Most of what happens while being in the emergency wing of a hospital is waiting; at least, that was my experience of it. Waiting for tests to come back. Waiting to be told you can see him. Waiting to see him move. Waiting for his parents to arrive. Waiting to know if anything had changed. Waiting to know if he would live.
A lot of my life up until that point had been much the same: waiting. Waiting on tables. Waiting to meet a decent guy. Waiting to get out of work. Waiting to make a change in my life. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Once again, I began to wait. I glanced over at the cute- real cute- nurse that sat next to a machine that wasn’t actually hooked up to Mike, but had all his information wirelessly transmitted to it somehow.
“I don’t know if you can, but is there anyway I could have some tylenol?” I asked her. My head was beginning to pound from all the over-thinking, crying, and trying to suppress crying. I figured the answer was no. As a waitress, we are not allowed to give any medication- whether it can be bought over the counter or not- to any person because of liability. But then I reasoned, I was a waitress, not a doctor or nurse, so I was hardly qualified to be dosing up patrons with more than california rolls and shrimp tempura.
“No, I’m sorry. I can’t,” she replied with the same sad smile she had given me before. “There is a store down in the hospital that sells it, if you’d like to go get some.”
“No, I’ll wait. Thank you.”
I could not leave him. It was the strangest thing, really. Or maybe not so strange at all. As I’ve said before… I’ve never been in this situation. However, I was overcome with this feeling that I could not actually leave his side. Looking back, I think in part it was just as much for me. If I left him, I was alone, surrounded by strangers. I also felt like as soon as I left, something would happen and I would miss it. I didn’t want to miss anything. I just stood next to him and held his hand. Every now and again, I’d say something, but mostly I stood in silence. I was, for one of the first times in my life, at a loss for words.
A doctor came in, clipboard and long, white coat, the kind of doctor you assume to see at a hospital. He had dark skin and dark hair and I could tell that his eyebrows, had he not taken care of them, would overrun his face. He glanced at different charts and machines, said some things to the cute nurse, and checked some other things. This was the only doctor or nurse that would be with us the whole time. The rest were only ours for a shift at a time. He would later tell me that he specialized in trauma. He introduced himself, but honestly, I do not remember a single name of a single doctor or nurse that I met the whole time. That information was unimportant to me. I wish now I had thought to listen better.
On my way up to Dartmouth, as obviously Mike and the people attending to him had made much better time, they had already gotten him in for the CT scan and all other tests needed. Now we waited. The only information the doctor could give me right now was that there was definitely some internal bleeding in one of the front lobes of his brain and a variety of small fractures that in his forehead, around his eyes, and on his nose.
“The good news is that the bleeding is starting to slow itself and none of the fractures actually shifted the skull, they’re just cracks, so we’re not going to have to do surgery at this point. I think it will all heal on it’s own with time,” he told me. “We try not to have to do head surgery if we can get away with it. It makes the recovery process longer and it can be dangerous, so right now, he’s doing very well. It looks like we can dodge that entirely. I won’t know for sure until the morning, but I’m pretty confident that this will stay the case.” He shook my hand and was gone.
I stood there a bit more, gripping Mike’s hand, when suddenly he began to stir. It started out slow and then turned into convulsion-like jerks. His face scrunched up in pain. I looked over at the nurse in panic. She casually walked over.
“It’s nothing. It just means he’s waking up.” She pulled out a syringe of something.
“Well, let him wake up!” I shouted. Why wouldn’t they let him wake up? This was the moment where my gratefulness began to turn to irritation. I was here. Let him wake up. I wanted him to wake up. What the fuck were they doing to him?
“I can’t let him wake up. He could hurt himself. He’s combative. He’s not cooperating with us yet.” She pulled back on the syringe that was filled with a milky liquid.
“What are you putting into him? Don’t you dare put him back in a coma!” But she did. She drugged him up and he stopped moving. I began to cry again, harder than I had yet.
“I’m sorry Becki, but we have to do this. He could hurt himself.” I cried even harder still and slammed myself back into the chair that they had placed by his side for me. He was up and they ruined it. They fucking ruined it. She offered me no more words to explain.
This was the point where any strength I had began to slowly turn to anger. This is not a good thing, in any situation. Anger is the worst emotion because it never thinks things through, it’s irrational, and quite frankly, the only person it hurts is the person that is angry. The funniest thing about anger is that it cannot stand alone. It always stems from another emotion: hurt, jealousy, sadness, grief. You can simply be happy. You can simply be sad. But you cannot simply be angry; there is always another emotion providing a base for it. That’s what makes it so hard to understand. And I knew this. I tried to calm myself down by reminding myself that I was not a doctor. I tried to remind myself that I wasn’t actually angry. I was upset, confused, lost.
A few moments later, another doctor shuffled in.
“We’re going to try and wake him up again.” He said, but it turned out they couldn’t, because he had been up and the nurse had put him back down.
“If only you had been here just a bit ago…” she said. Anger began to push through my other emotions, attempting to make it’s way to the forefront, trying to stand on my exhaustion and grief’s head for leverage.
At that point, it was about 1:30 a.m. I was still waiting for Mike’s parents who had a much longer drive than I had. I was still waiting for something to change. I was still waiting for Mike to wake up. I was still waiting for, well, anything.
Doctors came and went. For the most part, they talked around me like I wasn’t there, like I was some ghost just sitting, watching, waiting. Eventually, a final doctor came in.
“We’re going to try and wake him up again and remove the tracheal tube, but I need you to wait outside in the other room.” I obliged as much as I didn’t want to. I walked out and stood where I could still see and hear everything right outside the curtain. As they tried to wake him up again, I saw the same unnatural jerks and twists, his pull against the restraints that kept him tied to the bed no matter what he did.
“Mike, this is Dr. [Whatever], squeeze my hand if you can hear me.” The same thrashing around followed. They yelled in his face some more. More thrashing. I thought about how scared he must have been, how scared I would have been.
Then my anger did what anger has never done inside of me; it became incoherent and irrational and dumb. I lunged forward in an attempt to protect him. A nurse who had been standing beside me, grabbed my wrist and pulled back hard. Another nurse jumped in and grabbed my opposite shoulder. I broke my shoulder free easy. I twisted my wrist in the way my brother and I had practiced when we were kids pretending to be superheroes and it worked. Another nurse came and grabbed me. I broke away again, but right behind her stood three more nurses and they all grabbed me at once. I let my body flop.
I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I would never intentionally hurt anyone, even if they deserved it. I just wanted him to see me. I just wanted him to know that he didn’t have to be scared even though he had no idea where he was, why there was a tube down his throat, why he was restrained to a bed, why everyone around him was a stranger. The strength to protect someone you care about is stronger than any strength to hurt someone.
“I’m sorry.” I said weakly. After every show of strength comes a period of weakness. “I just want him to wake up. He’ll calm down if he can see me.”
“We know,” someone said. “and we’re sorry you have to go through this.” I was escorted out of the wing entirely and into a separate waiting room. I waited. I silently cursed myself for losing control. Losing control never does any good, it only makes the situation worse. I already knew that.
After some time of me pacing around, cracking my knuckles, bouncing my leg, another- yet again- unfamiliar doctor came out, motioned for me to sit, and then sat down next to me.
“Rough night, huh?” He sat completely casually, legs spread wide and shoulders slumped down.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
“He’s lucky to have a girlfriend that cares about him as much as you do.” He looked over at me.
“I’m his ex-girlfriend.” It was the first time I had actually admitted that to anyone. I’m not sure why I did then. I had always said girlfriend for fear that they might not let me see him. I stared straight ahead afraid to meet his eye on the chance that it might make me start sobbing.
“Oh yeah?” He asked with a hint of a smirk. “Well, honestly, you’re a better ex-girlfriend than some of the girlfriends I see parading around here. Is anybody else coming to meet you?”
“His parents should be here any minute.”
“That’s good. You shouldn’t be alone. That’s a lot of stress for one little, protective ex-girlfriend to try and sustain.” He reached over and squeezed my wrist. “This is a lot for one pair of shoulders to hold. I’m pretty sure yours would do it though.”
“Listen, he’s still being combative. I know it’s hard for you to see him like this right now but we can’t wake him up until we’re sure he’s not going to hurt himself.” He paused. I nodded. “We’re going to keep him like this until the morning and move him up to intensive care. It’s still pretty critical, but in my professional opinion, he’s going to make it.” That was the first time anyone had said that to me. He’s going to make it.
“I think I knew he was going to make it. I think I knew that.”
“Good. Now, you can come back in and follow us to the intensive care unit, but then you have to wait for a bit while we get him and the room ready, okay? The rooms are small so we’re going to need a little extra room.” I nodded and we both rose.
I followed them up as far as they would let me go. They directed me to where the intensive care waiting room was and pulled him behind closed doors into another wing. I made my way to the waiting room and looked around. The lights were off. Recliners wrapped the walls and all of them were full with people hugged in white hospital blankets. They were waiting, too. I turned around and made my way to a bench that was out in the hallway and laid down across it, waiting for them to come and tell me it was okay to go see him again.
I dozed off and on for about an hour, wondering why it was taking so long. What the hell were they doing back there? Why couldn’t I see him yet? I sat up.
“Excuse me,” I said to a woman walking into the unit. “I’ve been waiting for an hour to go see my boyfriend and was wondering if maybe you could find out what’s happening. I just want to make sure everything is okay.” She asked me his name, went in, and came back out to tell me twenty more minutes, but everything was fine. No new problems had arose.
I curled back up on the bench. I tried to recap everything that had happened. Accident. Phone call at work. Springfield Emergency. Critical. Drive to Dartmouth. Dartmouth Emergency. Combative. Intensive care.
“Becki?” I opened my eyes and looked up. Mike’s mother stood over me. I stood up and hugged her and then tried to explain all of the information I had and understood so far.
“They should be coming out any minute to get us.” I said. She thanked me for being there. I smiled meekly and responded, “I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else right now.”
Eventually, someone came out and lead us into his room. Apparently, they only allow two visitors at a time in the intensive care unit, but no one gave the three of us any fuss. I wanted to be alone with him. I don’t know why. I wanted everyone to shut up and go somewhere else. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to explain to him that all he had to do was calm down. I’ve never in my life felt such an overwhelming feeling of being protective. I wasn’t opposed to his parents being in the room, after all they had just as much right to see him, if not more, and I knew that. I just wanted to be alone with him.
We were told that we couldn’t sleep in the intensive care room. They were too small to have obstacles just sleeping around in case something happened and they needed to rush in. I understood, but vowed not to leave until they kicked me out. His parents left and I stayed.
I waited some more. I waited by his side until they finally came in and told me I had to leave.
I went out to find a place to sleep for the night, a place that I could wait until morning.