DECEMBER 23, 2019
In the emergency room, again. My body is losing a lot of blood, even more than Thursday night, when I was rushed to another ER on the other side of the country for internal bleeding. I don’t want to be here in the cold sterile hospital; I want to be with my grandma in our warm cozy home, beloved bliss I got a taste of just last night. I don’t want to be weak and bleeding internally; I want to be my healthy vibrant self, glimmers of which I’d finally begun to see last week. I don’t want to be afraid and confused; I want answers in which I can be confident, after over three grueling months since my accident. But right now, I’m alone, pained, lost, frightened, depleted, anxious, light-headed and sadly still bleeding.
I arrived at my grandmother’s home this morning feeling and looking horrible after arduous overnight travel, still so grateful to have successfully completed the journey, one that seemed a sheer impossibility from my hospital bed only a day earlier. After hugging her (and trying my very best not to further alarm my grams in any way), I went promptly to bed, sleeping straight until after 6pm (yes, my body is clearly a mess). I woke up with a slightly less sore, significantly less swollen face, which allowed me to at least communicate, unlike in the morning. We lounged in the living room, ate an improvised meal of quinoa and pumpkin purée with maple syrup, lit the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah, and watched the most random combination of Elf, the NFL and late night comedy. Exhausted once more only a few hours after rising, I went to the bathroom to ready for bed and found… massive quantities of fresh red blood. I sat in disbelief, tried to compose myself, and contemplated what to do next — because this all feels wholly surreal, like a treacherous life thrashing me every which way with devastating blows, rather than one in which I have any agency.
When I was discharged from the hospital two days ago, the doctors felt confident enough in the results of the tests and procedures they performed for me to fly to Boston for the holidays with my family without concern or trepidation, having scheduled follow up exams, specialists, a colonoscopy and other medical necessities for early 2020. But they said that if I were to begin bleeding more than a small amount (a couple of shotglass was their go-to metric), I needed to go straight to the ER. There I sat in my bathroom, not wanting to go anywhere near a hospital or even doctors’ office whilst in Boston, dreading the thought of spending yet another night in the ER, terrified by what was happening (both what I understand and that which no one does), upset at myself for letting the doctors discharge me without comprehensive answers, and knowing that despite being the furthest thing from what I wanted to do, I needed to take this seriously and act swiftly. My grandmother was (and still is!) asleep, so I called my mother 3000 miles away, who told me to call the UCSF emergency department, which I did. They can’t give formal advice over the phone, but when I finally got through to a human who listened to, understood and felt for me, she suggested I go to the nearest ER right away, per discharge notes, based on my wider condition and primarily because the bleeding was not subsiding. I then texted my cousin who unfortunately has too much experience with emergency rooms and hospitals in the area because of her young daughter, including a harrowing stay just this week, to inquire about where to go. It was late, but she replied lovingly as ever, recommending Mass General, which Google corroborated. She offered her help, but I declined, not wanting to burden anyone else, especially amid the stresses of the holidays. I was unbelievably dizzy, but otherwise felt I could manage. So I bundled up in my layers, explained to my sleepy grandma what was happening as best I could (again, without wanting to cause her any additional stress), called an Uber, and ventured out across the snow-covered walk toward who-knows-what.
The ER was empty, a stark contrast to the jam-packed UCSF set-up, where the wait was long, gurneys lined the hallways because of overflow and people collided just trying to move about. They processed me kindly and wheeled me into my own room, unlike the last one where I had to share with a man screaming and thrashing in his sleep, separated only by a curtain he frequently moved with sudden jerks. And here I’ve been in my little bed ever since, consistently attended to by a rotating cast of nurses, doctors and one physician’s assistant who is particularly marvelous. She likes my sparkly red Christmas nails, my sparkly Christmas tree phone case, and wants me to have a sparkly merry Christmas with my family. Oh do I ever!! And this medical team is doing all they can to make that a reality. I’ve already had an exam, a scope (I’ll spare the details) and a “minimally invasive surgery” to figure out what the hell is going on, more specifically diagnose my condition, and then be better able to treat it, determining and outlining appropriate and effective next steps.
While my internal bleeding situation is serious, painful and still largely undefined, the care I have received in this hospital feels exceptional, which has helped to calm my nerves, quell my fears and slow my mind. The doctor has not only been present, but also explained what is happening each step of the way, ensuring the medical terminology makes sense, breaking down complex (and therefore scary) diagnoses, explaining where the areas of concern lie (as all is internal, no able to been seen or felt), and reassuring me that his team is conducting tests, carrying out procedures and running labs as to compile all information for big picture understanding of what is happening within my body, why and how to best address it. The physician’s assistant read my notes from UCSF before she even set foot in my room, thanks to the good graces of information sharing (though I chose this hospital at random, not knowing that fortunate affiliation!) and technological advances — like the fluorescent light-up high-tech contraption she recently returned with that looked straight out of a futuristic space movie, yet would soon enter my body. The doctor looked at the physician’s assistant just now and said, “Oh, I just want to hug her” — in reference to me, as he came to better grasp the seemingly endless complexities caused by this accident and non-stop hellish journey ever since. The entire ER team has made me feel safe, respected, seen, heard, included and valued, not always commonplace in spaces or situations like these.
I know not what comes next, what news I may hear when the door opens, what tests need happen know and what can wait til 2020, or what time I will be home… but I will be — to trim the tree and wrap presents and bake gluten-free veganized Christmas recipes. I am as determined and hopeful as ever that I will be soon be home with my sweet grandmother and beloved family in my happy place for happier times during the hap-happiest season of all.
My spirits are not entirely downtrodden thanks in large part to nurse Fatima. When she first entered to draw my blood, we got to talking, determining which of my still bruised and red veins would be best for an IV, amid physical evidence of my medical horrors of late. She had overheard doctors conversing in the hall about my accident in Israel, and thus wanted to hear about my time there. While drawing blood in a Boston hospital decorated in its Christmas finest, Fatima, a Muslim woman from Sierra Leone, was eager to know all about this American Jew’s experience in the Holy Land. I’d say that in and of itself is something of a Hanukkah miracle, which, I can only pray, may be indicative of more to come for peoples across faiths, ethnicities and geographies. Fatima spoke so eloquently as she left my room just now, wishing me an uneventful holiday with my family. That simple phrase resonated on many levels. First, she believes that I will be having the holidays WITH my family (i.e. I am leaving the hospital soon!). Second, “uneventful” days, even moments, have now become a goal, knowing my condition can turn unfavorably so quickly. Third, being around loved ones any time of year, especially at the holidays, is indeed nourishing, healthy, restorative, a gift beyond measure.
And so a humble wish from my hospital bed, as the sun rises after the first night of Hanukkah on Christmas Eve eve day (…I hope you are able to follow my jumbled mind): May you have blissfully and blessedly uneventful holidays surrounded by those you love and who love you.