On Thursday night I spent 12 hours in the emergency room at Highland Hospital. I had forgotten how cold and lonely the ER is, waiting in old chairs under fluorescent lights, anxiety high, clutching my bag, mask on, avoiding contact with others, and waiting for my name to be called.
I’m someone who believes in a good cry. Sometimes you need to get the mass caught in your chest and throat out by way of force. I cried three different times from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning from a mix of anxiety and pain.
I was just finishing my last meeting of the day on Thursday when the lab called with my results. I knew immediately it wasn’t good news because they typically send them to my doctor to review and a copy for me through my online portal. The nurse’s voice dripped with concern as she explained to me that my hemoglobin levels were dangerously low and she wanted me to go to the ER immediately for a blood transfusion. She started asking me if I was experiencing shortness of breath, heart palpitations, faintness/dizziness, and I began to rack my brain thinking about where in my body I had been holding this.
The nurse sighed and sliced through my rambling thoughts with words that felt like God himself had chosen them. She said that she was worried that I had been living like this for so long that I wouldn’t even know if I was having more serious symptoms because my body, just to keep going, had adjusted with the circumstances it had been given. If ever a statement described me, that might be it. I compartmentalize, I push aside, I tell myself that what I’ve been experiencing is what everyone else is experiencing, because that’s what I’ve been told by doctors and others my whole life. And I ended up believing them.
This past year especially added to this. The pandemic made me think that every pain was new because that loss and that pain was so fresh, so every-present. I had a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that something wasn’t right with me, but I couldn’t separate it from the special type of exhaustion and anxiety that a pandemic births. When your pain is dismissed over and over again, you start to dismiss yourself.
The nurse who had called me was surprised that I was functioning. She kept explaining to me that at these levels your heart is at risk. But functioning means something else to Black women in this world.
She called my doctor and confirmed that I needed to go to the ER as soon as possible; I hung up the phone and panic called my sister, starting to cry with mounting anxiety because how could a body that does as much as mine each day be this broken down?
Twelve hours, a few cries, one food dropoff and one jacket dropoff from friends later, and I was gingerly placing my body in my own bed to sleep. Blood transfusions are almost magical to me. Watching blood that is not yours be slowly pumped inside your body in a cold shock of new life for your body. My red blood cells are tiny and few. Like me, they’ve done the best they can, but ultimately need bolstered support.
I am different now. When I say that I mean that I deeply feel the difference post-transfusion. My baseline wasn’t a base at all. And I’m deeply saddened thinking about how long this has been true.
And now my fear has come to be — that I would lose my support system of doctors right when I need them. When the medical field is not often in your corner, the few people who stand next to you feel like lifelines. And my corner will have to be refilled all over again come July 1.