Disclaimer #1: If you are my mom, either do not read this entry or read it in its entirety before calling me. Once you have done that, read it again. And if, after you have read it three times, you still think that someone is sick, in danger, pregnant, or dead, do not call. Everyone is fine. Actually, my foot is a little sore from volleyball. But that’s exactly what I’d tell you on the phone.
Disclaimer #2: DJ, like many of my friends, is a hypochondriac. Once he went to the ER because he was cold — he only had mild hypothermia; because his stomach hurt — his spleen had ruptured and the refuse which circulated his body put him in severe danger of dying, but we got him an ambulance. I don’t see why he refused to walk back to the house so we could call for one; because his it hurt to walk — he had strained his groin, but you can only really walk something like that off. Anyway, you shouldn’t ever take his ailments seriously. I, myself, probably suffer from chronically recurring meningitis, but do you see me rushing to a hospital for “treatment”? No, no you don’t.
Last night, after my first five games of volleyball in about six years courtesy of an adult pick-up nearby, DJ decided that it had gone on long enough: the fever, stiff neck, and headache which had localized in the base of his skull had played enough on his psychology that it was time to go to the hospital. I consulted with my doctor friends Emily and Laura before finally acquiescing to DJ and his symptoms.
He had spent the last five days as his own personal disease detective and, and in accord with various Yahoo searches, he now was convinced that he had meningitis. That didn’t stop him from going to community volleyball. At least he’d be infecting a neighbouring town.
Despite my doctors’ unofficial, unaminous advice to sleep it off and go to the clinic in the morning, DJ insisted we go to the emergency room — but not before he showered, nor before I ran home to fetch a math and notebook for the wait. We almost got suckered into one of those science documentaries about nuclear explosions and government secrets that continously play on the Discovery and History Channels at night, but we forged on: first, to one hospital which DJ deemed “too full” upon a drive-by; next, to the hospital he always goes to, always.
His registration sounded pathetic. Symptoms? “Well, I’ve had a headache for a really long time. About five days, and it’s in the back of my head.” The paraprofessional was unimpressed. But we were just warming up for the triage nurse. She was pretty convinced that DJ did, in fact, have a headache. She ran into the back, mixed up a few pills in a small plastic cup suitable for dipping sauce and brought them back with a cup of water. “Take these,” she said, following with, “On a scale of one to ten, with ten indicating the worst pain imaginable and one representing no pain at all, how do you feel?”
There was a chart in front of me taped to the table with just such a chart. It ran smiley faces to crying faces from left to right. The end with the pained faces had curled up, obscuring the most truly pained face. Good thing, too. It was sad, full with a frown and one black tear rolling down from each eye. It’d be more painful, I think, if the face were missing one or both eyes. I kept my thoughts to myself. Tonight was DJ’s night and it his turn to talk — not mine. He thought about the question. The pause made his reply seem all the more ridiculous.
“Well, I guess a two. No, maybe a three. A two or a three,” he decided at last. “What did I take, anyway?”
“Motrin and some advil.” It was official: DJ did have a headache.
The waiting room was separted naturally into two parts by an entrance in the middle and matching built-in shelving units for the TVs and magazines which flanked dividing wall and faced outwardly on opposite sides. DJ and I, being anti-social unless we have to be or are drunk, sat in the smaller, though perhaps slightly more crowded section furthest from the registration desk. In the corner a man and woman sat in chairs. The woman had brought a tan blanket and presently covered herself with it. The man had already removed his shoes. I caught up on my math. But something inside of me felt empty. It was my stomach. After some discussion, I ran to the adjacent town with a mission: I would retrieve four junior bacon cheeseburgers, a staple on the Wendy’s 99� menu and substitute for McDonald’s double cheeseburger from their dollar menu.
When I returned, triumphant, I called DJ from the parking lot. I left the engine running, but shut off the exterior lights and played Cool, a song from West Side Story and made famous more recently by a GAP ad. I also like to play it at night when I feel like following a random car to its destination. It’s my all-purpose, night-time, stake-out music. DJ found the car and passed on some very interesting news.
“You know that couple in the corner next to us? They’re not even sick. The security guard came over to them and said, `Come on, guys. You can stay here tonight, but you can’t come back tomorrow. You were here last night, too. And I could lose my job.'”
“So they’re homeless?”
“Yeah. Don’t do crack.”
“Pass me my other burger.”
We finished our midnight snack and rejoined those whom we now knew to be crackheads. Suddenly it made sense. The woman kept repeating long, full sentences that DJ and I had said to each other or had directed at the TV but not to her. All the while she laughed and rocked. But by this time we were all friends and thoroughly enjoying an episode of Sibling Fear Factor together. Her laugh was deep and purposeless. Many of her teeth had fled her mouth, leaving two fragmented rows — one top, one bottom, both displayed prominently in the front. By now she had turned on her side, her head on the neighboring seat, her feet flung on the floor behind her in an awkward cross.
Shortly after Fear Factor ended — the pair of obnoxious brothers who had won all of the contests leading to the end lost due to a freak, technical failure of equipment. Steroids don’t help you breath underwater. — a nurse called DJ’s name and I was alone to further math. Someone wanted to put on the Colbert Report. The woman writhed to one in particular, “What’s that, sugar? Oh, put it on, I’ll tell you if I like it.” Then, without any prompt and again to nobody she started, “Oh, I know what you’re talking about now. You mean Benny Hill? I love Benny Hill.” The man, who had not until now said a single word, broke his silence. “I like Benny Hill,” he shared.
Alas, the hospital didn’t subscribe to those fancy pay channels. We would watch, instead, an infomercial advertising for the Bombardier Outlander 800. A man sat down next to me. He reeked of cheap booze. I continued my math. He watched what I wrote. I felt uncomfortable. The other waiting area had cleared out, and the TV over there was playing Leno. It was time to move.
I fell asleep but my rest was short-lived. A woman whose name was Meghan woke me up with her phone conversation. She had come in because she “had an anxiety attack.” Someone named Craig hadn’t picked up when she called him earlier in the night. But now, at 3am, he was all ears. Meghan told Craig, and me by means of my proximity and her flagrant disregard for others, that she simply “couldn’t sleep.” And “Yes, [she] drove [herself] to the hospital,” and “if it takes too long [she would] go home to bed.”
Cindy Crawford followed Leno. The ad for her Meaningful Beauty skin treatment system lulled me back to sleep. By 4am, Conan was on again. Meghan had left and both the crackheads were comfortably asleep. A staff attendent asked me if I had been helped and who I was with. On rerun, Martha Stewart and Conan made an Irish breakfast for St. Patrick’s Day; Macaulay Culkin peddled his newly published collection of semi-autobiographical short stories, essays, and sketches. The interview was so painful, I got up and paced to distract myself. Macaulay admitted to being a closeted Save By the Bell fan. I wanted to die.
Then DJ emerged. We had been at the hospital nearly six hours. A nurse told us that the average wating time for a doctor was four hours. We brought down the mean. And what had happened to him in there? No spinal tap, no CAT scan — he had had a test sent to the lab, though. It came back negative. The doctor thought that DJ probably had meningitis, but since it was on the downswing, no immediate action was necessary. He did write a prescription for vicodin. The instructions read as follows:
Onetab p[backwards c]q6h per PAIN.\\\\#10 (ten)
Something about it seemed too easy. I asked if DJ had used codewords to ask for drugs.
“Look, doctor, I’m looking to develop a casual drug addiction. I don’t want nothing too dangerous. I saw them crackheads in the waiting room. Now, I’ve got this headache, what do you say to that, eh? What’ll you give me? It’s real bad and I need some medication.”
I said that he got jipped and should’ve waited until he upped it to some oxycontin and a morphine drip.