A visit to the Emergency Room has become a punctuating event in my relationship with M. Typically a setting for heightened emotions, our experiences have definitely veered towards melodrama. Forced to wait for excruciatingly long, soul-crushing hours, you really learn a lot about a person in an ER, and in the hours leading up to the ER.
The first time M and I went to the Emergency Room was on our third date. We spent a lazy, grey Saturday at a beer festival, sampling local brews and eating barbecued things, kissing, flirting and being very third-datey. All was fine until end of day when M’s back started acting up. By the time we grabbed a taxi back to his place, he was in a lot of discomfort.
“Yup! Might be my sciatica,” he said through gritted teeth.
Sciatica? I thought. That wasn’t on his E-Harmony profile.
“I need to go to Emerge!”
“Emerge?” I asked?
“Emergency room,” he clarified, grimacing.
Clearly, he was in pain, but I was surprised he thought “Emerge!” was the next step. I’ve had many injuries—back, neck, shoulder, both ankles—as a dancer, and only once felt the need to go to Emergency rather than wait to see my doctor or healthcare professional the next day.
But off in a cab we went, spending the next five or so hours in “Emerge!” waiting for Tylenol, advice to rest and to follow-up with his family doctor. M said he was surprised I stayed with him that night because most women would have bailed. True, it wasn’t the ideal cap to a date, but I’m not that cold-hearted.
The second “Emerge!” visit happened on a July 1st long weekend. M and I decided to be very domestic and stain a table together. We thoroughly covered the balcony floor, put on rubber gloves, and spent a couple of hours staining every inch of that table. As we were cleaning up, M went into the kitchen to grab some water. With his GLOVES STILL ON.
Fast forward about 30 minutes, and we weren’t going to make the dinner and movie we had planned, so we decided on just dinner. M mentioned a couple of times that he sort of tasted the stain, that maybe he accidentally touched the lip of the cup with his GLOVED hand, before taking a sip. Since the amount of stain he MAY have ingested was minute, I wasn’t concerned, and told him to gargle with warm water. We went to dinner, came home and planned a movie night in.
But M brought up the stain again, and how his throat was now feeling a bit tight. I looked at the label on the stain container and there were no menacing skull and cross-bones, nor was there a list of ingredients or warnings like: if a miniscule amount of stain is inadvertently ingested, after handling a cup of water with a gloved hand, GET YOUR ASS TO EMERGE!
He tried calling his sister (a Registered Nurse), who wasn’t home. He called Poison Control and was eventually transferred to a nurse. After some standard questions, she thought it was a good idea to go to the ER, just to make sure. Make sure? This was more about easing his mind. Me? My mind was eased hours ago when M ate his usual pepperoni with extra cheese pizza and drank wine. I’m no expert, but wouldn’t poisoning have a more immediate effect on a person, and be impervious to an Italian meal and a nice bottle of Chianti? But off we went to “Emerge!” And really, if you have to go to “Emerge!” I suggest doing it late at night on a long weekend, when you’re bound to share the waiting room with drunken vomiting assholes. Special.
After a few hours, a doctor finally asked M some questions and, confident he was fine, told M to wait another hour to monitor, and then we could leave. Awesome.
The latest “Emerge!” visit involved M’s foot, which had bothered him for a few days. He figured he’d tweaked it power walking and, rather than see anyone about it, preferred to hobble around the condo muttering “Ow, ow ow…” I told him to at least ice, elevate and take Advil. It began to escalate to the point that I finally called my chiropractor who does Active Release Technique. She was alarmed at how swollen his foot was, and thought it might be fractured. M planned to see his family doctor the next day to get an x-ray.
That night, we made burgers and planned a night in. Around 11:30pm, we were getting ready for bed, and M was in a lot of pain. Then he said the words that since dad’s stroke and his numerous ER visits, plus M’s history with the ER, I’ve come to dread, “WE HAVE TO GO TO EMERGE!”
We put on our shoes and coats, but Cinderfella’s foot was so tender and swollen, his shoe wouldn’t fit. So I wrapped a plastic bag around it. We got in a cab, hobbled to triage and then to a wheelchair. Bizarrely, there were two other guys with a bad foot waiting in wheelchairs too. It was like a scene from a Coen Brothers movie—these two wheelchair guys; that woman asleep in the back corner with her mouth gaping open; this young hippie couple; a few nondescript supporting characters—and me, the short suffering Asian wife of the third wheelchair guy with a bag wrapped around his foot.
M was taken to x-ray surprisingly quick, but that was the only thing quick that night. We were the last people to leave the waiting room. For some reason, no one came in after us. Mental note: ER quiet, 3am, Tuesday mornings.
The doctor couldn’t find any evidence of fractures on the x-ray and, aside from advising M to rest, elevate, ice and take ibuprofen, he’d wrap a tensor around the foot, and then M should follow-up with his family doctor. For three hours, the doctor never removed M’s sock. Isn’t that outrageous? When he finally did, he said, “Wow, that’s really swollen. And hot to touch. And oh, it’s tender right there? Hmm… have you ever been diagnosed with gout?”
“GOUT?” M and I both said.
“Yeah,” the doctor continued, “this is a classic case of gout.”
I know a little about gout. I know it’s a largely preventable form or arthritis triggered by poor food and lifestyle choices. Gout: the rich man’s disease. Suddenly I get a flash of M on his annual guys’ trip, sitting around an RV smoking cigars, consuming nothing but beer and meat for three days. I’m already Googling gout on our way to the 24-hour pharmacy to pick up M’s meds, planning the shopping list for the non-inflammatory foods I’ll buy to get him back on a healthier track.
The next day, Cinderfella’s foot is still painful and swollen. As I’m putting away the stockpile of pure cherry juice, tofu, veggies and non-fat yogurt, I notice the leftover burger from last night is gone. Seriously?
Yup. The gift that keeps on giving.