OF LOVE AND HOSPITALS
A few weeks back, my buddy Jason Rodriguez asked me to pitch in and contribute an entry to his blog while he was out of town. I did, and here it is:
New Year’s Eve morning, 1993. Manhattan. Le Parker Meridien Hotel. I’m riding up in the elevator, a bag of fresh bagels in my hand and a song in my heart. Last night, you see, under the angels of Rockefeller Center, I proposed to the love of my life, and she accepted. We celebrated with a dinner at Tavern on the Green, and today we were ready to head back home to D.C. and begin calling the fam’ and friends with the good news.
Only…there was a problem.
I opened the door of the hotel room to find my wife-to-be laying on the floor of the bathroom, curled in a fetal position and wailing in pain. And two thoughts exploded into my head:
2. Damn, son, you musta knocked the bottom outta that thang last night!
But #2 quickly faded into the background as I realized that this was no ordinary Jesus-God-what-the-hell-did-we-do-last-night kind of situation. Annie wasn’t quite puking blood, but she was still in some excruciating pain. I defaulted to Little League coach mode-“Get up, soldier! Rub some dirt in it, you’ll be all right!”-which wasn’t a whole lot of help. We contacted the hotel doctor-who I’m pretty sure was the same guy parking cars the night before-and after a quick feel-up determined that whatever was ailing Annie, it was out of his league.
He called in an ambulance, and we skipped right out on paying that fat New York City hotel room bill. The EMTs were still in the “does it hurt when I do this?” phase of examination; they’d shoved me to the back of the ambulance, and I stared out the back window and watched cars and taxis fight to fill in the space left in our wake.
“Counting the lawyers, buddy?” one EMT ventured, a line that sounded like he’d used it a hundred times.
“Um…no.” The witty repartee had deserted me.
We entered through the emergency doors of St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital near Columbus Circle-the same doors John Lennon was wheeled through the night he died-and found ourselves in the surreal hell of a New York City emergency room on New Year’s Eve. If I wasn’t flat-out terrified that my brand-new fiancee was going to blow a gasket right here-and before I’d even had a chance to take out a life insurance policy on her-I would have really dug this dive into a petri dish of humanity.
But with ten years of perspective-and a now-very-healthy wife-I can appreciate the subtle insanities of the day. Like, for instance, the intern who wheeled my wife around from test to test sporting a tie featuring the Grim Reaper standing on a windswept mountainside. He spouted some cheery existential bullshit about death being all around us so we should embrace it, not fear it, fortune-cookie nonsense that didn’t seem to fit the mood of the day.
After ten hours in the emergency room, we still had no idea what was wrong in Annie’s abdomen, but I had seen this:
-An attending physician with glasses thicker than a half-pound burger who walked into our little cubicle, grabbed the bottom hem of Annie’s gown, and callously threw it back like he was unveiling this year’s Mustang. “What’s the story with this one?” he asked a nurse. This one. Bastard.
-A chubby little fireplug of a fellow, wider than he was tall, shuffling down the hallway toward the bathroom-and dropping his drawers about three steps short of the door. Thankfully, he continued onward.
-A little girl sobbing her eyes out as she walked through the emergency room clutching to her chest the red, wet towel wrapped around one hand. And, a few minutes later, a bored-looking fellow holding a plastic bag filled with ice-and one tiny little finger.
-Creepiest of all was the room directly across from Annie’s cubicle. When burger-glasses banished me while he looked over my wife-to-be like he was pricing furniture, I sat down on a plastic chair in the hallway. While Annie’s “room” was just a couple of curtain dividers, this was an actual door with a large window looking into darkness. On the doorknob was taped an index card with DO NOT OPEN DOOR!!!! scrawled in magic marker. And as I sat there looking at my reflection in the window-I swear this next part is true-a face loomed up out of the darkness staring straight at me. A hand pointed slowly at the doorknob. I looked around-nobody else was anywhere close by-and shook my head no, still not certain this wasn’t just some hallucination. The face faded back into the black, and I never saw it (him? her?) again.
With about three hours left in the year, the doctors finally determined that one of Annie’s ovaries had developed a cyst, twisted around on itself, and died. For purposes of comparison, the doctors recommended I consider how I feel should one of my little fellas do the same thing. “Ouch” doesn’t begin to describe it.
They determined that Annie’s ovary had to go, and figured that while they were in there, they’d grab the appendix too. So half an hour before midnight, they shot her up with enough morphine to keep Courtney Love happy for a week, and moments later, for the first time all day she smiled. Then she went from gentle smile to outright dopiness. “You won’t lose any champagne corks in me when New Years comes, will you?” she giggled. The doctors just smiled and said, no, they’d drunk all their champagne already.
They wheeled her off into the operating room, and I friggin’ lost it. I began bawling, a full-on shivering-shoulders cry, and I found the nearest phone and called my parents to give them an update. I hadn’t gotten more than two sentences in when a couple of security guards walked around the corner, stared at me incredulously, and-with zero regard for the fact that I was a grown man red-eyed from crying-asked, “What the hell are you doing here?” (By this point, you see, visiting hours were long over.)
I excused myself, went to the cafeteria, and sat there, head in hands, as a monotone announcement came over the loudspeakers: “Attention. It is now 1994. Happy New Year.” From where I was sitting, I could see the reflections of the Times Square fireworks off the surrounding buildings. And all seemed very dark.
Long story a little less long, things worked out. Annie came through just fine; the other ovary picked up the slack. I spent the next day sitting by Annie’s bedside, doing nothing but watching bowl games as she slept. She’d wake up every so often, smile, touch my hand, and pass out; I’d smile back if there wasn’t a critical play on. And I spent several days on the ground in New York-during which time I got yelled at by a hospital administrator for sleeping in the lounge, got fleeced by scalpers at the Knicks-Magic game, and ate cheap pizza for a week.
I could overreach for some moral, some nonsense about early adversity strengthening our love, but screw that. It was a hell of a start to a marriage. More important, it was a great story-and in the end, that’s what matters, am I right?