to keep me for the night.
The other doctor, who liked to stroke his chin and knit his brow and say, “That is very interesting” to everything I told him, said “Your EKG was a little off. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with your heart…but it might.” Lovely. I think he was trying to rank above my parents on the most concerning scale.
I wish I could have given him the look of sheer skepticism the young receptionist at the desk in the ER gave me when I told her “I was sent here by the Linden clinic, they think I may have suffered a moderate heart attack.”
[I’m going to pause here to spoil the ending – some of you may have more invested in the state of my heart than I do, and I don’t want cause any unneccesary alarm – the cardiologist says I have a strong heart and my stress test and echocardiogram came out fine. But it was 24 hours before we knew any of that.]
A night spent in the hospital is anything but restful, I can’t imagine how they thought I would be better off there. Everyone who walked in the room would first ask me how I was doing and as the night progressed my answers went from “better” to “quite well” to “good” to “fine” to “okay…” to “ehhh” to “I’ve been better” to “can I please, please leave now?”
Between pain, and cords attached every which way – sometimes painfully – and regular vitals checks, and emergency EKGs, and scheduled EKGs, and occasional blood samples and loud noises from the nurses station and the hospital alarms and my machines and the gnomes in the vents, I didn’t sleep at all. But I kept myself entertained. There was one incident where I’d taken off my blood pressure monitor and it had inflated so that the monitor screen was flashing large red letters:
PULSE TOO WEAK TO READ
PULSE TOO WEAK TO READ
This bothered me but, though I’d put it back on, I couldn’t get it to inflate again. Somehow I got it into my head that the thing to do was simply to unplug the cord and plug it back in. If you’re creative, you might be able to imagine the look on the nurse’s face when she walked in to find me leaning as far as I possibly could off my cot, trying desperately to pull one of the cords from my life-vitals machine.
A similar leaning experience happened when I discovered that the room across the hall was inhabited by nuns. That’s how I ended up with the blood pressure off in the first place – I couldn’t lean far enough to see them well with it on, and it was easier to remove than my twenty-some other attachments (of which I still bear some scars). The nuns smiled and waved, and wished me luck when later my machines and I were wheeled by to be taken upstairs.
Credit must be given to Laura, who’s flatly unperturbable, regardless. To Jenny and Elizabeth who rescued me with coffee and gummy worms, made me laugh till it hurt and rather heartlessly tried to convince me I’d lost my short term memory. And Aunt Tricia, who declared, “The Winters were born for crises!”
I was finally dismissed the afternoon of the next day.
I tend to shrug off what ifs. What if it had been a heart attack? What if I hadn’t gone to the hospital? What if there was something wrong with my heart? But I do wonder if our prayers shift reality. Last January I was in an accident that left me in a great deal of pain. I had a deep sense of foreboding, (unusual for me, I think I’m the polar opposite of a worrywart) and I asked my mom if she could call all our friends and family and have them just say an immediate prayer. Afterwards I felt better, though I still felt the pain, and everything turned out to be fine.
I know our prayers shift reality, but how? My heart was fine when I left the hospital, was it fine when I entered it? I know the pain I felt was very real. How real is God’s healing? I know my mom looked up the symptoms of a heart attack in two different books (isn’t my family comical?) and they were exactly right on. I know that when we called a family friend who’s a cardiologist and explained what had happened she said to go the hospital immediately. Those are the things I know.
And yet I also know that I’m sitting here two days later completely the same except for a bad bruise on the back of my right hand, a rather unusual wrist band and a greater value for a life lived well, and lived now.