It was both blessing and curse when kidney stones sent searing pain throughout my body a few weeks ago. I took an Uber to the Emergency Room where, reaching hour 5 of writhing in pain in the waiting room, I wished for my body to make me pass out or go into shock to protect me from this unbearable pain. When I finally got in and got morphine, relief washed over me -- then dissipated when I was told I would be kept overnight for morning surgery. A CT scan revealed two large stones: one firmly lodged on my left and one on my right. I suddenly felt panic: I was no longer in charge. I couldn't make the decision to ignore pain or bypass my health issues in favor of taking care of my father. My body had to scream out in pain to be noticed, to be prioritized. The doctor's firm gaze did not leave room for consideration of my responsibilities at home. His job was to save my body, my health, and my life; and, understandably, he wasn't going to let anything keep him from his duty. I couldn't either. I was finally being forced to put myself first. I was being forced to confront my self-care.
The night became a dark night of the soul. My husband went home to see to my father and would be back for my surgery. I had pain meds, tried to sleep, couldn't eat or drink water in anticipation of anesthesia. The lights were turned off as was the TV. So I listened. I listened to a man express his constant pain in staccato moans. I listened to a nurse bemoan the refusal of her requested 30-minute break. I listened to a policeman bring in what I imagined to be a ragged, bearded boogeyman who said his lung hurt then proceeded to unleash havoc on ER staff. I began to be frightened. The bearded boogeyman wouldn't stop taking his clothes off to take to the hallways. He bragged of his collection of knives. He was angry. I surmised he was in the "room" to my right.
The scene unfolding in what I surmised to be the "room" to the left was a desperate young woman being somehow involuntarily committed. She protested, "Don't touch me, that's inappropriate! That's inappropriate!" What I imagined to be a short, stern but world-weary social worker finally entered this room to the left and broke the news: "You should always come in voluntarily, because now you have given up your rights. You have given up your rights. You are being held involuntarily." The young woman shrieked "I don't want to be here!" I was sure I was witnessing, or hearing, her own personal hell. I felt shaken to my core. We were the ones spending the night in the ER. We were the ones hitting bottom, each in our own way.
I said it was a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because I was forced to reckon with the reality that I am not invincible. In fact, not much is keeping any of us from being one of the lost souls being kept overnight in the ER, separated from each other's lives only by a thin curtain. It's the ultimate act of asking for help. I am humbled and better for it.