I realize that I’ve been going in circle for an hour, hoping that I’ll bump into something that unlocks a solution to Anne’s suffering. Maybe there’s something in the refrigerator. Maybe there’s something on the patio. Maybe it’s between the cushions in the couch. Maybe if I walk into our bedroom and sit next to her on the bed. Maybe if I hold her hand. Maybe if I don’t hold her hand. Maybe there’s something in the refrigerator.
She can’t keep down any food, and barely any liquids. I give her some pain meds and she throws them up almost immediately. Maybe if I hold her hand.
“I’m going to try to just go to sleep,” she says. “You don’t need to stay here.”
I stay there anyway, until she appears to be sleeping. Maybe if I don’t hold her hand.
I gently get off our bed and step over both of our dogs, who haven’t moved from Anne’s side of the bed since she got into it. They both look at me, and maybe I’m projecting, but I feel like there is concern in their eyes. “I’m worried, too,” I whisper. I walk through the living room. Maybe it’s between the cushions in the couch.
I try to watch TV, but I can’t pay attention. I try to look at the Internet, but I can’t pay attention. I try to read a book but I can’t pay attention. I look into our bedroom. Anne is on her side, and I stand in the doorway, making sure that I can see her breathe. Because that’s a thing I worry about when I’m not worrying about everything else. I walk out to the game room and drive my car around Los Santos, because I don’t have to pay much attention, and it’s a way to pass the time.
It’s just after midnight when Anne texts me: Water.
“Oh, good,” I think, “she can keep water down.” I set the controller down and walk back into the house.
I can hear her wailing, nearly to the point of screaming, as soon as I open the door. My stomach drops out of my body.
She’s leaning against the bed, head in one hand, the other hand holding her side.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, stupidly. I know what’s wrong.
“It hurts so much,” she gasps. “I … can’t …”
She doesn’t finish telling me what she can’t do, because what she can’t do is everything.
For the next hour, I try to console her. I try to convince her to take the pills she is convinced she will throw up. Through it all, she is crying out in pain so loudly and intensely, I half expect the police to show up at our house.
“I think I need to take you back to the emergency room,” I say.
“I can’t get up,” she says. “Will you call an ambulance?”
She’s in the most pain I have ever seen another human experience in my life, but I know that there are a finite number of ambulances, and there are people for whom one of them could be the difference between life and death.
“I need to get you eighty feet to the car,” I tell her. “Let me carry you, and we’ll get there faster.”
She tries to argue a little bit, but I pick her up and help her out of bed through it. The dogs are alert and looking at her, at me, at each other. “I’m okay,” she gasps to them.
“We’ll be right back,” I say, as we limp past them and across the house. Time does the thing it’s been doing, stretching out and compressing and it feels longer than it should take for us to get into the car. I notice that there’s fog rolling in, glowing orange from the streetlights. I drive us to the hospital through it, faster than I probably should. Anne kicks her legs and cries silently.
When we get to the ER, I park at the door. I run in and get a wheelchair. There are four people in the waiting room, and when I get Anne out of the car and into the waiting room, two of them are gone. I tell the receptionist that Anne has a terrible kidney stone, can’t keep anything down, and I didn’t know what else to do. She pulls up the information we gave a different person in this exact place twenty-four hours earlier and we wait. I feel useless while Anne cries and moans in pain, and I just watch the clock. It’s thirty minutes before we are taken inside. It’s another thirty minutes before a nurse gives Anne morphine. Another thirty minutes before she comes back in and gives Anne more. I realize that time is moving in thirty minute increments. Maybe if I sit on the edge of the gurney next to her.’
A doctor comes in. She looks concerned and I do my best to disappear while she talks to Anne. She listens while Anne recounts the last 48 hours, then she does some simple tests, including this thing where she pushes on Anne’s abdomen and pulls away quickly. Anne screams in pain.
“That isn’t normal for a kidney stone or constipation,” the doctor says. “I’m going to get you an ultrasound, and some more pain medication.” Then, she does something I realize that the two other doctors we’ve seen since this all started didn’t do: she takes a moment and says, “I’m so sorry that you’re in so much pain, and I’m sorry that hurt so much. We’re going to figure out what’s going on with you, and I won’t send you home until we do.”
I realize how unhelpful the two male doctors we saw were, and I allow myself the luxury of being angry at them, if only briefly.
The doctor excuses herself and a nurse comes back in, gives Anne some more pain meds, and makes some notes on her chart. It is around 3:30am. Anne sleeps a little bit, and I sit in the chair next to her gurney. Maybe if I rest my hand on her leg. I wait.
An orderly comes in and helps Anne into a wheelchair. He takes Anne to the ultrasound. I climb into the gurney and try to sleep.
It feels like no time has passed when they’re back and I feel like I haven’t slept at all, even though I must have because I can’t account for the time. Anne tells me that it hurt a lot, and another nurse comes back in, gives her more pain medications. I make a joke about how she’s used more drugs than the Rolling Stones. Did I make that joke before? The last time we were here? I can’t remember. I’m so afraid and so worried and I feel so helpless and I’m so tired. I want to cry but I can’t because it won’t be helpful to anyone.
The doctor comes back and tells Anne that the ultrasound shows something called an ovarian torsion. She thinks that a cyst burst, and it was so big when it happened, it literally spun Anne’s ovary around. She tells us that there’s a dark shadow on the CT scan we had the last time we were there, and it’s in stark contrast to her other ovary that’s healthy. She doesn’t say it, but she seems incredulous that neither of the other doctors we saw seemed to notice it. I allow myself another moment of anger, but I keep it to myself.
“I have called the OB/GYN and she’s driving in. We’re going to admit you, and have that ovary removed,” she says. Anne has some questions. I have some questions. I don’t remember what we asked or what her answers were.
We wait, and it doesn’t feel as long as all the previous waits have been. The surgeon arrives and she asks Anne lots of questions. She examines her. She looks at Anne’s CT scan and her ultrasound. I realize just how utterly, totally, profoundly unhelpful the other doctors we saw before this night were. I remember a woman, speaking at a ceremony when Anne was given an award for National Women’s Health Week. She said, “women need to work in medical research, and in applied medicine, because too many men treat women’s bodies like they are just men’s bodies with female parts, but our bodies are fundamentally different and need to be treated that way.”
I know that an ER doctor’s primary responsibility is to keep people alive, and it’s logical that the ones who aren’t in life-threatening danger will get a different level of attention. But when we went to Anne’s primary care doctor he didn’t even ask about anything else, didn’t check her at all, and just gave her six different types of pills. I don’t know why the ER doctor didn’t even ask why one of Anne’s ovaries was a big dark mass, even after all the tests for kidney stones came back negative, but I understand why he tried to manage her pain and turned us over to another doctor to look at her more closely. While I sit in that chair and listen to this new doctor talk with Anne, I can’t excuse or understand the other doctor we saw not even trying to look into whether or not there was a misdiagnosis in the ER. I get angry when I realize that my wife, the most important person in my world, has suffered longer than she should have, because two men didn’t ask themselves if pain originating in part of a woman’s body that is fundamentally different from a man’s body may have something to do with that difference.
But the OB/GYN is kind, and she tells Anne that she’s sorry to meet her under these circumstances. She tells Anne that she can get this ovary out with a quick surgery, and that Anne will be able to go home later this afternoon. I glance at my watch. It’s 7am. I’ve been awake for 24 hours.
The OB tells us that she’s going to do laparoscopy (a word I’ve written so many times in the last ten hours, I should know how to spell but still don’t), which will require general anaesthesia (another word I can’t see to spell, though I’ve written it almost as much). My stomach clenches because I grew up in a medical family, and I know that there are risks associated with anaesthesia. I know that they are small, but they are greater than zero, and I’ve been awake for 24 hours, on about five or six hours of restless sleep, and my rational brain is easily knocked into submission by my emotional brain. I keep my concerns to myself, because expressing them around Anne won’t be helpful. I realize that I’ve been keeping a lot to myself, because to express any of it wouldn’t be helpful. I’ve been holding myself together, delivering what will be, at least to this point in my life, the most convincing performance I’ve ever given.
The orderly comes into the room and we begin the journey to surgery. All the hallways look alike, and the same grey light of early morning that I first saw when all of this started two days ago is filling the windows. I notice that we haven’t seen any other people since we came in. I guess it was a quiet night in the ER, and it’s a quiet morning in the hospital.
We stop outside the operating room. We have forgotten to tell them that Anne is allergic to latex, so they have to clear the OR and wipe everything down, and start over. I apologize, but nobody is bothered (or at least they don’t let on that they’re bothered.) Anne holds my hand and we just look at each other while we wait. I don’t want to think about how something could go wrong — however unlikely that is — and I may have to face life without her, but I’m so tired and so emotionally raw, I can’t not think about it. I don’t mention it to Anne, because it wouldn’t be helpful.
They finish up in the OR, and the surgeon comes over to tell us that she’s ready. The anaesthesiologist (nope, can’t spell that one, either) is a gentle man. He tells us what he’s going to do, asks if there are any questions, and leaves me with a feeling of confidence that everything will be okay. I know there’s no reason not to be confident, that there’s no rational reason not to worry, but I can’t help it.
I kiss Anne. We tell each other that we love each other. I don’t want to hope that it isn’t the last time, but I can’t help it.
“I’ll see you before you know it,” I tell her. When they wheel her toward the OR, I lamely say to the surgeon, “please take good care of my wife.” She tells me that she will. She doesn’t tell me that OF COURSE SHE WILL BECAUSE THAT IS HER JOB. I’m sure it’s not the first time a worried husband has said this to her.
A nurse takes me to the waiting room and tells me that it will be about two hours. I decide that I’m going to go home, feed our dogs, and take a shower. Maybe I’ll try to eat. I’ve been awake for 25 hours.
I almost crash twice on the way home. Maybe it’s not as close as I think it is, but it’s too close. The dogs interrogate me when I come into the house and they look for Anne. I tell them what’s going on because I have to talk to someone and everyone else we know is asleep. I make some food. I take a shower. I make and drink two cups of coffee, and go back to the hospital. I make my way to the waiting room and sit down. I try to watch TV but it’s a blur. I try to close my eyes but when I do, my brain relentlessly plays out the rest of my life without Anne in it. And I don’t just mean the images. I mean the emotion and the loss and the loneliness and the reality that I will be adrift and lost for the rest of my life if anything happens to her. I sit up, open my eyes, and I just walk around the empty room, grateful that there isn’t anyone else there.
Her surgeon comes in and tells me that everything went well. Anne is in recovery and I can see her in about thirty minutes. She shows me pictures from the laparoscope, because Anne asked for them. Anne has more pictures of the inside of her body than a human should have, because she always asks for them. It’s one of the things I love about her. So her surgeon points out how her one ovary is healthy and the one they took out was enlarged my several factors, and almost completely black because it was filling up with blood. She shows me the twist. It’s almost microscopic. “It’s the same kind of pain that a man would experience if he had a testicular torsion,” she tells me. “It’s one of the worst pains a woman can experience.” I thank her several times. I know that I’m repeating myself. I know that I’m delirious. I know that I’m exhausted. I know that I’m not making any sense. I know that I am relieved beyond measure. She shakes my hand, tells me that she wants to see Anne next week for a follow up, and leaves.
I walk up to the room where Anne will be recovering. I pull out a reclining chair to try and rest while I wait for her, but my brain is now overtired and caffeinated, so I just look out the window and watch the sun burn off the little bit of lingering fog and haze. I hear movement behind me and turn around to find an orderly pushing Anne into the room. A wave of relief washes over me and I again feel like I’m going to cry. “Good morning,” I say to them both.
“How are you?” He asks.
“Entering my 27th hour since I last got any real rest, but okay, I guess.”
“Hi, puss,” Anne says. She smiles a little bit and I reach out to hold her hand.
“How are you feeling?” I say.
I get her some water. A nurse comes in and does nurse stuff. I sit in the chair, and I drift off to sleep for about three hours, forty or so minutes at a time.
The texts begin to arrive, from our friends who are waking up. They’ve read my blog, they’ve seen our posts on Twitter. Everyone offers whatever help they can give us. I’m grateful to all of them, and grateful that Anne, who they all love so much, has chosen me to be the guy she married. I go to the cafeteria and eat hospital food. I come back and sit with Anne while she rests and recovers. She doesn’t hurt, and there’s very little residual gas in her abdomen. She is able to get up and use the bathroom. She is able to walk around. She can eat. She is going to be okay. Around 5pm, they discharge her. We’ve been in the hospital for eighteen hours. I’ve slept for three hours in the last two days.
We get home. Anne’s friends have flowers delivered, and then they have dinner delivered for us both. I’m so tired and so emotionally exhausted, I feel like I’m going to cry from so many different kinds of relief, but I just eat, instead. Anne eats. She walks around the house and farts. I fart back her her when I can. We laugh. She’s going to be okay.
I’m overtired and don’t get into bed until about eleven. Anne is already asleep. Our dogs are on the floor at the foot of the bed. Seamus is snoring. Marlowe is chasing something in her sleep. Watson is on the back of the chair. I turn off the light and slide the covers up. The sheets are cool and soft and the bed is as comfortable as it’s ever been in my life. I hold Anne’s hand while I drift off.
I sleep for almost fourteen hours. I wake up with a headache, but Anne is doing great. She’s in the living room with our pets, watching TV. She tells me that she slept well, and isn’t in any major pain. She’s been able to eat.
I try to have a normal day. I keep checking on her. She’s doing fine, and naps in our bedroom. She lets me hold her hand and sit on the edge of the bed and give her food and stroke her hair.
There are hundreds of comments on my blog that I haven’t had time to read. There are thousands more on social media that I will never be able to reply to. People who don’t know Anne love her, and I know how lucky I am to have her in my life. I’m too tired to go anywhere or do anything, but I have too much boiling around inside of me to do nothing, so I sit down to type it all out, because that’s how I process things.
The weight of the last few days crashes down on me while I write this. I listen to Hamilton. It’s Quiet Uptown, and I cry as hard as I have in recent memory. I was so scared and felt so helpless and I’m so grateful that the most important person in my world is just a few steps away in another room, recovering, trying not to laugh too hard at the Sarah Silverman comedy special she’s watching, because it hurts her stomach when she does.
We have more time.