The ER at 2 AM


In Maine you drive yourself. After you have questioned yourself. After you have ascertained that waiting is a game you may not win. So you drive while you still can and question further along the way. What can they do to me that would put me in a worse place? What should I request, demand, plead for? What can I expect?

A shiny place, the emergency room. At this time of night, thankfully, an empty place. Smelling of hospital and fear.

I’m having an anxiety attack. I’ve embraced this syndrome before, then precipitated by events outside my control; deaths of loved ones, the threat of cancer. Have I become that fearful for the fate of this miserable planet, or is it my own past churning up again? No matter the rationale, here I am, trembling with chills and fever, fainting and floating with that inescapable feeling of magnetic moonboots pulling me towards the gravitational center of the earth.

To visit the ER is to admit defeat. I don’t do defeat graciously. Makes me irritable, but irritable trumps scared-shitless any day. The nurse is kind in the way of nurses, yet condescending as is their habit as well.

“Your BP of 145 over 105 is perfectly normal.” She beams and bestows a reassuring pat.

“Not for me. Mine hovers around 110 over 70, so I assume this’ll be a problem for my system if it continues this high. Stroke territory.” Her take-out container of greasy lasagna does little for my free-wheeling nausea. The combination of Styrofoam and rancid garlic provokes an involuntary dry heave from me.

“Are you nauseous?” She reaches for a wastebasket.

“That’s nauseated,” is my grammatical reply, “and, yes indeed, that’s one of my symptoms.” Slightly miffed, the nurse doesn’t ask for others.

I force myself to be charming, for here I sit, a willing captive in the place where the paddles stand vigil beside the shots of epinephrine. Surely help must be lurking around the corner, and I’ve elected to be dependent upon that anonymous help. Every breath is a question.

My cubicle is freezing and my regulation johnny is regulation drafty. The ice water coursing through my veins, masquerading as blood, is now congealing. I further question my choice in coming. As a panacea, I’m awarded a remote for the television, and I’m dangled the carrot of a doctor — soon. I hear nurses plodding by in the hall, coughing the phlegm of late nights in flu season. In a hospital, it’s always flu season. I drop the remote and scrub my hands at the tiny sink in the corner. I scrub twice.

“What seems to be the problem?” The doctor ambles into the sanctity of my domain without further announcement. He glances at the chart. “Do you have heart problems?”

“I really don’t know. You tell me.”

He listens, he looks, and he asks; he is attentive — I’m the only name on his to-do list.

“Let’s get an EEG. I’ll have the nurse bring you a Zofran for the nausea.”

A peppy Girl-Scout-nurse drags the many-wired heart machine into my cubicle. She’s chatty. With an eyebrow-raise at the purple abstracts decorating my arms like tattoos courtesy of Jackson Pollock, she latches onto the possibility of domestic violence with the enthusiasm of the young competing for a merit badge. “Are you safe at home?” Isn’t this spy code from some old movie? Who talks like this? I’m probably safer at home than here, tootsie. Just gimme drugs.

Not wanting to divulge the sad truth — I’ve been hugging the sharp corners of a refrigerator door for unknown hours because I suspect if I let go I’ll sink into quicksand — I reply that I have a wayward puppy. The mini-nurse is unwilling to believe such a simple source for my bruises; the potential drama of an abusive spouse is far more titillating. I could cheerfully dropkick an abusive spouse to the curb without soiling my stilettos, but the true terror is this amorphous imbalance within my own brain, dragging me down into that quagmire, hinting at a comfy padded room with an army of guys in white coats in attendance. I chat along about that fictitious naughty puppy. I decide to name him Cleophus. I decide he’s a Great Dane. (Why not? I’m not actually feeding him.) The idea of the Great Dane disarms the nurse and she relents into puppy prattle. I’m almost ready to pull out photos, but damn, they’re on that phone I dropped into the harbor yesterday. So sorry. Next time…

Finally the sub-lingual Zofran appears. Strawberry chalk. I focus on not gagging. I consider worse scenarios. Asteroids obliterating the planet. Godzilla. Dick Cheney as president. Oh, the humanity! It makes me feel better. The Zofran melts.

The doctor reappears. “The EEG is normal, as I suspected. Has the Zofran helped the nausea?” He’s remarkably perky for the hour — but then, he’s the guy with the Rx pad.

Seems to have, but perhaps the episode has run its course. My pulse is down to a respectable eighty according to the doctor, whom I must believe because he’s wearing a white coat with a name tag that says so. He smiles benignly and discharges me into the night with a Lorazepam for later and a diagnosis of “dizziness.”

When I get home, there are stars and Orion’s belt welcomes me.

Mara Buck

Mara Buck

Mara Buck writes and paints in the Maine woods. Awarded or short-listed by the Faulkner Society, Hackney Awards, Carpe Articulum, and others, with work appearing in Drunken Boat, HuffPost, Crack the Spine, Orion, Pithead Chapel, and other online and print journals.
Mara Buck

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