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Emails to my Therapist

Escaping Covid Cave– Landing in the ER

Dear Nicholas, It wasn’t the virus that took Bob and me to the hospital. It was, however, the virus-sponsored ten months hiding out at home that added voltage to the shock. Escaping covid “lockdown” had for us meant a run to the grocery store and very little else. That changed one night last week.

The ER is not an outing anyone longs for. It’s always a sign of trouble badly needing attention. A high-voltage alarm.

These days, we found, such a trip is a lot more difficult and complicated.

The Worrisome Trigger

The  trouble started at dinner. Bob noted that he felt thick-tongued and was slurring words “like a movie drunk.” Not a good sign. I’d noticed it only seconds before he pointed it out.

He called his doctor; she said go to the ER.

I will say now that it all turned out well. We learned that he had had a TIA, a small stroke-like event but one that passes quickly and leaves no damage. He was speaking clearly again before we were halfway to the hospital. His brain was not harmed. The neurologist who saw him said Bob had passed his tests “with flying colors.”

The Suspense

But we didn’t know that as we headed toward the Duke Hospital ER.

It was dark and raining and I realized too late that in the flurry of leaving I had forgotten to put in the  contact lens I wear for distance. I see pretty well without it. Still, I didn’t need that added tension.

I pulled up in front of the ER door at about 10:30 p.m., expecting us both to rush inside.

But, no. Only Bob could go in. The masked man at the door told me to go home and await a call or to park my car and wait there.

No Escaping Covid Restrictions

Certainly, this was wise defense against Covid-19. I couldn’t argue and I didn’t want to mingle with a crowd anyway. Even so, it was weird to suddenly be on the outside of what was happening. It gave me a tiny clue what it would be like to have an infected loved one disappear into a hospital to stay.

So began a long wait. I didn’t want to go home; I wanted to be there. I sat in my car for a short while, but my phone ran out of juice. It’s old and temperamental and won’t take a charge from a car charger. And I had to have a working phone to get a call from the hospital.

I moved to the sidewalk in front of the ER door. There was an outlet in the wall outside that was also powering an overhead space heater like the ones some restaurants use outdoors. I plugged in my phone, took a seat in a spare wheelchair and continued reading.

Checking and Checking

About once every hour or two then I called the ER desk and asked if there was any information about Robert Dick. He’d been given some tests, I learned, and then returned to the waiting room. There were no empty examining rooms; all were in use. That went on for seven and a half hours. During that time, I traded texts with a dear friend–since 9th grade–whose husband had had a bad accident that day. I had learned that news only a couple of hours before Bob’s symptoms appeared. When I too was worrying about a husband, I wrote back to her: “Wouldn’t you know it it…?” Her husband was seriously injured and in surgery. She was at home waiting for her phone call, not allowed into the surgical waiting room. The texts through the wee hours were good company.

It was a drizzly night, seriously chilly by North Carolina standards, down to 28 degrees. The overhead heater made the situation tolerable but not comfortable. I hadn’t dressed for an evening outdoors. Reading kept me reasonably distracted: Barack Obama’s memoir. Good, but I started to wear out on the 2008 financial crisis. Finally, I simply sat and stared. Considered taking a picture of the row of wheelchairs, thinking “You know you’re going to write about this, so …” But I didn’t have the energy.

At 6:02 a.m., instead of calling me, the very kind masked man at the door came out and invited me in. Bob was now going to an examining room; I was allowed to join him there.

Visitor badge with unfortunately misspelled last name

So Many People!

I was enormously relieved to be able to sit with Bob.  And I was shocked to be around so many other people, all masked, all careful. We stayed in that room as doctors and nurses came and went, as Bob came and went for more tests, until 10:30 in the morning. It felt daring to spend so much time “in public”, outside of our covid cave.

When he was finally assigned a hospital room, I soon abandoned all responsibility as supportive spouse. Didn’t mean to, but there was that inviting cushioned bench, the loved-one bed under the window of the room. I plummeted into sleep, missing the doctor’s report of no-damage-you-can-go-home, missing all the guidance I should have been writing down. I reluctantly roused out of sleep to go get the car.

And now we’re home, back to “normal”, the two of us doing our work on computer and on Zoom, rarely catching sight of anyone else except on a screen.

A Trip Into the World

To be with all those people felt like a trip to a foreign country. I knew, of course, about the front-line health-care workers risking their own health. It was a different matter to wander briefly into their world.

I’m glad to be back in our two-person cave, lucky that Bob could come home, and for the moment I’m not complaining about the covid restrictions. I wonder how long it will take, when the time comes, to get used to being around other people again.




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  • Kenju
    January 18, 2021 at 9:09 pm Reply

    Oh, I am so sorry you and Bob had to go through that. I have too much experience with the Duke ER….I hope never to return. So pleased that Bob only had a TIA, and hope that will be the only one.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 18, 2021 at 9:15 pm Reply

      Thank you, Kenju. I know you’ve had far more than your share of hospital time.

  • Jim Newlin
    January 19, 2021 at 2:40 am Reply

    Sorry for a miserable night for you both. Glad Bob is doing well and ready to cocoon again.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 19, 2021 at 3:47 am Reply

      Thanks, Jim. We’re safely re-cocooned. I hope all’s well with you.

  • Lee Grohse
    January 20, 2021 at 12:15 pm Reply

    Oh my, Peggy. You and Bob have had a few scary ER adventures in recent years. So glad Bob is home and fine. What a long, cold, anxious night you had! I can’t help but note that the scene of you keeping watch in a wheel chair in the cold drizzle with your uncharged phone is one right out of a screenplay for a good movie/TV episode. Nice blend of funny, scary, and miserable. The misspelling of the name is the perfect little touch. Give Bob my best wishes. Both of you keep well and isolated and warm.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2021 at 3:31 pm Reply

      Bob thanks you, Lee. We thank you. And I may skip that movie.

  • January 29, 2021 at 10:27 pm Reply

    So glad things were okay in the end and that you’re both home safe and sound!

    • Peggy Payne
      January 29, 2021 at 10:37 pm Reply

      Thanks, Billie. This was supposed to be posted a week or so ago. But I failed to push the last button. And now we’re both healthy and have had our first shots–an advantage of advanced age.

  • Robert Braxton
    January 31, 2021 at 1:19 pm Reply

    Thought of you (Sister India) as I am approaching the finish line of reading CASTE, Isabel Wilkerson, p. 274 “the consequences of Caste”

    • Peggy Payne
      January 31, 2021 at 7:59 pm Reply

      Sounds like something I need to read, Bob. Thanks.

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