Tuesday found me with a paralyzing, stabbing pain in my gut and a 101° fever. After some deliberation (and really against my better instincts) I was persuaded to hobble two blocks to the emergency room (because it was 9 PM by that time) to see a doctor. I’ve been fortunate enough to have very little experience with hospitals and emergency rooms. This made it a bit scarier though, because my Spanish is not great at the best of times, and it’s harder to understand people in an unfamiliar, noisy environment, through a mental fog of pain and fever. We waited a miserable hour and a half in the waiting room before I got to see a doctor, who said that I would need to have a lot of tests to see if I had appendicitis or some other horrible thing.
They didn’t let Mike come in with me because it was crowded. I had to lie down in a room with five or six beds while doctors poked and prodded my tummy and asked me when and how much it hurt. Then I got an IV, which really freaked me out for some reason. I’ve never had an IV before. Then I stared at the dead bugs inside the light fixture for an hour or two. There was a computer in the corner playing “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (by Simply Red) on one-song repeat. At first I couldn’t tell when it began or ended, and I wondered if my sense of time was so warped that I was imagining hours passing within the length of this one song.
Eventually I had to go for an x-ray, which was an exciting change of scenery. I walked over there with my little rolling IV stand, but for some reason when I saw the x-ray machine I felt dizzy and I had to sit right down on the floor. I don’t know how to say “dizzy” or “light-headed” or “faint” in Spanish so I just told the nice man that I didn’t feel well. He brought me a wheelchair to sit on and asked me some friendly questions which I couldn’t really answer. I felt bad for wasting his time so I said “OK, I’m ready now” and stood up again, and he went off to take my x-ray. I knew I was going to faint again and I think I yelled something. Then I woke up on the floor, feeling like I’d had a long sleep with dreams. A bunch of men came in and asked me what happened, which I couldn’t answer, and lifted me onto a gurney. After fainting I felt a little out of control and realized I was crying and shaking and couldn’t stop and felt very lonely and stupid. I had to get my x-ray done lying down, and I couldn’t stop shaking and worried the x-ray would come out blurry.
Then I went back to Simply Red room for a few more hours and stared at the ceiling again. Sometimes nurses asked me how I felt and I said “cold” but I couldn’t remember the word for “blanket.” Eventually I had more tests, and more waiting. Around 3 AM, Mike snuck in to see me, which made me feel a lot better. Things were quiet and the nurses let him stay with me. I felt lucid enough to take my own picture for posterity. A new nurse came in and switched the music to Guns & Roses. He asked if we minded and we said no, we chatted with him a bit about music. It’s weird how I felt completely mute and helpless when it came to talking about my body and hospital things, but it was totally easy to talk about Guns & Roses.
I had to get pushed around the hospital in a wheelchair, which was another first. I learned the world for dizzy, mareada. At 9 AM, a nice English speaking doctor came in and told me that all of my tests were absolutely fine, and that sometimes you can get a pain in your gut and it’s nothing serious, you just have to wait for it to go away, and that I could go home but that I needed to come right back if I felt worse, because I could still possibly have appendicitis. I didn’t think that I could possibly feel any worse than I felt after a long, scary, lonely, cold night with no sleeping and no blankets.
Now I feel kind of better, and I am at home, and I am thinking about how lucky I am to have really great health insurance, and how much it sucks that in the USA there are people who can’t speak English, and have no health insurance, and actually have something seriously wrong with them, and have to go through that same experience I had, and maybe the hospital doesn’t have a doctor that really speaks Spanish, or whatever language they need to hear.
I spend a lot of time here thinking about the public debates on immigration going on in the US, and comparing my experience here, as a reverse immigrant, a privileged English speaker welcomed into a Spanish speaking country.