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We Have A Date With an Ambulance
by Michele Christopher
You wake up not quite sure where you are. Look around.
Oh, yea. A hospital bed. Not your hospital bed. Someone else’s. You open your eyes and the person you love is laying there next to you in a hospital gown with an IV stuck in his arm. You blink a few times. How did we get here?
Oh, yea. Last night.
You ever look into the face of someone you love while you think they are in the middle of dying? Pretty frightening.
Have you ever been in a situation where you are pretty sure you are supposed to be doing something to save someone’s life but you’re not sure exactly what? Terrifying.
This is where I am. About 10:15 at night. Looking at him laying there, knowing that something is really wrong and that I’m pretty helpless to make it right. Just saying “wake up wake up wake up” over and over again isn’t really something you’ll find in medical books as being very helpful.
I realize right away what's going on. This isn't the first time. Just the first time I'm seeing it. So I know from previous explanations what's happening. Doesn't make it easier.
I call a friend who is all too familiar with this situation. I ask her what I’m supposed to be doing. Apparently I’m not supposed to be doing everything I am. I stop. Why did I think I was supposed to put my fingers in his mouth? I have this weird flash of a memory from fourth grade when they told us that’s what we do if Jenny ever has an episode. That’s what they called it. An Episode. Good thing I don’t follow through on that thought because he’s kind of gnashing his teeth.
I just hold his head so it doesn’t hit the ground. I touch his face, touch his hair, try to talk in soothing non-panicky tones so that if he comes to there is something familiar there for him. Just a voice or a touch.
It’s kind of amazing what can go through your mind in the space of two minutes. What if he dies? What would I do without him? What would I tell his parents? Yea, he made it to New York but....Jesus. I couldn’t do that. I can feel myself starting to cry. I tell myself to stop, that’s not what I need to do right now.
I'm going to lose him.
That thought, 100 times at least, running through my head.
Then: No, I'm not. Just focus. Keep focused. Quietly saying "don't die" to a person who isn't hearing you on a dark side street late at night is not going to make anything better. Get him help. Now.
Everything is bathed in red and white. Ambulances coming down the block. I’m sitting on the curb, trying to hold him up. Dead weight. He has stopped all motion. His eyes are closed. I open one eyelid. Thank god. They have stopped rolling in back of his head. He's no longer shaking. But is he concious? Alive even? I look for a pulse, but my own pulse is racing and I can't remember where to put my fingers and my heart is in my stomach and I think I'm going to throw up. Don't be dead. Don't be dead. Don't be dead.
His eyes fly open all of a sudden. He looks at me. He’s aware. Ok. He’s out of it. I talk to him. He knows his name. That’s good.
But he's looking at me with a blank stare.
He doesn’t know my name.
He doesn’t know who I am.
That’s a weird feeling.
Before I can feel bad about that I remind myself what it must feel like for him. To not know where you are. Who you are talking to. How you got there. I can see the frustration on his face as he tries to remember.
He doesn't know me.
I try very hard not to cry.
I answer some questions for one of the paramedics while another fires off questions at him. He doesn't know. He thinks he's in California. No, he doesn't know who I am. He only knows who he is.
He’s on the stretcher now, they tell me to follow in my car.
Now I cry. Just because.
I know he’s going to be ok. I know this. Everyone says it. He’ll be ok. He’ll remember soon. He’ll be fine. I drive behind the ambulance. I can see him talking to the medics.
The WhatIfs starts. What if he doesn't get his memory back? What if he hit his head when he fell and now he has some kind of permanent amnesia? What if. What if.
What if he never remembers me?
See, thinking about this stuff is keeping me from thinking about the other big things. Like, why. And what next. And what if this happened when he was on the road? Or alone?
I give myself a mental slap in the head.
What if he never remembers me?
I get to the hospital, find a parking spot, go into the emergency room. There he is. Still on the stretcher. I walk up to him cautiously. If he doesn’t know who I am, I don’t want to make him nervous. I glance up at him.
He looks at me. Says "Hey babe!" Smiles that smile. That grin.
I breathe out for what feels like the first time in hours.
I thought I was going to lose him there. Looking into his eyes as he laid on the ground, no one else there to help me, just me and him and some kind of medical thing between us, that was the scariest moment of my entire life. Scared that I didn’t know what to do. Scared that I was going to do the wrong thing. Scared that his life was in my hands. Scared that he was going to die on me.
I am at that cliched place today. The whole “appreciate what you have because you never know when it will be ripped from you” thing. I mean, the guy just drove almost 3,000 miles to move across the country to be with me and not two days into his residency as New Yorker, not two full days into our new life together, I’m staring him in the face telling him not to die.
He probably was never even close to dying, but I didn’t know that at that point. In my mind, he was a breath away from leaving me forever. So even though he wasn’t hearing me at all, I told him I love him. It was all I could do. Silly as it seems, I just wanted that to either be the last thing he heard before he left, or the first thing heard coming out of it. Small comfort either way, I suppose.
Here’s where I get all Hallmark on you.
Don’t take people you love for granted. Don’t just assume they will be next to you tomorrow. Don’t just assume that even if they are next to you tomorrow they will be healthy. The other guy in this hospital room just collapsed out of nowhere and didn’t wake up til five days later. Lucky to be alive, and he knows it. We should all know that. It shouldn’t take a coma to make us realize it. It shouldn’t take a medical mishap to make us realize how lucky we are to have the people in our lives that we do. Well, I knew I was lucky all along. This just made me appreciate our time together more.
You have no idea how much I love this guy. Maybe I had no idea until I was holding his head in my hands willing him not to die on me.
Cuddling on a hospital bed while all you hear around you is people coughing and screaming and nurses yelling and loud TVs and sirens isn’t exactly quality time. But it’s time. Something we really don’t have enough of. Enjoy it while you can.