October 19, 2006
Hunched over, I wrap my arms around my jutting ribs and shiver down the hall of the Emergency Room. Careless and oblivious nurses, interns and doctors pass me like a ghost, not realizing or caring that I had been in one of their rooms. After waiting in that room for the doctor for over an hour, and on a stretcher in the hall for an hour before that, I was released with a diagnosis that had nothing to do with my symptoms or with my true illness. When she finally came in, she could barely stand to look at me, never mind listen to me when I tried to tell her what was wrong. My blood burned and heart raced, beating so fast I thought that eventually, it's going to have no choice but to stop. I truly thought I was having a heart attack. And while waiting, I wanted to call out to someone, but all who kept passing the door were nosy people chatting away, and if I cried "help," I was afraid it would be with my last breath.
I continue to walk, each slow step a reminder that there is still a little bit of life in me, but I don't want to risk anything. I have never been so conscious of the real feeling of living before, even though I don't feel so alive. Maybe because I was so close to death, I kept making note I am alive just in case anything weird starts to happen, so I can let someone know, and maybe this time, they will listen and save me.
No, I think, I need to save myself.
The cheery nurse at the desk by the door says "goodnight." I give her a weak smile and use my whole body to push the door open. Already frozen in the cool California night air, I see Sam's car pull in the ER driveway. I let my fragile body drop into the car, my bony spine aching against the backrest. I thank her, feeling like a burden--as if her first ER experience with me wasn't bad enough. As if having to live with me isn't bad enough.
"I can't believe they aren't admitting you," she says.
"I know," I tell her, and I mean it. I don't want to live like this anymore. Afraid to live because I might die. "They barely looked at me and wrote it off as anxiety."
I press my hand against my heart to keep it warm from the cold. There isn't much protecting it, and it needs all the help it can get.
"I really thought I was going to die in your kitchen." I can't look at Sam. "I didn't think the ambulance would get there on time. Then all I could think was, 'what if I never see my family again?'"
I start to feel sick and tap my feet to get some blood pumping. Once I find my voice, I tell her, "I really don't feel well and I know something's not right."
We were already out of the hospital lot and at one of the many stoplights in Santa Monica. "They should have admitted you and had you on I.V. fluids and a feeding tube," she says, somewhat shaky. She pauses. This snarky, brave, funny, bold, brash, courageous woman pauses and looks to her side window, then shakes her head and says straight to me: "I know you don't want to hear this, but I think you're anorexic."
The light turned green.