Some people celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving their sweetheart candy, flowers, and romantic candlelit dinners. Other people celebrate Singles Awareness Day by dressing in black and moping about not having a sweetheart. This year, I was celebrating February 14th by sleeping in on one of my “weekend” off-days, and wishing I had some Sweethearts candy.
Around 9:30 am, I had finally decided I might drag myself out of bed and do something productive with my day. Maybe go shopping for that candy I wanted. Actually, my bladder was making this decision for me when it was distracted by the doorbell. I was tempted to ignore it, but thought it might be a delivery, so I threw a cardigan over my pajamas and peered out the window in the front door. Standing on my doorstep was a nice-looking man dressed as a sheriff’s deputy. I thought, “Awesome! Someone sent me a strippergram!” Imagine my disappointment when I opened the door and discovered that his badge and gun were quite real.
I stepped out onto the cold concrete in my slipper socks, pulling the door shut behind me, dreading whatever devastating news he had come to convey. I’m sure everyone has a gut reaction to seeing law enforcement. Mine, at least in this context, was the unshakable conviction that he would say my mother was dead. I was startled when, after confirming my identity, he said that a friend had called about a worrisome e-mail I sent. I put on my best expression of innocence and confusion. Nobody wants to admit to a stranger that they have 1,001 problems, so I denied sending anything which could be construed as worrisome. I claimed I had no idea who would have made such a call. I was a great big lying liar. I knew exactly which friend and which e-mail.
There are many things one shouldn’t e-mail to a friend. “Your wedding dress made you look fat.” “I slept with your husband.” “My son drove over your dog.” No matter how much truth is in these statements, you should probably keep them to yourself. The same is true of the following:
Now I just keep crying and wanting to hurt myself (or go retrieve the booze that’s still in the trunk of my car from when I tried to give it away and my friend flaked). I so wish I could take it all back. That e-mail. All the other e-mails. This one. The ones that ended up starting this whole mess. In fact, take back that post about depression, because that really started it all. Let’s just pretend the past 6-7 weeks never happened. Because when I wrote all that I had hope, and now I have realism. In reality, none of this shit can ever get better and I’m just deluding myself by considering the possibility that it could.
As I was saying, I denied the existence of the e-mail. The deputy (let’s call him Deputy Wayne) said, “E-mails are pretty specific. Usually just to one person.” I said I send a lot of e-mails, so really it could have been anyone who called. As he kept pushing about how I must have some idea of which friend called, I found myself admitting that I had been a little depressed lately. He asked, as though the thought had just popped into his head, if he could see my driver’s license. As I opened the door to fetch it, I realized how rude I was being by making him stand outside in the cold. I’d say “mistake #1”, but that happened back when I let the doorbell persuade me out of bed. I then allowed myself to be swayed by the fact that my typically territorial cat came to investigate the stranger and behaved in a friendly manner. Obviously he couldn’t be too bad if she declined to hiss and claw at him.
Having not been awake to take a look around the house, I was unaware of the scene behind my back, which Deputy Wayne was surveying as we stood awkwardly in the living room. He asked what kind of health problems I have, and I’m sure I looked befuddled as I answered, “None.” He said, “That’s a lot of medication for someone with no health problems.” I had no idea until later that he was seeing approximately 20 empty pill bottles my mother had left on the dining room table when she got distracted on the way to the recycling bin. It didn’t matter exactly what he saw though, as I knew to explain they were my mom’s rather than mine.
When I tried to explain her health situation while passing it off as something I am totally okay with, we slipped into a chat about topics not entirely focused on me. My guard slipped as well. I could sense him wondering if maybe it was okay to leave, maybe my friend had overreacted, but he kept asking if I was absolutely sure I was okay.
Now, this was not my first experience of having friends call the cops to check on me. However, the previous time was in college 7 years earlier, and the two campus police officers who showed up at my dorm room were extremely easy to persuade that it was all a huge misunderstanding. Deputy Wayne, on the other hand, was very kind and very skilled at his job, and his persistence wore down all the will I had to appear strong and sane and normal and happy. All those things I wish I could be.
So it was that I ended up curled up on the couch, clutching my cuddliest cat like a security blanket, and confessing that I had lied. That I did write to a friend about wanting to hurt myself. That I thought maybe I might be bipolar. I tried reassuring him that I would be fine and he was free to go. I promised to not act on these thoughts. He said he couldn’t take my word for it. Thus he gave me the not-choice between voluntarily accompanying him to the emergency room and likely being released within a couple of hours, or having him take me involuntarily and being trapped there at least 24 hours. I tried every argument I could think of, including “I can’t afford to get help.” His answer? “It doesn’t matter if you can afford it. You need it.”
I grudgingly agreed to go, on the condition I could go get dressed first. Which turned into grabbing clothes, rushing off to mom’s bathroom, peeing quite desperately, getting dressed, borrowing her mouthwash and deodorant, thinking about busting the screen out of the window and fleeing… Obviously, I wasn’t thinking clearly about that, because I had no shoes and there was a foot of snow on the ground, and obviously Deputy Wayne would be able to track where I went from the footprints. It was funny to consider what the neighbors would think though, seeing a sheriff’s car in my driveway and me climbing out a window.
I took so long doing all this that he came looking for me, obviously assuming I’d slashed my wrists in the bathroom or something. It was the furthest thing from my mind. I was genuinely not suicidal, which is why the idea of going to the emergency room seemed like the most ridiculous thing ever. As I exited the bathroom, he asked if I wanted to ride with him or follow in my own car. I was already brainstorming a lie about where I’d been, so I opted to drive myself. Once we arrived at the hospital, he probably regretted giving me the choice. Why, you ask?
I got out of the (badly parked and taking up two spots) car smiling like a loon. Deputy Wayne asked what was so funny. I confessed that I’d spent the entire drive there thinking about turning the opposite direction and hitting the gas as hard as I could. Aside from the fact that I intensely wanted out of this situation, fleeing from the cops would make a really awesome, exciting story to spice up my boring life. I could detect faint amusement as he complained about how much tedious paperwork would be involved if he had to arrest me. My response? “But it would be really funny!”
My experience with emergency rooms (in fact, my experience with medical personnel in general) is extremely limited. I went for severe headaches as a child, then again for sprains in both ankles (not simultaneously) in early adulthood. I’d never even had blood drawn, and was sure I’d throw up and/or pass out if I did. Unfortunately, I’ve had lots and lots of experience of visiting people in hospitals, and every time I feel like I’m going to crawl out of my skin while waiting to escape. I nervously followed Deputy Wayne inside and signed in. We sat, we waited, we chatted. The triage nurse called my name. We got up and moved over to her desk. Seriously, he was right at my side everywhere I went.
The nurse was alarmed by my blood pressure. Sure, 182/110 is Seriously Bad, but I looked at her like she was an idiot and said, “I’m at a hospital with a police escort.” She took it again, manually this time, and I summoned all my knowledge of relaxation techniques from acting classes to get it down to a still-too-high 160/90.
Once we got to the million questions portion of the show, I deferred to Deputy Wayne to explain why I was there. Then I proceeded to answer “no” to virtually everything. No, I have no allergies, no, I haven’t been diagnosed with anything EVER, no, I’ve never been pregnant. The only non-“no” answers? Yes, mom has a lot of the things mentioned, but as side effects from medication, yes, I have headaches a lot, yes, there’s a chance I could maybe possibly be bipolar.
Then I got my shiny, pretty hospital bracelet, and we went over to the registration desk. As proof of how non-existent my past medical care has been, my address on file was one I haven’t lived at in 7 years, my next-of-kin’s address was one she hadn’t lived at in 16 years, and the back-up next-of-kin is deceased. I was filled with a sense of dread when asked about insurance and I had to say I didn’t have any. Honestly, I expected the registration lady to yell “It’s mandatory!” in a robotic voice and paralyze me with laser beams from her eyes, and a helicopter to land outside and a SWAT team to come in and arrest me for not complying with the Affordable Care Act. This did not actually happen.
We finished registering and went back and sat and waited some more. Deputy Wayne asked if I had social anxiety. I thought, “I did mention how it takes 10 minutes to psych myself up to ask someone for a pen, right?” I only said, “Not officially diagnosed.” He commented on how well I was doing talking with him. Yeah, because I got the right person showing up at the door. If I’m going to be comfortable with someone, I’ll know it the second we meet. Same if I won’t be comfortable.
Eventually I got back to an exam room, and a nurse came in and went over all the same basic questions again. “What brings you here?” “Him.” Then the nurse said, “The TV works, as long as the deputy says it’s okay.” Seriously? I needed permission to watch television? He said it was okay, but I was just baffled by this. What was the alternate answer? “No, she may have a psychotic break if she sees Judge Judy”? (Actually, seeing Judge Judy does make me feel a little psychotic.) At this point, Deputy Wayne gave me his business card and a hug, and told me if I need something to call anytime day or night. Except I interrupted after “need something” to say “…don’t call you?” I apologized for being sarcastic, but he was simultaneously saying, “You’re spunky. I like it.” Then he was gone.
It should be good to no longer have a cop hovering around, right? Not so much, because if he managed to convince you to open up about what’s going on to the extent he decided you need to visit the emergency room, then you must feel pretty comfortable around him. Then that source of comfort disappears and everything goes a little downhill as you are left sitting alone in an exam room, not knowing how long it will be until a new stranger walks in or what will happen when they eventually show up.
I spent that time fidgeting with so much nervous energy that I probably looked high, and plotting whether I could sneak out when I was directly across from the nurses’ station. Eventually a social worker from the local mental health center (we’ll call this guy Dallas) came in and went over all the same questions, only in much more detail and I was much less comfortable talking with him. I felt bad about that. He seemed nice enough, and was clearly understanding and sympathetic, but he just didn’t naturally put me at ease. So although I definitely didn’t lie about anything, I probably left out things I should have said. He went away for a very long while, during which time the nurse came back and asked for a urine sample. This was hard to provide, having gone 12 hours without anything to drink.
Dallas came back after what felt like a lifetime of waiting, and asked if I was ready to go home. Absolutely! He made me sign a “Contract for Safety” stating that I wouldn’t harm myself or others and providing information on who to contact if I felt the urge to do so. Given that the person who clearly appreciated my sarcastic nature had left, I refrained from asking what they would do if I violated that contract. Come arrest my dead body? I also didn’t tell him there was no chance of me actually calling any of the numerous phone numbers he provided, as telephones and I do not get along.
The Contract for Safety also included information on a follow-up appointment he had scheduled for me. It was scheduled on a work day. He said I could call to reschedule. I was fairly certain I’d be less likely to die of anxiety by speaking to my supervisor face-to-face about taking half a day off than I would be to call a stranger and reschedule.
Dallas told me he would check with the nurses to make sure they were done with me. I slowly put on my jacket. I slowly picked up my purse. I saw he wasn’t standing right outside the room anymore and very, very quickly fled the building. So, uh, I was not officially released. Maybe 2 or 3 hours after returning home, the phone rang. Typically the house phone ringing means a call for mom or a junk call no one wants to receive. I sensed this time was different, and rushed to answer it. Someone was calling from the emergency room to make sure I was okay because the ER doctor didn’t get to see me before I fled. I said I was fine. She invited me to return if I had any physical symptoms. Needless to say, I did not return.
As you might expect, there were some moments where I felt angry and exasperated, but they were fleeting emotions. Mostly, I was amused as there were some really funny moments involved, and grateful because I’d been standing in the airplane door forever, needing someone to shove me out, and I got both a firm shove and an excellent parachute.