chapter 2 — early April 2019 | 3.30 min read
by Amy Martin
Parking lot of the small local Baylor Scott White emergency room. Scooter opens the passenger door for a pair of orderlies with a wheelchair. They load me up and roll me into the waiting room. One of them returns with an arm full of neck braces.
“Ma’am, you have to let go of your neck. Really, you have to let go. Trust me, please. You need to be in a neck brace. We have to find one that fits. I know it’s going to hurt.”
Never a more true prediction. I relent. Brace trial-and-error begins. One breaks; another swallows my head. Not meant for small women. The last one will do.
Admissions paperwork. A leaden sense of impending crisis suffuses. I am in a pain haze. The soprano is barely audible. We fill out forms. Incongruous.
We wheel me around the corner to an emergency room doctor and nurse. So many questions, so many tests: follow my finger with your eyes, lift your toes, press down on my arm.
Off to an exam room. I lay on the table holding my neck in the brace. The soprano sounds like the high-pitched whine of a drill. Pain is boring into me, shutting me down. I exist in a narrow tunnel of dim light encased in black.
I strive to be aware of what’s around me: the constant presence of Scooter, the perfunctory pale counters and cabinets, the wavering of florescent lights, how quiet it is for a Saturday night. A nice man in white talks to me and leaves.
Worry replaces oxygen in the room. I do what I do: deflect. Next week’s deadlines are exploding, I say. How will I ever get it done? Skewed priorities.
The tests begin. Nurses guide me off the exam table, wheel me away and back and onto the table again. MRI, CAT scan, EKG, and tests I don’t recognize. Panic rises. What are they looking for?
It is cold and dank in the bowels of an old building and I am being wheeled somewhere. My façade fractures. The crash-site fear is here. I am in a hospital, don’t know where I am, what I’m doing or why. I am powerless and alone.
Shock is wearing off. The soprano no longer sings. Teeth grind and chatter in pain. I pant and try to breathe. Crying breaks through the denial. I weep as a technician takes a blood draw. I am losing control.
The man in white again: “We don’t see anything on the CAT scans that shows why you are in such pain. We are going to do an x-ray. You’ll have to stand. It’s going to be uncomfortable.”
Another truth. The machinery wheels in, crowding the tiny room. I stand and the room spins around me. Whir, click. Back on the table.
He returns with the film. A jagged dark line crosses the entire C-2 vertebra. Scooter deflates with a quiet moan.
“We can’t treat something like this here. Where do you want to go?”
“Big Baylor,” we say in unison.
Scooter departs around 9 pm to feed pets and prep for what is going to be a very long night.
I am no longer Amy: wife, writer, rabble-rouser. I am a patient, a body strapped into a mobile gurney. Somewhere an ambulance waits for me. Can’t turn my head. I stare at the ceiling. I will stare at a lot of ceilings in the coming days.
Pain meds hit, wrap me in comfort. No memory of what they are, or when or how I got them. Just gratitude for something stronger than acetaminophen. Jaw and fists unclench. I breathe again.
Minutes bore on into hours. Disembodied voices tell me the ambulance is coming, that transfer papers are being worked up, that they’re waiting on a signature.
Opiates cradle my consciousness. I am an inert slab of meat on a rolling table. There is no thought or personality here. Only a broken body.
My gurney jostles into the ambulance. Someone comforts me, takes vitals. A jumble of streetlights and signs whoosh by the window. Flashing red lights reflect off storefront windows at night.
I know all these streets by feel. We’re turning on to the slow route to Baylor. Out of the drug daze my inner control-freak emerges. Why aren’t we taking the I-30 route? I wave a finger in the air to relay this but no one can interpret.
It’s the last semi-coherent thought I’ll have. A blur of attendants communicates to each other in acronyms and lingo. A technician is on speakerphone to the hospital emergency room with someone possessing mad skills of an air-traffic controller.
The ambulance turns and eases down a ramp. I see EMERGENCY in red letters through the windows. Baylor University Medical Center — Big Baylor — in the shadow of downtown Dallas. I’ll be OK now. I can let go. Consciousness ceases.