listen to the song here
Mr. Curry and I in the car, he's driving, I'm coughing, coughing and then a hard pop to the left on my back upper side and I'm in pain. My hands fly out involuntarily, I cry out, grab stupidly at my side. Something's wrong, I've done something!
In the emergency room the woman asking the questions is tall, ungainly, thick makeup, happy to be brisk and busy and in charge, happy to be taking my information. She has a list of questions and those questions she takes very seriously, they are part of her job and her responsibility and she will ask them. I try to tell her something and she interrupts- Were you in a car accident? No, Mr. Curry says, I told you, we were driving in the car and- she interrupts again, Well did you fall? Mr. Curry looks at me. No, I say, holding my side, measuring my breaths, desperately trying not to cough, I did not fall. I was In. The. Car.
We sit next to an overweight woman in her late fifties who holds a cane next to her swollen feet and moans in short bursts. She is in pain, something with her hips, or spine. She is telling the woman next to her- a short Hispanic woman whose husband just died months ago of dementia and cancer- that even the morphine isn't working. The widow murmurs comfort and pats the fat knee. She leans over to the other woman's husband- You should tell them her pain is a nine. He goes to do so and the Hispanic woman sighs loudly. I miss my husband, she says, her face tight. He took care of me. We did everything together. He was my best friend. I miss him so much. Now the cane woman is patting her knee. She says Yes, that is how my husband and I are, what we have. We are always together. Her husband returns. I told them, he says dubiously.
Across the way from me an elderly woman in a wheel chair turns her incredibly sharp featured face toward Mr. Curry and I at the sound of my hacking cough. Somehow her skin has fallen away from her face in large soft white folds, but the sharp bones of nose and eye cavity and chin are in severe relief. She glares at us. Mr. Curry is angry. Look somewhere else, lady, he says under his tongue. My wife is sick, have some manners.
I rock in my chair, holding my side, occasionally coughing and letting the fistful of dagger wedged in my rib cage poke me. I try not to make noise but it is difficult.
This ER is crowded and old. The paint is peeling, the people by and large look exhausted by life, not just whatever current injuries they own or are trying to give away. A man comes in on Life Flight and I glimpse his bloody body strapped down on the gourney, head belted in place, hands at his side. I wince. I feel rude for having looked at him in one of the most important and difficult moments in his life. I wonder if he lived.
A mother brings in her teenage daughter, who rocks and holds her stomach. The mother pulls her daughter's hair down in a gentle, smooth motion over and over, cupping the fullness in her hand before returning again to the crown. The daughter leans toward the mother.
After two hours the pain in my side is slightly less. I sit up straighter, can breathe a bit easier. I think we should go, I tell Mr. Curry. It's not broken, I can tell. I just pulled a muscle, hurt a tendon, something. Mr. Curry calls my Mom. She concurs. They wanted me to have an XRay. It's perfectly safe, the orderly assured me, why, we give Cat Scans to pregnant ladies! I look at him and nod and pretend. I would like to say no that is not true, it is not perfectly safe, and the latest research shows Cat Scans are causing cancer at a much more concerning rate than doctors originally thought; I am too tired, in too much pain, it's too hard to talk without coughing. You should do it, he encourages me, his thin black mustache glistening with perspiration. Maybe you should, says Mr. Curry. He does not want anything to happen to me. He does not want me to be in pain. No, I shake my head, I don't think so.
We go home.
I don't sleep, all night, again, for the third night in a row. I am starting to hallucinate out of the corner of my eyes. I feel starkly bizarre, as if everyone can see the interior of my mind, turned inside out like a prolapsed uterus. Mr. Curry nurses me. He pulls out Lola's mattress and sleeps on it, pulled up next to the couch where I am, his hand reaching up and holding mine. Last night, everything worked, finally. I took at drug I had refused to take, and I finally slept. I woke at midnight coughing and in pain. After I changed my urine soaked underwear, controlled my cough, made warm water with honey and laid back down, I controlled my fear by looking at his face. After hours of sleep, His hand was still up on the couch, where mine had been. I controlled my fear by looking at his face, his hand. Finally I slept again.
In the ER my own pain scared me, because pain always scares me, because it is a dark harbinger of what life can bring, with much worse pain, much longer lasting, more nightmarish. For instance- our children. You see? I take this ten percent solution and apply drops and magnify and I can see clearly how unbearable my own existence could be, if I had to suffer like that, day and night. Chronic pain of the body is god awful. Chronic pain of the soul, god awful. I can abide almost anything, because I believe I will find a way through. It is the things there is no getting through, only living with, that terrify me. The man in the ER on the gourney, perhaps on his last trip anywhere, this simple day in August before the kids start school, when the Targets are stuffed with shoppers, when I hurt a rib and hold Mr. Curry's hand for hours, that day could have been the last day, hour, moment, consciousness for him. It was for someone.
Somewhere a tragedy occurs. In the ER you can hear the crying out of the world. The tiny premature Hispanic baby in the row ahead of me wailed the entire time. His Grandma held him closed, rocked him, saying shhh. I saw his tiny dark oval eyes open and close to this room, noise, light. He cried and cried and we all shuffled our feet and coughed and rocked and tried not to let the pain take over so that we might cry out, too, and the whole world could see how much it hurts.