I clutched my chest, tightened, trying to hold on to it as if my heart were going to pop out. My naked bottom cold from the touch of the plastic toilet seat was tireless from bouts of diarrhea. Angry beads of sweat proliferated on my forehead, my underarms and my belly, and I clumsily wiped them off with my blue cotton plaid shirt, then struggled to take my shirt off. It got so hot in the tiny 1/2 bathroom of my San Francisco apartment. I got seriously anxious, palpitations and all, something I hadn’t felt in a few years. Thoughts raced through my head, “Should I call N, my best friend and emergency contact?” Should I go to the E.R.? Should I call 911? Maybe I’d feel better after a while?”
As I was convincing myself that I was going to be okay, like so many times before in my life, so that I could resist asking for help, I felt a sharp pain in my abdominal area and the urge to puke. I fought back tears for fear that the Airbnb guest, who had just arrived at my apartment, would hear me. “God, I can’t risk a bad review. Who’s going to wanna stay at my place after this?” Panicked, I texted N to come to my place and that I think I need to go to the E.R., that I was sweating profusely and had severe diarrhea and didn’t feel well. When she didn’t reply, I called out of desperation and whispered for her to come take me to the E.R.
After I hung up, my Airbnb guest came up to the bathroom door and asked me if I were okay. I still didn’t know what to say, and he kindly expressed that I shouldn’t be ashamed if I were sick and if I wanted anything. In weakened phrases, I uttered, “Er, yes, water, thank you.” I opened the door slightly, feeling slightly self-conscious like he was going to get in on my shameful secret, and took the glass of water from his hand. He said, “Don’t worry, I won’t look,” which for some strange reason, made me feel a lot less self-conscious and much better in the moment, like he was a friend. In fact, he insisted I get out of the bathroom and tried to force myself to throw up, ostensibly to expel the food that was causing my diarrhea and sudden sickness. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was probably not the food, but I went along with his directions because at moments of weakness and desperation, you just have to try anything. So as instructed, I lowered my head into my bathtub, stuck two fingers down my throat and tried to throw up. When I failed, I repeated the routine all with this Russian stranger, who had flown more than 20 hours here, watching and goading me on. I was successful the third time around and suddenly felt a sense of embarrassment come over me when I realized I had just thrown up my dinner in my bath tub in front of a guest in my home.
Just as we were about to begin another round of “partying,” as the Russian called it half-playfully, N and her hubby, P, came to my rescue and took me to the E.R. As I was recounting my symptoms to N and P, my mother called me and as I picked up the phone, the inner child in me wanted to scream and express how frightened I was, but the mature, aloof and responsible adult told my mother matter of factly that I would call her back later as I was on the way to the hospital and that my friends were driving me there. I told her I had food poisoning. I clutched on to my puffy down jacket the whole way, from the car ride to the hospital — I felt so cold, I was shaking between feeling hot and chills.
At the hospital, the front desk person asked me what I was there for and I thought for a while and said “I think I have side effects from a new medication I’m taking.”
Surprisingly, he immediately gave me a look of understanding and gave me a form to fill in. While sitting in the waiting area, I looked at all the people who were either waiting or got rolled in by paramedics and wondered why they were there. It’s a funny thing, hospitals, they show people at their most vulnerable and everyone had a look, like they were wondering what you thought of them as your eyes happened to meet, like they were doing their best to hide but they were stark naked with nowhere to run. Me, I cowered in a corner in a seat next to P and N, as they sat uneasily trying to make the best of the situation, because what do you do when your friend is messed up from medication and a messed up mind?
The attending physician calls me in and she gets me in a bed, orders up another medication to make me feel better from the side effects from Duloxetine, the drug I had asked my psychiatrist again and again, whether it would be wise to take (considering the side effects). So, Ativan saves the day and she orders me to rest for an hour in the hospital bed as she does a series of tests, which I was sure will show her nothing and confirm nothing. In the mean time, the woman in the next bed to me has come in from an overdose of Ativan, ironically or coincidentally, but is currently feeling chipper enough as she banters and flirts with her boyfriend. Thoughts of tranquilizing her with more Ativan enter my mind.
As I lay there in my tranquilized state, like someone looking at my body, I wonder to myself one of those useless thoughts, like why me? What did I do to deserve this brain of mine? I work so hard to be well and I’m hardworking, etc. Then, those thoughts cease and all I want to do is to go home and rest. P and N drive me home, and I feel their weight of pity all over me. Pity for the gifted, funny, beautiful, talented friend, who is cursed with a diseased mind.