Overnight in the emergency department. I keep straining my eyes under the horrible yellow glare, which it turns out is actually my bestie’s skin colour. And eye colour. Yes, she is yellow. Yellow is what happens when your liver is mad, it turns out. I mean I think that the rest of the room is rather yellow too, but hers sort of radiates into it, like a fireplace log emitting a warm, but garish glow, with eery animal eyes peeking out.
You look better than last week, I offer. Yellow trumps that clammy, hairglued to your head rash-face thing you had going on. Earlier I chimed in with Let’s talk about your hair. She came back with You’re an Irish rock princess. I am a crazed forest hermit throwing rocks. To be fair, it’s witch hair if you’ve ever seen it. Hansel and Gretel would be running. But she’s a beauty, even yellow and scraggly.
We like the dark humour for those more challenging life circumstances. Somehow it seems to outsmart the ego; the voice of fear—beat it at its own game.
It’s a pretty good deal as it turns out in this hospital. A major upgrade from last week’s experience where it took four solid hours of screaming before pain meds were administered with a side-eye and a hush that seemed to suggest that my very sober bestie was after a fancy high. Tonight, we sit in lounge chairs and they drop by to indicate test results and top up pain meds. It’s like hospital heaven. Or, I have reached a particular state of delirium produced by a chemical reaction between excessive diet soda and kit kat consumption – plus the not having slept thing.
A baby has been shrill crying for four hours. They have yet to offer me pain meds in this handy waiting room, but I have been able to sit in a chair with the laptop plugged in, for the win. And secretly I am afraid of pain meds and basically all drugs save for Advil, my fitness vitamin. But I wouldn’t mind a shiraz or maybe a nice cabernet if you’re offering.
The woman beside me is panting with agony. My momming kicks in and I want to provide a cool wash cloth and holler for drugs. Tiny children are wheeled by in large beds. Bestie and I make silent prayers for their mothers with eye contact.
I am wearing skinny jeans and a slinky green top and high heel boots. Not exactly lounge wear. But at least this time I have a phone charger and a computer, so we are getting better at this game. We were supposed to be celebrating what she and I like to call “Saint Shenanigan”; patron saint of the day of green beer and antics Irish. But while the world kicks off with breakfast libations, we check out doctors for cuteness and age appropriateness and work out her hospital dating profile “jaundiced but pairs well with scrubs and old lace”. This is our third trip inside of three weeks.
As the girl beside me punctuates her moaning to request a throw up bucket, I am taken back to a time in my history when my Mom began her lifelong stint with chronic illness.
There were trips to the emergency room. Hours of vomiting. There was morphine. There were days where I was the advocate. They were mostly those days. But then secretly there were days when a great repellant force field formed around all my soft places. Heart. Stomach. Muffin top. The force field had benefits, along the lines of feeling a pillowy distance from any stress and fear. But it also had down sides. Like blocking out compassion and empathy. It painted my sweet little mom into a malingerer. The voices of the doubters and the naysayers would find their way in. You just want attention. You don’t want to work. You are dramatic. You are a whiny baby. And to be sure, sometimes she was. There is this thing that can happen with chronic illness, where for the first time you feel really entitled to sympathy, and nurturing, and attention and love. But as soon as that comes across, as soon as there is a little identification with the sick person in you, a hint of need, all of that caring concern gets pulled away from you. The pro’s smell it, like the dog on fear. And then you are doing a dance with it. You are “seeking”, whether it’s meds, whether it’s a mom, whether it’s a reprieve from all of the things that just feel too damned scary and hard, quite probably because you carry the world on your shoulders, which, even if you are planking like a bitch, is a bit too heavy a load.
According to someone, somewhere, we are all fakers. According to fear, we are all fakers. Because what does it mean to fake? It means that we are not being tough enough. Which presupposes that tough is noble. It means that we are not driven or effortful enough. Which values drive and effort as legitimacy. When you really dig into it, there is an art to suffering in a socially acceptable, maximal pity evoking way, and there are rules that circumscribe it. If I behave just so, if I am stoic about my pain, understated about my needs, I too may have a shot at Miss Tragic Heroine 2019; an honour just to be nominated. It’s absurd.
Here is what I have learned since those young person days.
Pain is pain. Faking, it turns out my friends, is not really faking. It’s just confusing emotional pain with physical pain. It’s still that same cry for help. And it works both ways. The emotional manifests the physical. The obnoxious kid who competes for attention is the same as the quiet kid who hides in the corner. And having the most gaping wound, or the most understated glamorous reaction to your wound, might make you more sympathetic to the invisible audience of the world, but it’s not going to make you better. And low and behold, that is actually what we want, to get better. We are just so deep in that we forget that sympathetic suffering is not actually our end game.
Last night bestie and I reviewed our options. She wanted to be admitted. She wanted me to help. We had been in overnight earlier in the week. I mean like I had a call from her 8 year old son, “Mama is throwing up on the floor and she can’t breathe”. I live a block away, and by the time we had paramedics she was screaming in advanced labour-like agony. It was not pretty. The paramedics had a good cop and a bad cop. While I debriefed good cop, bad cop yelled at her to get up. They could not get a stretcher into the basement suite. But friends, she was rough. She was sticky, and her hair was glued to her head and spools of spit and tears were spewing from her independent of any sort of tear producing conditions like sadness. I finally took matters into my own hands, and good cop followed suit. We coached her, step by step, up the stairs and out the door, while supporting as much of her body weight as our slighter girlish frames could handle. This approach worked and we got her to the ambulance. I mean it was not easy, there was a LOT of coaching. But it was done.
Turns out bad cops should stay away from women in pain. They do not make good anything. Not dhoulas, not helpers. Bad cops are good for bad guys in shows about bad guys, and that is pretty much a wrap. They aren’t going to contribute to the successful populating of the planet by keeping moms alive (True confession: Before I was able to identify that he must have been in a lot of suppressed pain to be so outraged by hers, the actual expression “throat punch” clarified in my mind. I mean just the word. I like, carry flies outside to freedom so I was hardly going to make physical contact with his throat. But briefly I rolled that word over the tongue). Anyhow, good cop and I got her into he ambulance and bad cop quickly sleuthed that her codeine allergy was a coverup for her fentanyl street drug addiction and refused her treatment. Yep. That happened. THEN, wait for it, he yelled at her the entire ride to stop screaming, lest she eventually disturb the other patients in emergency, while I informed good cop (whom I think was embarrassed of her colleague’s military initiation tactics) that, in fact, bestie doesn’t drink or do any recreational drugs, and in my best estimation had not in fact faked out the projectile vomiting and aggressive chest pain.
Eventually there was a doctor. And an ultrasound. And a specialist two days later. The specialist actually even noted her yellow face. BUT at zero point in time did anyone say “hey if that gets worse please go back to emergency”. To me that meant there was no real, imminent danger. The specialist appointed MRI was scheduled for Tuesday. We were at Saturday night. I imagined that if we went again to hospital we would sit in triage at the bottom of the “Oh my gawd what a faker” list. I saw myself getting the silent ignore, the druggie enabling side-eyed dismissal, like last week, when I tried to plead her case four times. I wasn’t sure it would benefit her to wait 8 hours to be refused, or me to forfeit sleep, work and helping my teenager with her homework, as I had promised, to get nowhere in emergency. Not when clearly the pro’s had it under control.
Flip side I didn’t want to tell her you don’t need this. My mind ping ponged from mom to bestie, from cause supporter to resource draining enabler. I dug through the past to present day, and yet I still couldn’t find clarity. I mean I have a lot on my plate to be throwing a night when specialists have already given their blessings and we might be making things worse for everyone with our zealous caution. I called my sister. Because that is what you do when you are unsure of your own decision making prowess, AND SHE rattled off a story about so and so who died on the morning of his appointment in the care of capable assessment. Well damned if that didn’t scare me. Then came the lightbulb idea, which involved calling health link to get the heads up on “how yellow is too yellow?”
And they said, (hallelujah, thank Jesus and all the disciples) do not pass go, call 911.
As it turns out it’s not mellow to be yellow, balls had been dropped, and after a night in hospital heaven, eureka!!!! They have found that she has a blocked bile duct causing escalating liver enzymes, a “not subtle” jaundice, and a spiking pancreas. They have admitted her because just like she thought it’s not safe to be chilling at home with a mad liver. They have booked her a specialized procedure for morning that should take care of business.
And while we are practicing morning gratitude that our bestie did not die of liver failure while we were all patiently not freaking out and trying to negotiate the subtle art of not faking it, I want to throw in a shout out to the staff at South Campus, and to the genius of commerce that installed TAP in the hospital vending machines #THEREISAGODANDSHEBELIEVESINCHOCOLATEANDBESTFRIENDS
You are not your pain. You are not your illness. Your pain is telling you something, and it doesn’t make you a drama queen or a faker to wanna keep yourself alive. Physically, or emotionally. As long as we remember that it’s not the audience’s applause for our tragic suffering that we our after, and get lost there. We don’t want to become best in show. We want peace. We want happy. We want healthy. And if you ask “her”, a slightly more balanced complexion would also be nice.
— Love, Erin
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