“Geez, why does my ankle hurt,” I thought to myself on the way to the bar. Nothing like I twisted it, but a dull ache. At 35, this isn’t really out of the ordinary so I continued, figuring that it would go away on its own. As I opened the door to Black Rabbit, the same thing started happening in my neck and shoulders.
It was Tuesday, trivia night, so this was all routine. I sat down with Casey and Sean, Kent poured me my beer without me asking and I settled in for what I thought would be a normal night. My friends told me about their beach weekends and generally made small talk, but something didn’t feel right. What started out as my ankle, neck, and shoulders was now every joint in my body. I drank my beer as quickly as I could, didn’t want to be rude, of course. I told my friends that I had a big presentation the next day, which wasn’t a lie and walked the one block back home. The walk there, the pain only got worse.
I walked into the dining room where my wife was working on her computer. She asked me why I was home so early. I told I didn’t feel good and that I was gonna go to bed. This was only about 8:30 pm, and I don’t usually go to bed until around 12:30 am, so this was out of the ordinary. She kind of raised her eyebrow at me and went back to work.
As I put my jammies on, my skin felt like it was wrapped in barbed wire. It was like I could feel every inch of my body, and it was hot and sensitive to the touch. I got into bed, freezing. Despite feeling like my skin was microwaved, I was so, so cold. What started out as shivers and teeth chattering became full-on convulsions. I was uncontrollably spasming, my arms and legs jumping in different directions by themselves. Parkinson’s runs in my family, so of course, that’s the first thing I thought could be happening. Obviously, this was a fever, which I don’t think I’ve since I was a baby. Being in this much pain and losing this much control over my body, I wasn’t really capable of rational thought anyway.
At some point, my wife came into the room. She got me some more blankets and starting asking what I ate that day, if I had any other symptoms, etc. Reb, my wife, will sometimes have stress freak outs about what to have for dinner or if the house is messy, but when it’s truly a crisis, her brain turns into a computer. She very calmly started looking up how to beat a fever on the internet, which admittingly isn’t a great option, but it was all we had. According to her findings, it could have been anything from meningitis to death. As the convulsions got worse and the urgent care clinic down the street was closed, we made the decision to go to the emergency room.
Not wanting to invoke the cost of an ambulance, we called a Lyft to take us to the NYU medical center. The car ride over was worse than being in the bed. It felt like those times when you’re in a cab and you’re so drunk, you hope the car flips over on the Williamsburg Bridge just to end it. I was trying to stay conscious and focus on the streetlights to ease the convulsions, but nothing was working. All I could do is hope this dude realized what was happening and drove fast.
The waiting room didn’t have nearly as many people as I thought it would. This being New York City, I figured it would be full of people on the verge of death and orderlies and nurses ignoring them. My wife did all the talking, thankfully, because at that point my throat has closed up and I could barely speak anyway. After about a half-hour of waiting and having to listen to an entirely too loud episode of Modern Family on the TV, they brought me in the back and took my vitals. I did in fact have a fever, 100.5 degrees.
They brought us into the actual ER, where we would be for the next six hours. They laid me down on a gurney and gave Reb a very uncomfortable looking chair to sit in at my bedside. Strangely, at this point, I started to feel better. The convulsions and chills had stopped, and I mostly just felt like I had been hit by a bus. The took my blood, X-rayed my chest and then just left us to wait, and wait, and wait.
Reb held my hand because she saw that I was clearly Freaking Out. I haven’t been in a hospital since I had my leg surgery when I was 19. I do not like going to the doctor. It’s scary and sad and in this day and age, there’s always the fear that my visit won’t be covered by insurance. With all this weighing on me, my mind started to wander into some dark places. Am I going to die? What causes this? Is it going to get worse? What if I die before Reb? What if I die without a legally binding will? Will my mother cry? What if my friends can’t make it to my funeral? Every weird thought you could have about your own mortality were booming in my mind, and all I could do is tug at the IV in my arm in my sweats and be terrified.
Six hours later and one very awkward rectal exam later, they shrugged at me and sent us on our way. As I got into bed at 3 AM, the jitters hadn’t really subsided. I couldn’t help but think that being in the hospital was a grim look into the crystal ball of my own life. For those of you that know me, I’m not the healthiest guy. I love cheeseburgers and not exercising, and as I’ve gotten older I wear mediums instead of smalls. I can’t touch my toes and my knees feel like they are going to explode when I reach the top of the subway stairs. I ran through all my bad habits and listed them, with the last item the image of being old and bald and on death’s door in some shitty hospital while my wife filled out paperwork. I’ll be honest, this experience scared the living shit out of me. There aren’t many things that truly scare me, not counting bugs or taking a corner too fast on my motorcycle. What truly terrified me was the thought of being old and needing medical care. I don’t want to be one of those people that wastes away in a hospital, trying in vain to keep me alive to live a life that's inhibited by my garbage body’s inability to work anyway. I sometimes make jokes that we’re all going to die one day, but this time was maybe the first time it felt actually real. As much as I’d like to be one of those people that live to be 95 and go peacefully in their sleep, I’m almost certain I won’t. I’m scared of being an old man, pissing himself in a hospital bed being attended to by my uncaring nurses and my adult children reluctantly visiting on holidays. My fear of being frail or waiting to die in a nursing home is real, and Tuesday was the first time I realized it.
Despite all this, the fever came back the next morning. I fought it off with ibuprofen and will power, and still managed to give an hour-long presentation to my entire company, which I fucking nailed, by the way. I was up all last night with more overheating and shivers and headaches, so I may be going back to the doctor today. But all in all, this experience has shown me what my true nightmare is, and that’s a good thing. It will still terrify me, but at least now I can work to actively try to prevent it.
I would also like to give a shoutout to Reb. I don’t know what I would have done without her help and calming presence, and that goes for all times, not just Tuesday night. Her grace and courage under fire is inspiring, and I feel very lucky that she wants to spend her time with me. I’m a stupid fucking baby 99% of the time, and thankfully she loves me anyway. If you see her around, tell her that she’s a good one.
- The nurse attending to me kept trying to pass the time by telling us weird stories. He said that he gave himself all his piercings using medical tools he stole from the hospital. Also that he broke all his ribs doing Muy Thai in Thailand. Also that his entire torse was tattooed with a chisel instead of a needle so that he could get into his tribe in Afghanistan. Also one of the tips of his fingers goes completely horizontal, which he didn’t explain, but he said that his friends call him Captain Hook. Pretty sure he was just hitting on my wife. It was fine. I was too tired to care.
- While we were waiting, two drunk white trash ladies came in with African American toddler in a stroller. One was older, and her friend said that they had been drinking and she fell down and broke her nose. She had bruises all over the side of her face, but her friend said those were from a fight a couple of days ago. The younger one took off with the baby and left the other one there, and the older one unstrapped herself from her stretcher and tried to leave. The nurses tried to stop her, but she physically fought them off saying “I’m going to Mt. Sinai where they treat me right!” The doctor said to let her go, it wasn’t worth it, so she left. She had a very thick Southern accent, so I really, really want to know what her story was. Why was she in the middle of Manhattan? Why did her friend leave her? What’s up with that baby? Why does she go to Mt. Sinai so much she knows their care is better? So many questions.
- Across the hall from us was a very Noo Yawk old lady who had been there for hours. She never specified what was wrong with her, just that she wanted to go home. She kept borrowing phones from nurses and calling her husband, who was asleep and didn’t know she was there. She kept leaving voicemails saying “Joe, please wake up. I’m scared and I want to go home.” She kept whimpering to try to get the doctor’s attention but everyone kept ignoring her. Eventually, they said they said they would get an ambulance to take her home and it would be there at 4 am. They told her this at 11:30 pm. It was just about the saddest thing I had ever seen.