When I entered the Emergency Room that night, I had no idea how long I would be there or how painful the visit would be. We didn’t meet right away as I spent my first few hours sandwiched between a broken handed soccer player and a wailing woman who was certain death was coming. As a chronic mental health patient, I am no stranger to Emergency Rooms and they don’t make me nervous anymore.
This time it was my stomach. After three weeks on new medication, I was finding it hard to ignore the sharp pains in my gut resulting in a lack of appetite and almost constant nausea. The first time we said hello, my spirits were high as my initial IV went in without a problem and my street clothes came off in favor of the ever stylish and always breezy blue hospital gown. We chatted about names; apparently yours means morphine, fitting for a lady in your line of work. You went about your other rounds and I waited for the doctor.
The nausea suddenly came on with a vengeance I hadn’t felt before. Considering I hadn’t eaten since lunch and it was approaching midnight the dry heaving drastically increased the sharp pains. After I somehow made it through an exam without vomiting, you met me back at my bed. Time to live up to your name; you gave me my first dose of morphine. And then came the fun stuff.
I guess when we combined some heavy pain meds, my need to make jokes in awkward situations, and your easy laugh it was inevitable that I would be completely inappropriate while you were giving me a colonic, right? If I remember correctly, I believe I made multiple comments about you knowing me better than any man, despite some requests from old boyfriends. I am so glad that you laughed, because I remember your laugh clearer than telling the joke itself or, more importantly, the discomfort of the situation. Thank you for your sense of humor.
After this charming moment, I passed out and your shift ended. Fast-forward about twelve hours and I had been poked, prodded and x-rayed by a stream of faceless professionals in scrubs. The issue was with my digestive system, and so I wasn’t allowed food or drink. When you arrived for the next evening shift it had been about thirty hours since anything but ice chips had passed my lips. IV saline solution doesn’t do much to give you that fighting energy or rosy cheeks.
When you walked into my room your reaction was along the lines of, “You’re still here?” And then immediately, “You look worse.” Often medical professionals have seen it all and they have certainly seen much worse than whatever I’m going through at any given moment. Often what I think they forget is that just because it isn’t the worst they’ve seen doesn’t mean it isn’t the worst that their patients have personally experienced. A frank reaction that I wasn’t looking so hot really validated that I was allowed to say I wasn’t feeling so hot either. Thank you for the acknowledgement of my pain.
Then came the not as fun stuff. At some point during the day when you were off I had fallen asleep on the arm that had my IV. As my blood backed up into the tubing and the bruise spread across my forearm it became clear that it had to be removed. No one had inserted another one until you came along to do some blood tests. At this point it had been maybe thirty-five hours with no food or drink and no fluids either since the first IV had been removed. My veins were invisible.
You tried one arm and then the other. I tried to keep down some apple juice. We waited. Then you tried my hands. As you were kneeling on the floor beside my gurney, my whole arm hanging off the side hoping for some help from gravity, we joked about your little boys. You said you had probably gotten as much sleep as me in the last twenty-four hours because every little noise from two unsupervised boys under seven could mean serious trouble. As you moved the needle back and forth inside a vein on the back of my hand, trying to start the blood flow, I breathed as slowly as I could while you occasionally barked for me to stay still. Finally, enough blood came out to send to the lab, but it clotted. So we started again. Thank you for telling me to hold my boyfriend’s hand while all this was happening, because you rightly realized his face showed more pain than mine.
Then it came. The moment when one more doctor in an endless line of doctors said, “There is nothing I can do to help. It’s your medication. It isn’t an Emergency Room problem. Go home and sleep it off.”
As I was getting dressed you came back into my cubicle. Thank you for telling me to be first in line at my GP’s office the next morning, for telling me not to let it go. For the first time, a medical professional said to me, “Don’t take no for an answer.”
And as you left, thank you for yelling out to the whole ER that you were going on break because every woman deserves dinner, even if it is at 4 am. That was the last I saw of you because I stormed out myself when I saw the whole episode had been for nothing.
Now, with some perspective, I know it wasn’t for nothing. You restored my faith in the inherent goodness of medical professionals. You showed me that the faceless worker bees in scrubs are actually people with pretty names, with small children, with stress all their own who need and deserve their dinner breaks. You instilled a desire in me to help others the way you helped me and my scared loved ones. For all that, and especially for laughing at my poop jokes, thank you.
About Sarah Lindsay
Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog (who also has some anxiety issues). Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 at the age of 16 and is still trying to figure it out. Follow Sarah’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, or additionally you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com