Date night. Dinner and a movie, right? Or maybe a concert?
As a Canadian, it’s almost sacrilegious if you can’t get down with Bryan Adams’ no-frills, rock sound. I have loved Adams since I was 14 years-old and he crooned from an empty swimming pool about how love Cuts like a knife. If you look closely, my high school BFF and I can be found banging our 16-year old heads, fist-pumping into the Toronto night air in the video for Adams’ rock anthem, Somebody.
Saturday afternoon, Kevin had just purchased 2 tickets to Adams' concert that night. I was down with it. Kevin was down with it. Date night! Bryan Adams! Goosepimply teenage feelings activate!
5 minutes later.
“Sweetheart, it’s happening again.”
His eyes were bloodshot. His skin a 4-alarm fire red. A trembling hand held his upper arm in an ominous grip.
40 minutes later we were back in Burbank's St. Joe’s ER. Barely 12 hours after we had left.
Date night was indefinitely postponed.
At 10 pm on Friday May 19th, Kevin had been admitted for sudden and massive pain in his head, tightness of chest and an all-over body rash. 6 hours later, after a CT scan of his head and neck, and an EKG, he was discharged with steroids and pain meds.
Cluster headaches. See a neurologist. Hmmm.
I've had chronic migraines from about the same age I began rockin’ out to Adams, and something about these diagnostic dots did not connect. But after IV fluids and medications (40 mg Prednisone, Valium, Morphine, and Reglan), his head pain was better. By 4:30 am we were back in bed with one mightily confused basset hound—Time to get up? What? No? Time to sleep? OK! Zzzz.
As we checked into the ER at 4:30 pm on Saturday May 20th, Kevin’s symptoms had intensified to include all-over itching resulting in scratching until he bled.
This ER physician was able to properly diagnose Kevin. Scombroid. I know this sounds like a fancy, turn-of-the-century insult—Oh, you scombroid!—but it is in fact, an extremely rare food toxicity usually found in fish. (In this case tuna steaks purchased at Sprouts in Burbank. Just sayin.’) Contamination occurs at the point of storage. When improperly stored, growing bacteria produces the Scombroid toxin. This poison consists of histamine and histamine-like chemicals that caused the death of two Australians last year.
My husband would be prescribed IV Ativan, 120 mg of Prednisone and Morphine for his head pain. The Ativan and steroids were administered quickly, but the Morphine was not. My palms sprung leaks. I rubbed them on my thighs. Where was his shot? Pending. Refresh. Pending. Refresh.
“Oh, my head! The pain in my head!”
At home, he had collapsed onto our bed, clutching his head in agony. My husband is not a complainer. He pretty much bit down on a stick and rolled with it after donating his kidney to me.
Inside his darkened hospital room, I scanned the face that glowed even with the light off. The veins in his temple throbbed simpatico with my heart flapping hard against my chest—like a sail come loose from its mast. A Botox-worthy dent deepened in his brow with each passing second.
Where the f*^k was the nurse with his shot?
This was my window. My Shirley-MacLaine-in-Terms-of-Endearment moment. I could picture it. Circling the nurses’ station like a feral dog, I would sniff out the negligent nurse, the one who had NO CLUE what this addict would do when drugs were on the line, and scream,
“GIVE MY HUSBAND THE SHOT!”
The Hospital is my alma mater. The putrid stank of vomit, urine and blood are my essential oils: familiar and calming. In here, I have lettered in almost every department: ER, Surgery, Medication. What I could smell in the air—above the lemony-scented ribbons drifting up from a recently cleaned-floor—was an oversight.
But I had promised Kevin I would reign Her in. The tornado. The woman who'd caused him so much confusion, anger, and perhaps even shame throughout her years of drug abuse.
I gazed at his rigid body, holding himself still against the pain beneath a surprisingly soft hospital blanket. I would not bring Her out today, but an easier, softer version of Her would emerge. She would corner the wide-eyed child-nurse (Seriously! When did I get so old?) and insist that something had been lost in pharmaceutical translation.
Minutes later, his Morphine was administered. As the powerful narcotic slithered its way through Kevin’s veins, my bones melted with the same shudders of relief. And my heart. Oh, my heart. It cracked wide, its fearful constriction unwound, as globules of gratitude rolled down my cheeks.
“Sweetheart…” Kevin mumbled.
“I’m sorry. I just can’t stand the thought of you in pain. Didn’t you ever feel this way?”
“Of course. When you were on dialysis...I couldn’t…I had to go for a walk.”
A couple hours later we would be walking together through another alma mater of mine: The Pharmacy. It was the same CVS where She would be in line, toe tapping, waiting for Her fix, obsessively running the same script through Her head.
What if they’ve run out?... What if I don’t have any refills?...What if they’ve run out?
This night we wandered the aisles together, killing time as we waited for his prescriptions to be filled. Hand-in-hand, I kept my recently discharged, still-intoxicated husband steady. I could feel Her, see Her, dashing throughout the store, eyes wild, collecting her ice-cold bottle of wine, strategizing how she would pay with cash and destroy the receipt-as-evidence so her husband would never, ever know.
"We should get a sweet treat…Thank you for taking care of me…Or maybe a dumb magazine…Oh! Look! Fourth of July Snoopy!"
Kevin’s narcotically-induced, stream-of-consciousness was adorable, but only because we both knew it was temporary. Kevin is not an addict. But I am.
How did I get here? To the point where I can live through constant and undiagnosed skin pain, Gabapentin-withdrawal-induced ear–ringing that has prevented restorative sleep for much of the past 3 weeks, watch my husband sustain 10/10 pain, and be free from the desire to be altered? What force, what light guided me to that moment of complete willingness?
Please. Help me. I love pills more than myself. More than my husband. More than anything in the world.
“Bryan Adams. That would have been fun," Kevin mused as we finally headed for home.
Along that short drive, I used to feel recently-acquired drugs flood my bloodstream. Fantasize about the additional pills I would pop the second the car was parked in our driveway.
And wish I was alone.
As I glanced over at my exhausted husband slouched low in the passenger seat, emotion flooded my soul: Gratitude. Humility. The certain knowledge there was no place in the world I would rather be. Not even 4th row at a Bryan Adams concert.
“Thank you for taking care of me.”
Goosepimply teenage feelings activate!
Date night. A trip to the ER. A nostalgic stroll down Pharmacy Lane. Driving home with my husband.
Best. Date. Ever.