I woke up that night in a chilling sweat, my entire body aching, and I staggered into the bathroom. The world spun with every step that I took, and my head maintained a steady, painful ba bum, ba bum. I held onto the white granite, turned the faucet on, and I stuck my head under. I lapped up cool water like a dog. Smiling a little, delirious, I stumbled back to the mattress and lied down. I tossed and turned. My right side had a sore lump, and I swore I had a tumor.
“Dear God,” I whispered, “if I die by the morning, please let my family be alright. Thank you, for everything. Amen.”
I slipped back into sleep, and images floated behind my eyelids. By morning I couldn’t remember, but vague, hazy impressions stuck in my mind. I awoke perspiring, and I was born again. I was lost in a world I couldn’t perceive.
The room was black and white, austere except for the black v’s on the wall resembling distant birds. The light of the Florida sun poured in from the window, and I remembered where I was through a feverish and groggy mind. My family goes on vacations every year during spring break, and I’d been sick for three days. I missed swimming in the crisp ocean waters and gliding over the waves on the jet skis. The world continues without you.
My mom walked into the room, a granola bar in hand, “Nicole, you’ve been sleeping since one, and I know you’re sick but you should probably eat something. You haven’t eaten since yesterday morning.”
I didn’t want to speak but mustered an, “Oh.” My bones could’ve broken as I sat up; I was so brittle. She stuck a thermometer in my ear, and I proclaimed, “Ouch!” She furrowed her brow, and a frown transformed her face. “What does it say?”
“One hundred and three,” she told me.
My heart, trying to keep up with my thoughts, sped up. My voice came out breathy, colored with desperation,
“I have to go to the hospital.”
“Yeah, we’re going to take you to urgent care. Can you put on your flip flops?” She accentuated each word, as if her caution would prevent me from hurting. She gave me my flip flops and a granola bar, and I chowed it down despite my upset stomach.
I stood, shaking, and I slid on my worn flip flops. We made our way out of the room, and the puma statue next to the door glared at me, it’s claws grasping the carpet. I wrote a poem, in a rush, on my phone. I hoped someone would find it if I died. It would be the last anyone knew of me. Looking away from the puma and my phone I shuffled out the door behind my mom. I held onto her arms for balance as if I were a child who couldn’t walk.
Somehow when I walked out into the balmy air, I was both chilled and burning. Over the balcony I glanced at the tennis courts, the pool and the brilliant palm trees. The sun penetrated my brain, scorching it with it’s rays, and the pool below taunted me. My lips were dry, and the heat parched my throat enough that I could drink all the pool water. The height was dizzying. We turned to the door next to us, and we moved through the hall, quick and determined.
We pressed the elevator button and seesawed between our feet, side to side, until the elevator arrived. The transition from the white walls to the fish paintings as the elevator lowered amused me, even in sickness. The deep blue and the swirling motion of the fish allowed me a breath. When the doors opened we left the fish behind and rushed out of the open lobby to the flower ridden entrance. After trudging through humidity we made it to the outdoor garage. I got in the car and slept a restless sleep.
People stuffed the urgent care waiting room. Seats lined the walls and clumped in the middle. Everyone sat, solemn, and waited for death or for life. Most people were ancient looking men and women. I yearned for a doctor. My mom and I sat so that the television was in front of us. I gazed ahead at the newscaster. She spoke, but it was difficult to focus on her words. Whoopi Goldberg came on a talk show.
“Should we leave?” I asked my mom. The effort to speak was tough, and I’d been avoiding talking since morning.
“No, we can’t leave. We have to get meds. I know you wanna sleep,” she said. She smoothed my hair.
“What talk show is that?”
“The Talk,” she informed me, “I watch it sometimes in the morning.”
I replied, “What time is it?”
“It’s been about an hour and a half,” she said, sighing with crossed arms and a straight face.
Then it was silent except for the kids in the room. They wore little blue masks and spoke Spanish. They kids were called before me, which was only fair, but my impatience increased with every patient. I continued to stare down the T.V. until my head began to hurt. Then I took to shifting in my chair, trying to not feel the lump in my side. Finally, a voice called out,
“Nicole R.” It seemed as if I’d been holding my breath, and a long sigh escaped my mouth. I would be healthy soon.
The nurse that took me into the small room had a soft voice and softer brown eyes. She was young, and every emotion she had was apparent. Thoughts seemed to flit by behind her eyes. My mom grinned at her, glad that I had someone to take care of me. I repeated my name and birthday back to the nurse a couple times. I didn’t look like myself.
“You know how we check blood pressure?”
“Yeah,” I answered, “I’ve been to the doctor a lot.”
“It’s a lot of being poked and prodded,” my mom laughed a bit.
The nurse nodded and strapped the velcro around my arm. It squeezed tight. It gripped my arm until it seemed it would fall off. My heart beat through my skin, steady and sluggish until she removed the strap and looked at my blood pressure. Her eyebrows flattened, her eyes turned down and her mouth frowned until her entire face had fallen. She whispered the number to my mother.
“It’s low,” the nurse told me, “it’s really low.” This pierced the barrier of sickness and made it into my fuzzy mind.
“You’re hypotensive,” she informed me. I couldn’t tell what she meant, but I didn’t question further. My worry snowballed, and if it were any larger I would topple with the weight. I was about to fall already.
She lead us to a larger room. The walls were immaculate and empty. She had me lie down on the gray-blue examination table, and the paper crinkled underneath me. Again, she took my blood pressure, exhaled and displayed a tight smile. She called in another woman, an aging, slim woman with a stern brow. I relayed my symptoms to her,
“I have some pain, a lump thing on my right side, and I have a high fever. Also high blood pressure. I haven’t eaten for a while.”
The doctor whispered, “It could be sepsis”, to my mother.
“What’s sepsis?” I questioned. The doctor looked at me wide-eyed and smiled the same tight smile. She waved the question away. My body shook with sickness and fear. I could die if my heart slowed. I could die if sepsis was fatal. I could die today.
They took a blood culture and gave me a saline drip. I winced at the pin-pricks into my skin and watched as the clear tube transformed to a deep red. The other poke, the drip, slided room temperature liquid into my arm. They took a urine sample too, and I wondered if dying had always been as unpleasant. I sat still on the bed while my mom chattered in my ear.
Soon, my brother and father entered, after a trip flying through the ocean on jet skis. My dad walked over to the table and squeezed my hand. My brother glanced at me lying on the table with the bag next to me, the thin tube in my arm, and at my face. I was pale with stringy, oily hair, and I trembled with fever. The table may as well have been a gurney; my brother shed a few tears. My heart reached toward him, and gratitude poured out of me.
“I’m alright,” I said.
As he wiped away tears a couple men entered the room. One man was tall and broad with a dark complexion, and the other was stout and white with crooked teeth. They wore cuffed white shirts and black pants, and talkies sat in their belts. There were patches stitched onto their shoulders: one an American flag and the other a round county patch. The tall man jested,
“Looks like your brother cares about you after all.” He grinned a toothy grin, unlike the tight smile of the old woman. It eased a little pain to have some light in the situation.
The stout man told me, “We’re going to raise your gurney and bring you to the ambulance. I hope that’s alright.” His voice came out with heavy twang: a Kentucky accent.
They raised the table, and my stomach flipped as it got higher. It seemed towering and unsteady to me, and I gripped the table as strong as I could. I zoomed out of the building with the stout man until the man raised me into the ambulance on a ramp, and I was afraid I would slide backwards onto my head. He let me sit in the ambulance on a chair, while he adjusted the drip,
“When the drip gets to this point,” he pointed at a line on the drip, “let me know, okay?” I nodded in agreement.
I stared forward at the cars passing by behind us as we hurried down the road. I became conscious of my face while I stared at my reflection in the door window. It was puffy, and my bagged eyes leaked. My face was almost foreign to me.
The inside of the ambulance seemed desolate besides a chair, the ground, and some cluttered equipment on the wall. It was a cold place to die. There was a wall cutting me off from the driver, who I’d seen for a moment. My thoughts flipped from one to another.
If I die today I won’t ever get a job.
I won’t know if I’ll ever be happy.
If I die today I won’t get to pursue medical.
If I die today I won’t ever marry because I won’t ever fall in love.
If I die today I’ll never have kids, or a kid. Do I want a kid? I don’t think so.
If I die today I’ll never get to make that decision.
I won’t see my family ever again.
My mind filled with ‘I’ll nevers’ and ‘I won’ts’ until there weren’t any left.
The puffy faced girl’s eyes watered a bit, not from sickness this time. Then she sat in silence while calm washed over her, as if the ocean was nearby orchestrating a quiet symphony. As if she had made peace with death.
The ambulance came to a halt, and within minutes the driver swung open the door. The stout man had come back next to me, and I pointed at the drip,
“Is this okay?”
“Yeah,” he told me. He clipped the drip, and it stopped trickling water into my arm.
“She looks like Mary,” the driver remarked.
“I was thinkin’ the same thing,” the stout man replied. I pondered on who I looked like then because it wasn’t myself. I stumbled out of the doors.
I met my family in the hospital hallway. My Nana was there. Her hair was puffy and hairsprayed, and she remained clad in a sleek black and white outfit as always.
“Are you feeling any better?”
“No, I’m still sick,” I told her. She rubbed my back with one hand.
Another doctor lead me into a room. The room had a hand sized gray remote with many buttons that controlled a flat screen TV on the wall. It had an assortment of games and apps. I sat down on the bed. My family sat in the chairs next to the bed as I clicked through to find a game. It was a challenge with weakened motor skills.
“These are our new rooms. I see you’ve already figured out the tv,” the doctor giggled. I communicated my symptoms for the second time that day.
“Alright,” she told me, “have you eaten anything?”
“Not much,” I said.
“You should,” she told me, “we’re going to order an Ultrasound. Just hang tight, okay?” She handed me cups of water to chug. I drank the water until my body shivered with cold, and I pulled the sheets over me to curb my temperature. I lied down.
“Did this happen because I started watching Grey’s Anatomy again?” I joked, and my mom laughed.
“What if I have a tumor?” Everyone was silent. My stomach flipped, and I perspired out of anxiety. The lump in my side seemed unyielding and stiff inside of my body.
Soon a plump older doctor entered the room to bring me to the room for the Ultrasound. She interrogated me before to make sure I wasn’t pregnant, and I assured her there was no possible way. My breath came out in puffs. The dark screen of the ultrasound loomed over me, and the countless buttons stared at me. The doctor circled the wand and cool liquid-gel that spread on my stomach. The lump was heavy, and the pain kicked like a baby. One choice I would be robbed of if something was wrong. After a moment controlled whooshing came from the machine, and it filled the still room.
“Well, we know blood flow isn’t cut off,” the doctor said. Pressure released in my chest, but not all the way. My heart sunk to my stomach, knowing I wouldn’t receive the results for a while. The doctor lead me back to the room.
I sat with my family again, and I pulled the sheets over me again. I fell into the mattress, and it made me small, like an aged, feeble woman.
If I die I’ll never go to Florida again.
If I die I won’t be in pain.
If I died now it would be alright.
I was alright.