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Emails to my Therapist

Emergency Room Entrance: Email to My Therapist

Dear Nicholas, Monday night was the fifth rush to the Emergency Room entrance for one or another of my family in a mere six months. You might think that I’d start to know the drill, but this time in spite of my best efforts, I’m holding up a little less well.

My spirits are excellent (because all three of my loved ones are still with us and perking along pretty well.) However, this time my usually fierce immune system let down its guard a bit.


The short version of what brought us back to Duke Hospital is: Bob rather dramatically came down with what is now judged to likely be a virus from a tick bite. (I’m going to spare you all medical details.) We at first thought he was having a stroke.

At the ER, he was attended to immediately– and then tested and tested and taken to a hospital room about 7 hours later.

Seven hours in any ER could likely change a person’s view of life. So many sick people and their freaked-out relatives and sleepy children. And the guy in the waiting room who was hallucinating and shouting, who abruptly stopped and got up and asked politely when he would be seen. The woman at the desk said, “Sir, you checked yourself out of here an hour ago.”  He went back to his chair and resumed shouting.


Every time I’ve walked into an Emergency Room entrance in the last six months, I’ve remembered scenes from a wonderful memoir by an ER doctor: Paul Austin’s Something for the Pain.  Spending years doing this work is almost like living in a different culture from the ordinary traffic-office-grocery daylight life. My glimpses of it have been “broadening” the way travel is supposed to be.

Monday night I sat with Bob in his curtained bay, except for one period when a procedure required a sterile environment. About halfway through the time I was with him, I made a joke about having a scratchy throat and maybe I’d caught or given him whatever was ailing him. (It was pretty scary until there was at least a solid idea of what was going on.)

Scratchy throat turned into something like a stomach bug and by the next night the nurse — an angel! a saint! –was taking care of both of us.


I started wearing a surgical mask to keep from further infecting others. I wear it now while I’m writing this on the daybed in Bob’s hospital room. When I drove home mid-afternoon today to pick up some stuff Bob wanted, e-reader, etc. I forgot to take it off outside the hospital.

Not bespoke. Not going to be a surgeon. This is my fierce goddess Kali face!


When I had trouble using the parking deck payment machine, a mini-crowd of half a dozen people tried, with extravagant sweetness, to help me. It was noticeable and a little puzzling. Then I remembered: I still had that mask on. They probably thought I was coming from the nearby chemo clinic.

From our 8th floor location in Duke’s Medical Pavilion, entrance to clincs below

One other change in my experience this time. On the first two visits, I took the stairs from room to ground level cafeteria and back. I wanted the exercise. This time: elevator all the way.

Bob is scheduled to go home tomorrow, will likely need a few days to get his strength back. He again has been well taken care of here and I am grateful.  He also has had too many ill-health adventures lately.  My literate chum Angela Davis-Gardner sent a sympathy e-mail playing off an Emily Dickinson poem: “Too much!!! Unfair!!! I protest to the universe (that never spoke to me).” Emily D’s version: “This is my letter to the world,/ That never wrote to me….”


As long as we keep having these happy endings, hard-won as they are, I’ll feel the universe has been exceptionally kind. But then I haven’t been the one with the IV in my arm.

Helicopter heading out, seen from 8th floor



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  • Kenju
    June 22, 2017 at 2:28 pm Reply

    Poor Bob. Seems he has had more than his share of troubles lately. And you, of course, bear the brunt of it all. I hope that both of you will recover quickly and be immune to more problems, at least in the near future.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2017 at 4:58 pm Reply

      He has definitely had more than his share, kenju. But he’s so resilient. We left the hospital about 10;30 this morning and he suggested we stop at Red Lobster for lunch. I couldn’t believe it. So we did and he ate an impressive plate of lobster and shrimp. I only got halfway through a bowl of soup.

  • June 22, 2017 at 3:35 pm Reply

    Very best wishes to you & Bob! Thanks for your humorously told and illustrated account.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2017 at 4:54 pm Reply

      Thanks, Moristotle, I’ll pass the word.

  • June 22, 2017 at 4:59 pm Reply

    I was in an Emergency Room on my last trip to Miami when I got weak from my familiar low-sodium problem. They first did all the heart tests, and finally got around to the blood, which confirmed the low sodium – it was 127, 8 below the bottom of normal. By now I know what do for it and since I was going home anyway the next day I just checked. Whil we waited in a room with about four curtained bed spaces on a side, we found ourselves (my friend Maureen, my God Daughter and her boyfriend) across from a man in a bed, two women relatives seated at his side, while he cursed them in Spanish, yelling the most derogatory terms at them, and when my God Daughter complained to him (they both speak Spanish) the man defended himself by yelling “I can say whatever I wanted to them – it’s my mother and my wife,” and with that as his justification, proceeded to defame them in an even louder, more hostile manner. When boyfriend told him to be quiet–there were women in our stall (who were not his wife or mother)–the man was so enraged he got out of bed and started over to our stall, dragging his IV with him and raising his fist – he was a strong-looking, threatening guy in his forties. I hurried out to look for some hospital guard or policeman, but there didn’t seem to be any. When I got back to the room, a few big men from the hospital had got him back in bed, but couldn’t stop his foul harangue, which I didn’t understand how the hospital could tolerate, with people all around were sick enough without that sickening one-man chorus of abuse. Luckily I got my blood test results, assured the hospital I knew how to deal with it – better than I could deal with the crazy guy threatening me and my friends, and we got out of there.
    Dan Wakefield

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2017 at 11:31 pm Reply

      Great story, Dan! Especially since it ended without fisticuffs. Reads like a movie scene.

  • Jane Albright
    June 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm Reply

    One of my most interesting jobs was as a spokesperson/media relations person at a DC area hospital with a Level I trauma center. Any time l felt stress, I would go visit the trauma ER and realize how insignificant my problems were. The place was filled with people who got out of bed that morning, brushed their teeth, and then without warning their whole world changed, usually violently. Like the mother still in her bathing suit who had backed over her own son in their driveway. The staff was wonderful and had a delicious black humor to deal with what they had to deal with.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2017 at 11:06 pm Reply

      That’s an impressive de-stressing strategy, Jane. I imagine it would work instantly. I certainly won’t forget the image of that woman still in her bathing suit.

  • Robbie Lane Jackson
    June 22, 2017 at 6:38 pm Reply

    Feel better soon, both of you. Have been in that same situation so many times. I’m so sorry. Hope you’ll be home soon. Now, rest.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2017 at 11:04 pm Reply

      Sorry you’ve been there so many times, Robbie Lane.

  • June 22, 2017 at 6:45 pm Reply

    Bob was nonplussed by a knee replacement, so it is not unexpected that he would be ready for a hearty lunch so soon after being set free! And, as others have noted, his medical adventures may well weigh more heavily on you than they do on him. I hope you are able to get some rest and completely recover from this latest hurried trip to Duke.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2017 at 11:03 pm Reply

      Thanks, Rick. I’m working on that rest thing.

  • June 22, 2017 at 10:00 pm Reply

    You all have been thru it. Very funny account! Your eyes say it all, even with the mask!

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2017 at 11:02 pm Reply

      You have been through a few rounds yourself, Hugh. Thanks, and I hope all’s going well with you.

  • Lee Grohse
    June 23, 2017 at 6:52 pm Reply

    Glad Bob is on the mend. Clearly, you are also hugely resilient. The fact that you are still on your feet and your spirits are excellent attest to that. On the protective factors’ side, those eyes look wild enough to scare off the next attack of ill fortune headed your way. If I were another health-related emergency, I would not f___ with you or yours!

    • Peggy Payne
      June 23, 2017 at 10:09 pm Reply

      Thanks for this vote of confidence in my Goddess Kali face, Lee! kali

  • George Wingate
    June 24, 2017 at 2:59 pm Reply

    Peggy, you are getting too good at writing about the emergency room (a version of your travel journalism?) May you now lose your facility because of many years of no new ER visits.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 24, 2017 at 3:58 pm Reply

      Hadn’t thought of it that way, George, but for me it’s definitely an exotic location. Thanks!

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