I have a big patience muscle. I haven’t always. But the older I get the bigger it grows. It was tested fully those tedious grey hours that we sat waiting for a doctor in the ER. Each minute that passed felt like an hour. I became the irritating kid on a road trip asking, “Are we there yet?” Only my question that night was, “Is he here yet?”
M pulled out her Anthropology textbook and passed the time reading, listening to music and texting her best friend A. Teenagers bring their cellphones to bed with them so they are there for each other 24 / 7. This wasn’t unusual. It’s a fascinating cultural phenomenon that is completely foreign to me, being that I’m as old as dirt after all. I don’t judge. It works for them. I on the other hand, frustrate my daughter by my reckless lack of interest in my iPhone. I use it primarily to take photographs, videos and record sounds. I am also an Instagram addict. But mostly the thing is either tethered to my iMac or lost in the bottom of my purse under wads of used Kleenex and other female essentials and paraphernalia.
During those wee hours of December 6, I amused myself by watching the monitor behind E. It was hypnotic. And almost as compelling as watching C-SPAN. The endless minutes ticked by. I spotted a miniature box of Kleenex on a shelf beneath the monitor and handed it to E to wipe his mouth. He had the small bowl the nurse had given him resting on his chest to collect the steady flow of drool. It’s funny the things that capture your imagination at times like these. The bowl appeared to be made of the same material as take-out holders for drinks at fast food joints. I wondered if it was sturdy enough to hold all that liquid pouring from E’s mouth. Would it turn to mush and melt all over him? That’s all we needed on a night such as this.
Fatigue and weariness became intimate bedfellows, wreaking havoc with my emotions, which were fragile at best. My body felt burdensome and heavy. At one point I laid my head on the edge of E’s cot and closed my eyes. I prayed for just five minutes of sleep. Just five lousy minutes. Oh God, let me escape. Get away from this insidious nightmare that held us captive.
With sleep turning it’s back on me like a jilted lover, I got up and tiptoed over to the nurse’s station.
“Do you think the doctor will be here soon?” I asked politely.
“Give it fifteen more minutes,” Nurse One replied patiently.
“My daughter has an exam in the morning and I have to work,” I said. Not that it really mattered. I just felt compelled to say this out loud.
“It shouldn’t be too much longer,” she assured.
“Okay,” I said, as I slunk quietly back to my chair next to E.
I was overcome by the 3Ds. Defeated. Deflated. Depressed.
Then just like Nurse One promised, fifteen minutes later a lanky older man appeared suddenly out of no where. The doctor had arrived. Hallelujah.
One of the other nurses emerged from behind their station to consult with him. We were less than ten feet away so we could hear everything. She gave him a quick rundown on the patients waiting for his attention. There was the old lady in the wheel chair, the drunk guy sleeping on the gurney, and there was mouth guy. Everyone was identified by their condition. It was fast and efficient.
The doctor attended to E first. Perhaps because he was one of the few who were conscious at that moment, or maybe my earlier query on when the doctor would arrive made me a squeaky wheel, or perhaps it was just our proximity to the nurse’s station. It didn’t matter to me why E was the first to be treated. I was simply grateful.
I filled the doctor in on the events that had transpired in the previous twelve hours — from the secret biopsy in the afternoon to the episode in the bathroom earlier that night. A blow by blow account of E’s symptoms. E interjected with the odd garbled comment. No one really knew what he was saying. The doctor scolded him for keeping secrets this big.
Then he asked E to open his mouth.
I peered over the doctor’s shoulder and got my first glimpse of what was causing all the grief. E’s tongue was the size of a two-year old’s fist.
“Whoa,” I blurted. “Holy crap.”
The doctor sat down in my chair and crossed his long legs in a relaxed easy manner. I stood across from him with M by my side. We hung on his every word like he was our lifeline to hope and salvation. He’d prescribe pain killers and call the surgeon who conducted the biopsy. He teasingly proposed that M and I go home and get some rest. E was in good hands and would be able to sleep once the medication kicked in.
Truthfully, M and I were relieved to be sent home. The doctor was right. E was in good hands. There was nothing more for us to do that night.
M drove the truck home while I sunk into the passenger seat, thankful to be driven. The rain had stopped but the streets were slick and wet. We discussed the events of the evening. We were both a little shell-shocked. M had been quiet and said very little during our vigil in the ER. But in the shelter of our Ford Ranger she was able to share some of her feelings with me.
“I didn’t appreciate the nurse referring to Dad as mouth guy,” she said.
“I know,” I said.
“They shouldn’t talk like that in front of people’s families,” she said.
I understood my daughter’s hurt feelings. But I also understood that this was just the everyday language of the ER. The nurse’s comments were not intended to cause harm. In fact, just the opposite was true. They were merely the parlance of dispatching critical information with as much speed and economy as possible.
But I was too tired for explanations. And she was too tired to care.
Silence filled the truck. M and I were consumed with our own private thoughts. As we were floating across town in a semi-dream state, I remember this horrible feeling of dread pass through my body. Like thick black tar. I flashed back to a year earlier. To the week in September when our sweet little Jack Russell, Andy suffered a heart attack and died with me by his side. E was in Nova Scotia burying his father, while M and I were thousands of miles away on the West coast.
It was just the two of us that week. Taking care of Andy. Watching him slip away. Overwhelmed by sadness. Paralyzed by grief.
This felt just like that.