A week in hospital; a life suspended. No responsibilities: no meals to make; no medications to administer; no anxiety to mollify; no midnight awakenings to attend to. Nothing.
Two days before my emergency run to the hospital, Michael awoke me at midnight, extremely agitated. He was clutching his upper right abdomen, uttering the words "blood" and "hospital" and "sutures". I had to medicate him, sit with him, and open his bedroom door to show that his room was in our house and not in the dreaded hospital. A premonition?
My journey to the hospital was quick - no sirens. The kind and calming paramedic monitored my vital signs and taped electrodes to my chest. He assured me I was deemed urgent and the wait time shouldn't be long: "You picked a good night."
My first injection of morphine was administered at 9:00 p.m., three hours after my departure from home. Friends arrived quickly and took charge. Questions, painful prods, deep breathing remembered from childbirth, though this extreme pain had lasted longer than any labour I had experienced; my longest, my first, only four hours.
9:30 p.m.: all of a sudden pain evaporates and I wonder if I'd ever had it. Magical morphine. I don't even feel drowsy or doped, more elated and energized. I'm wheeled from the examination room to a stall in the emergency ward. A handsome nurse faces me from the nurses' station. My friends leave me to the fine view. I resolve to enjoy the rest even if it must be hospital.
Morphine overwhelms for a few days but I am even sent home twenty-four hours after admission, only to return a few hours later in more pain. The vestiges of Superstorm Sandy roar outside but I am unable to see or care from my cave-like existence.
Copious amounts of blood are withdrawn over seven days; concern over a liver in crisis. Human pincushion. Ultrasound, endoscopic procedure, intravenous hydration and nutrition, more morphine, anti-nausea medication. Still no enlightenment on the liver trouble but my liver enzyme levels are falling, moving in the right direction. Liquid diet when not overwhelmed by nausea. Suddenly four days later the pain is gone, gone, gone. Sweet relief. Sweet unmedicated sleep.
Two cramped, battered rooms; three roommates, two of them men. Dirty windows. Loud snoring, belching, coughing, moaning; occasional conversation in a language smattered with French and English; blinding florescent lights; electronic beeps throughout the night; malfunctioning machinery that I learn to fix myself to ensure sleep. Modesty must be discarded. Sponge baths. Midnight transfers; motion sickness.
I am humbled by my illness, surrounded by others who suffer. Pain and suffering are the great levelers. Death too.
Frustration over doctors who might have a master plan but communicate little to a person used to being in control. My grasp is slipping. Fear is non-existent. Submission creeps over me. Sleep.
News from home: two daughters take turns caring for Dad with the other two offspring waiting in the wings to be called to duty; caregiver sleeps over and keeps life as normal and calm at home as possible. Reports are surprisingly positive about Michael's condition. A few cracks but I don't care.
Visitors shuffle through. Concern on their faces doesn't faze me. I'm content to stay here as long as I must. Resignation.
My last day my vitality returns with surprising force despite starvation. The weight has slipped off my thin body while I wasn't caring. My intravenous has been removed. A blessed shower is offered. I consider the possibility that I might have to stay here much longer so I set out to pace the hallway with vigour; I must keep up my strength. Patients and nurses watch me quizzically as I stride with as much power as I can muster. Then sudden release by the surgeon with an appointment for an MRI after the weekend. My friend magically appears to whisk me home in his very fast car.
I must await the surgeon's verdict and avoid further trouble by adherence to the strictest diet I've ever had.
It's over...for now.
Vincent Van Gogh, "Dormitory in the Hospital in Arles," 1889.