I woke with another throbbing headache and a nurse next to me taking my blood pressure. “Another seizure?” my head was thick and confused once again.
“Yes. We’ll keep you here in the ER tonight until the detox wing doctor makes it in” this nurse was younger than the other; she was heavy set with soft brown sympathetic eyes. She busied herself around the room, putting away medical equipment and folding blankets. “Can I get you anything sweetie?”
“Can I have some water?” my muscles were sore and aching from the seizure. Pain killers sounded really good about now; but that was probably out of the question.
At least this bed was a bit more comfortable. I rolled over and gazed at the phone on the nightstand. I wish there was somebody I could call. Somebody who would tell me that it was going to be all right, that I hadn’t really screwed things up that badly or maybe just to ask me how I was feeling. Emily probably wouldn’t be receptive to talking to me right now, even if she was, I don’t think I could bear the condemning tone in her voice that I’d heard so often before. At least I knew Marco was safe with her.
The nurse arrived back in the room with a tray with water, crackers and jello. “You should probably eat something light so the medications don’t make you nauseous. “ she sat on the corner of the bed and situated the tray on my lap. “My names Rhonda” she smiled warmly at me while she adjusted the bed so I could sit up.
“I’m Sara. Thank you Rhonda, I’m not sure I can eat this though” my stomach already felt queasy. I was grateful that she brought it for me though, and even more appreciative of her nurturing demeanor.
“My favorite aunt was an addict..” she said softly while repeatedly folding the same blanket. “heroin; we lost her a year ago.” I wasn’t sure what this had to do with me, but she seemed like such a lovely woman that I patiently listened.
“Her name was Grace. She was an artist, really good too. Abstract art, she just seemed to see the world differently than the rest of us..” Rhonda had a far-away look, lost in the memory of her favorite aunt.
“Beautiful too; so full of life. She hurt her back in a car accident and started taking pain medicine. After a few months she was addicted. We tried everything to get her to see how much she was hurting the family. She couldn’t see it though, or maybe she just didn’t want to. After a while she moved on to heroin. It was only eight months after she started doing heroin that she died.” She seemed to connect back with reality; tears were welling up in her eyes. “Overdose; she was only 38. Left her husband and two children behind”
Rhonda turned from her blankets and looked at me, staring me directly in the eyes. “Do you have children Sara?” I then saw her point. I was nothing like her aunt though. I
would never stick a needle in my arm to get high. Heroin addicts were junkies, I was no junkie.
“I do, his name is Marco. He’s eight.” I replied, carefully avoiding her deliberate point. “I’m sorry about your aunt..”
“Right. Well, they can help you upstairs in the medical detox floor. They have great doctors; they even bring meetings in.” she seemed to accept my answer to her question.
“Meetings? What kind of meetings?”
“Alcoholics Anonymous. NA too.” She seemed to think I should’ve known what she was talking about. “Gotta tend to some other patients sweetie, just hit that button if you need anything.”
Left alone with my thoughts, I contemplated the idea of being forced to attend AA meetings. The image I had in my head of AA was not appealing. I pictured clandestine gatherings in the back of a dingy church, crowded with older men with cigarette stained teeth and the smell of stale coffee pungent in the air. What could those old men do to help me? I’m sure they would let me opt out if I told them I didn’t believe I needed to attend.
Luckily, I could still feel the effects of whatever tranquilizer they had administered me after my seizure. I curled up and drifted off with images of worn out, smelly old alcoholics dancing in my head.
“Ahem” through my sleep, I could hear a man clearing his throat. I forced my heavy eyes to open and moaned as I woke to my body racked with pain. I tried to sit up so I could talk to the tall balding man standing at the foot of my bed.
“Morning Mrs. Loya, how are you feeling?” from his tone, I sensed that he wasn’t all that concerned about the answer.
“Really sore,” my throat was sore and dry, “not good.”
“Well, that’s to be expected.” he pulled up a stool, “you’ve had four seizures. I’m Dr. Needham; I’ll be treating you while you’re here. I need you to tell me what you were taking and how much of it. Please be honest, I can’t help you if you’re not.” His voice was deep and authoritative and he certainly didn’t mince any words.
“Okay..” I wasn’t quite awake and was trying to calculate how much I should tell him I was taking so that he would make sure I was comfortable. If I exaggerated just a bit, it would still be believable “I was taking Xanax, and drinking. I smoked pot occasionally. I took Xanax and drank every day though.”
“How much Xanax and how often?” he questioned.
“Ummm..3 or 4 milligrams, I guess. Three times a day. More before bed though. Probably 5 milligrams at bed.” As I said this, I realized that while I intended to exaggerate, this was probably correct. “I drank a bottle of wine or a six pack a night too.” I peered at him to assess his reaction. Surely, I wasn’t that bad. I’m sure there were some really messed up people in here.
“Well, that’s a good amount” he scribbled on his clipboard for a moment. “We’re going to have to put you on phenobarbital. We’ll start you out on a fairly heavy dose to ensure that you don’t have any more seizures. You’re going to feel pretty out of it for a few days.”
That didn’t sound that bad. I went to a lot of effort to be out of it most of the time. Maybe this whole thing wouldn’t be so unpleasant after all.
“We’ll taper you down after a bit. You might be on a long taper though, you were on a lot of Xanax and the drinking didn’t help.” He looked up from his clipboard and met my gaze. “How did you get all of those pills Sara?” he looked as though he was challenging me to lie.
I figured things couldn’t get any worse at this point. “Doctors; I had several doctors that I went to at once. I would pay cash; I told them I had anxiety attacks, trouble sleeping… you know.” I felt a strange sense of pride at my cleverness with being able to con the long list of doctors that I had.
“Another doctor shopper, huh?” he didn’t seem impressed. “We’re going to need all of the names of the doctors that you saw. We can also run a state wide check for them, so you might as well list them all.”
“Okay..” I mumbled
“Since you’re stabilized, we’ll go ahead and transfer you back to the medical detox unit. They’ll start you on the phenobarbital now.” This guy was really no nonsense. “Oh, and Mrs. Loya, if you’re not willing to get help then this really is a waste of time.” Again with the stern eye contact; then he abruptly turned on his heel and left the room.
I got up to use the bathroom and made the mistake of looking in the mirror for the first time in the last couple days. My shoulder length blond hair was matted and tangled and left over eye makeup was smudged down my cheeks. My blue eyes looked empty, like the lights were on but no one was home. I was now in a hospital gown which was really drafty. I reached around the back to tie it and felt my hand brush my protruding ribs. I lifted up the gown and looked at my gaunt frame. My hip bones were jutting out and my pale skin was mottled with bruises. I had this strange sense of disconnection; like I was looking at somebody else. Some poor girl who really needed to take a shower and eat a sandwich.
I heard a rap at the door “Hey hon, you ready for your medicine?” Rhonda asked.
Perfect timing. I felt another wave of nausea as I walked back to the bed.
“You sure you don’t want to eat some crackers or something before I give you this?” it felt really good to have somebody care about how I felt.
“No. I don’t think I could keep them down.”
“Okay then” she handed me two small yellow pills with a paper cup of water. “You might feel sleepy after this. We’re going to transfer you soon; until then I'm going to pull the bed rails up.”
I gratefully swallowed the pills and crawled back into bed “Thank you.”
“Welcome sweetie” she replied then hurried out of the room.
I looked around the room for something to read, anything to take my mind away from here. I spotted a stack of old People magazines in the corner.
I tried to adjust the bed unsuccessfully; then curled up with a magazine. I flipped the glossy pages looking at all the beautiful people dressed in their beautiful clothes in their beautiful world. I hated every one of them. Some of the women were so thin; they had to be on drugs. I was certain they were just more successful addicts then I was. They had found the magic combination that allowed them to use and still maintain their lovely life. As I was pondering this, I felt a liquid wave of lethargy wash over me. My limbs suddenly felt very, very heavy and my chest felt like there were weights sitting on it. My breathing felt labored and the last thought I had before passing out was that this wasn’t any fun at all.
When I woke up, I was back on the linoleum island. The coil springs in the mattress were poking me in the back, but I was so lethargic I didn't even have the energy to turn over. The sedation from the phenobarbital had this strange surreal quality to it. It wasn't a pleasurable high; but rather a passive, languid, dreamlike state. As I laid there, the antiseptic hospital smell brought back a long ago memory of a more pleasant hospital stay.
Holding my newborn son; completely spent from over twenty hours of hard labor. Cradling his warm, tiny body in my arms and gazing at his perfect, cherubic face I was struck with wonder. I couldn’t imagine how anything could have brought me more indescribable joy. Jason leaned over and brushed sweaty tendrils of long, blond hair from my face. He put his arms around us, like he was shielding our little family from the world. I felt loved, protected and complete.
Laying in that cold, sterile room; I was hit with the profoundly significant question- how the hell had we come so far from that day?
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