I never considered the amount of sodium in my blood until my gastroenterologist called me at 8 p.m. on a Friday night to tell me that there was dangerously little in my veins.
“Your sodium is at 116, and it’s supposed to be at 135 at the lowest. You haven’t had any seizures lately, have you?”
“You need to get to the emergency room immediately.”
I often think I have unnatural reactions, because I found something about the phone call oddly comforting. All I ever wanted was a reason for the nausea that had taken up an aching residence in the abyss of my stomach for the last month.
Half an hour later I was admitted into the ER, hours before all of the other patients lying on white cots in the hallway, which seemed unfair since I was walking just fine.
I got dressed in my flimsy blue hospital gown and a middle-aged nurse named Bob came in and took my blood to verify my sodium was really as low as the first lab showed. He seemed altogether out of place with his muscular tan arms, the black landscape of his hair smothered in gel, and a sense of humor that only a medical professional can get away with.
Two hours later they found out it was as low as they thought, and the interrogation began. Was I drinking? Was I sweating? Was I pregnant? Was I sure I wasn’t pregnant? A dozen other questions, a dozen other “noes,” another doctor, more “noes,” and we were at a standstill.
“We’re going to have to check you into the hospital then,” a doctor informed me in a vaguely threat-like manner, but I just couldn’t admit to something I didn’t do, and so they checked me into the ICU around 3 a.m. on the morning of my 20th birthday.
I could barely sleep after they hooked me up to the heart monitor.
“We just want to make sure that your ticker doesn’t stop,” the dark-haired nurse informed me in a much too jovial fashion.
Another nurse who was much more interested in the demise of Jennifer Lopez’s marriage than she was in my health cued me in that it was better to be in the ICU because at least the cable was free there.
All night long nurses with wilting eyelids watched my heartbeats flash by on an EKG in the shadowy hallway beyond the window of my room.
Nothing makes you consider your humanity quite as much as being hooked up to a heart monitor on your birthday. Every second of survival seems like a success, time measured in jagged lines and electronic bleeps.
I was woken up on the morning of my birthday by a nurse asking if I was ready for my heparin shot. I didn’t know what a heparin shot was, but she asked me if I wanted to get blood clots. No thanks, Ma’am, no blood clots for me. It didn’t hurt much when she pulled aside my blue and white plaid hospital gown and plunged the needle into my soft white stomach, but it chased my appetite away and when someone arrived with my styrofoam eggs and pre-apportioned plastic cup of apple juice it was all I could do to choke down a couple bites. I remembered each individual shot by the red bruises that appeared afterward, turning grayish purple and then eventually an olive yellow over time.
I liked knowing that they were there, knowing that I could count them, remembering the exact amount of times that the needle had pierced my skin. I occasionally pulled my hospital gown apart to look at the marks, putting my fingers over the dark bruises that orbited around my belly button, wondering when they would phase out of my skin, bruising my memory instead.
I got my first MRI taken that morning. It took forty minutes but it seemed like days, stuffed inside that giant white tube that seemed so small, every breath feeling like more effort than the last. Inside I created games to distract myself, coming up with boys’ names that started with every letter of the alphabet. Andrew, Barry, Carl, David, Evan… it felt like it took a thousand boys to get me out of that tube.
My family was sitting around my hospital bed later that day with a plastic-looking white sheet cake that the cafeteria had sent up to my room as a birthday cake when a Pakistani nephrologist came in and said a lot of words that I couldn’t understand but one that I could.
Yes, I have a tumor in my pituitary gland. It’s taken up lodging behind my nose as I write, benign and 3.5 millimeters wide. It almost seems like a lie when I say it. I’m a college student and I have rarely been sick in her life. Why would I have a tumor in my pituitary gland?
I had a CT scan maybe three days into my stay, and when the orderly wheeling me downstairs heard that I’d just had my birthday he offered to buy me a drink. I refused, certain that I already had enough problems. When we arrived at the CT scan, the orderly left me out in the hallway where I could hear a woman shrieking from some room I couldn’t pinpoint. I thought she was down the hallway but eventually they rolled her out of the room I was about to roll into. The woman couldn’t have been less than 80 years old, with her thinning white hair standing up in puffs on the top of her head. She put a skeletal hand over her face, a face enclosed in a white plaster of anxiety.
“What did you do to my brain? Tell me what you did to my brain!” she wailed.
They wheeled me in next, asking me to lie down on the blue bed of plastic in front of me as I stared at the giant powdered donut of a machine near my feet. I lay down on the bed as a man injected fluid into my IV.
“You’re going to feel a warm flush.”
I nodded, unsure of what that even meant, finding out only later that it means you feel like you just peed your pants. I held my breath as the automated voice told me to, listening to the sounds of the machine in a crunching rotation around me, wondering when all of this would be over and I would be able to breathe normally again.
As much as I hated the MRI and the Lasix that woke me up every twenty minutes needing to pee, there was something that I liked about being there. I liked walking around the hallways with my father, straying off the traditional orbit where my mother and I walked, plotting my prison escape, and the way he leaned his curly head of hair down towards mine whispering, “Don’t worry Renny, we’ll get you out of here.” I liked the anticipation of receiving food that I ordered from the hospital cafeteria, even if the food was never as good as the anticipation. I liked spending time with my mother, and the way she eventually broke the mint green hospital chair from all the time she spent with her tiny body curled up inside its even tinier frame.
On my endless walks around the circular hallways with my mother, my IV held me back, letting me know with each painful jerk on my arm that I wasn’t healthy yet. I glided along the white linoleum floor on the worn bottoms of my faded blue hospital slippers, looking into the murky rooms of the other patients, glancing at the woman who threw the ripped up tissues onto the floor after she was done with them. I encountered the balding man with a staph infection who exploded from his room wearing nothing but glossy black basketball shorts, his planet of a stomach protruding into the hallway as he demanded a phonebook so he could order a pizza.
I felt happier inside the consistency of that dimly lit orbit than I did anywhere else that summer. My mom and I laughed as we walked, and like a child on a carousel it never got old, our laughter echoing rudely through the hallway filled with heavy whispers and quiet sighs during the day, and at night the hollow voice of a man who cries out into the dark.
“Hello? Is anyone out there?”
Through the dim light I see the silhouettes of panicked nurses stampeding around the corner toward the man’s bedroom, and even now I look down at my body, pale fingers placed where the bruises used to be, whispering quietly to myself, “Hello? Is anything in there?”
Lauren Moore is originally from Schenectady, New York. She is an English major and creative writing minor at Cedarville University. Lauren has five brothers, no sisters, and one cat, which is quite enough for one lifetime.
© 2012, Lauren Moore