Volunteering plans for this week dissolved Sunday morning, when I woke up doubled over in pain. I had planned to help set up a party for Holocaust survivors way up at the northwestern tip of Manhattan, and who doesn’t love a party with Holocaust victims? Since I feel about 85 years old most days lately, it would have been just my speed.
When I blacked out Monday morning just standing up to get water, I gave in and called the doctor, who immediately directed me to urgent care. I arrived at the emergency room with a fever of nearly 103 and blood pressure slightly above that of a corpse. The morphine drip, mood lighting, and CNN loop on the flat screen made my little corner of the ER feel downright luxurious, and I blissfully drifted in and out of sleep, feeling almost guilty for not being at work when I felt so good!
Inevitably, I end up in room 1022A, which I joke to the nurses has become my home away from home. For several nights, I woke up alternately shivering or bathed in sweat. Doctors came in and out to run blood tests, scans, and anything else that might determine the cause of my sudden incapacitation.
My family felt as far away as they had during my time in China, and I cried for my mother like a little girl. A cleaning lady gave me a hug.
The woman in the bed next to me was all alone as well, and as always, my initial disappointment at having a roommate gave way to curiosity. She was new to the cancer scene, diagnosed just two weeks prior, and her surgery had revealed a cancer too advanced for simple removal. I talked through some of the finer points of chemo with the wisdom of one who has come out the other side mostly intact. She was far younger than any of my previous roommates, probably at the tail end of her thirties, and had two toddlers at home who must have been foremost on her mind every time the doctor opened his mouth.
She was released two days before I, and as she dressed and packed up her things, I marveled at her self-sufficiency. No visitors, no flowers, no good news – and yet, no tears.
Roommate No. 2 was wheeled in at the close of visiting hours with her entire family in tow. They chattered away in Arabic on the other side of the curtain as I cried quietly into my pillow, bathed in sweat from the merciful break in my fever.
The whole crew was there again first thing in the morning, having slept across the street the previous night. By daylight, they were a handsome bunch, and a tiny, curly-haired granddaughter had somehow appeared in the mix. The hospital imam stopped by to offer up a prayer, and I received one by proxy, feeling that it was no less false than those I receive from the dozens of prayer lists I suspect my name still populates in Central Texas.
I was feeling good enough at that point to sit in the chair by the window, and I was staring dully out into the sunshine when a young social worker turned up in my room. She stared me down with those big, concerned, social worker eyes and asked if I needed to talk. I burst out crying while shaking my head no, and mindful of a similar, much more embarrassing scene with my boss the previous week, decided not to reject the help.
For my compliance, I was rewarded with an invitation to a Look Good… Feel Better gathering in the family room down the hall. The program was established in 1989 when a physician intervened with a patient who was experiencing significant appearance-related side effects from her treatments. The woman was so depressed, she wouldn’t leave her room, so the doctor arranged for the Personal Care Products Foundation to give her a makeover. She was so cheered by the effort, the foundation decided to partner with the American Cancer Society to offer makeovers to women affected by cancer all over the country.
A woman from Chanel was on hand for my session; afterward, despite the fact that the lady seemed to think I had never picked up so much as a mascara wand before, I did feel more upbeat. The bag of covetable goodies I walked away with didn’t hurt, either.
Good attitudes yield good outcomes, and an hour later, the team of doctors came by to tell me I would be released that evening (with 60 tablets of Vicodin for the road). After four days of isolation, I was free.
I celebrated that evening by thwacking my boyfriend repeatedly with my now-bendable right arm, gleefully exclaiming, I can move my arm again! I can move!