“Saying YES to Life! is exhausting,” I texted my friend Amanda Monday morning. Two hours later I was in the Emergency Room with symptoms of a stroke or aneurysm.
Monday started out pretty normal, except for the fact that I was exhausted. The prior day I went on a wine walk with friends, tasting 33 various wines, and enjoying the company of some really great people in my life. When I went to bed I probably slept 2-3 hours due to, surely the wine, and stress, and the like. I woke up Monday with a typical May feeling of sinus pressure in my head. I didn’t think a thing about it. At work, about 8:30 a.m. I started to have auras on the screen of my computer and my eyes became blurry. This moved to flashing lights on either side of my head, in my peripheral vision about 45 minutes later. I continued to try to work, but it was difficult. I thought migraine headache, but I had no headache, just pressure over my left eye and side of head. Soon after 10 a.m. I noticed that I was trying to type an email and spelling the word “serious” became so difficult that I had to stop. Shortly thereafter a student was in my office and I was trying to tell him that he could not take the class “Master Singers” because it conflicted with his Chinese class. I could not speak. I tried, but just jumbles of words came out. He looked at me, “I can’t understand you. What are you saying?” He was scared. I was scared. I stood up and told him he had to leave and that I would call him in another time. I rushed to the nurse’s office. After describing my symptoms, all of which had subsided, she took me to the emergency room at the hospital across the street.
Within five minutes I was admitted. Within 10 I had an IV, seven vials of blood drawn, and wires hooked up to all parts of my body. My initial thought was, “Here we go again. When I have to remove these damn wires from all this chest hair, I’ll scream ‘whoa Kelly Clarkson’.” Within 25 minutes I had my first CT scan. I guess I’m happy that they took the symptoms serious. I thought I was having a stroke. At 37, could this be possible? Eventually the neurologist came down and told me that she was almost positive that it was a migraine headache masked as a stroke. However, the head neurologist of the hospital would like to come see me. When she did, she ordered another type of CT scan in which they put iodine in my body and took a 3D image of my head looking for clots in blood vessels. Eventually that came back clear. It was just a migraine. After eight hours, I was released from the hospital.
In the first minutes of being in the hospital I was scared. What is going on? Aren’t I too young to have a stroke? As a kid my mom always told me if I continued to scream that loud at my brother and make my face red I would have an aneurysm. Does that go the same for singing at the top of my lungs on my way to work? What is going on? After the first CT scan came back and they pretty much ruled out a stroke, I sat for hours waiting for the head neurologist and the second CT scan results. At that point I had watched family member upon family member, significant other upon significant other come rushing to see if their loved one was ok. I didn’t have anyone. To be fair, my friend Sarah told me she would come if I wanted her to. My boss Lara checked on me via text. But what I missed was having that guy, the boyfriend, the partner who would come rushing from work to make sure I was ok. Being single, that just doesn’t happen. When you’re single, you don’t have that person who just drops everything, because they love you, and comes rushing to your side. Maybe it’s a dream of mine that this is how it should be. Maybe those of you with a partner still don’t experience that. And if you do have a partner and he or she doesn’t come rushing to the emergency room for you, I’m sorry. So I felt bad for myself. Just like in July when I broke my hand at age 36 and had to have my mommy and daddy come take care of me, I felt bad for myself. But after a few minutes, I stopped. I stopped the thought of feeling bad for myself. No, I don’t have a boyfriend who is going to rush from the city up to the burbs to come sit by me while I’m in the ER for 8 hours. And you know what, that is okay. What I do have are plenty of people in my life who love me and would do anything for me, if I ask.
First and foremost, my friend Sarah. She asked, “Do you want me to come?” I told her no. Something my parents taught me, by example, as a kid, was to never be a burden. To this day, my father does not like to spend the night at other people’s houses because it “puts them out.” My mother always preached, “Don’t make them wait for you when they come to pick you up for practice.” This is an excellent lesson, but it taught me to be ready and waiting, not to have to call on someone to wait for me, or in this case, wait WITH me. Frankly, I did not think I would be at the ER for 8 hours, so I did not think it would be an issue. Sarah checked in. My boss checked in. My friends Jen and Kimberly at work checked in, because they didn’t know where I was. As the time went on and on I texted my friend Patrick. He is a PA so I was asking medical questions that scared me. Time went on and on.
Good things that happened while I was in the ER:
1. I caught up on an episode of The Barefoot Contessa. She’s just a delight.
2. I saw my first episode of The Pioneer Woman. She sure knows how to cook and drive a pick-up on the range.
3. I saw the Paula Deen replacement’s show. If you watch Food Network, you know what I mean.
4. I had time to appreciate the people in my life.
Fourteen years ago I made a choice to move to Chicago by myself. At 23, moving away from my family did not seem like much of a deal at all. Over the years I have recognized that being away from them, my choice, has implications. One huge one, I don’t get to spend enough time with my nieces. Second, I don’t have family support in emergencies, not because they wouldn’t rush to me, but because of distance, it isn’t possible. So I sat there in the hospital, by myself, reflecting on what I DO have.
So what I do have? Amazing friends! What I need to do? I need to not be afraid to say, “Yes, come sit with me in the hospital.” “Yes, I’m scared and I don’t want to be alone.” Throughout the day Sarah checked in, we texted, she asked for me to look for hot doctors to hook her up with, and I did look. I know if I said, “can you come?” she would have in a heartbeat. During her busy day, my boss checked on me too. Can I just tell you, to have a boss like Lara is a blessing and I feel so fortunate daily. She has hired me twice, lucky for me, and I feel so fortunate to work for someone who cares about me as a person. When I was finally done, after eight hours, Lara offered to drive me all the way back to the city. I know that offer was genuine. If I had said yes, she would have in a heartbeat. So you know what, I made a choice to sit at the hospital alone. I know now that I did not have to. No I do not have a guy who loves me to come rushing to my side, but I have incredible people, friends, who will drop what they are doing to help me out. “Friends are the Family We Choose.”
It was 11:30 a.m. when I was admitted to the ER. Now, at 7:30 p.m. I was doing the “walk of shame” back to my car in the school parking lot. The hospital is about 500 feet from my school, so with mussed hair, an untucked, wrinkled shirt, I ascended the parking lot of the hospital, then three different parking lots on the school grounds, all on the way back to my car. On my way I passed several parents waiting to pick their kids up and the baseball team was coming off the field. With my head down, I continued my walk of shame. It made me laugh and think of my most recent “walk of shame” the night after a Halloween party this past fall. It was early morning and I was walking through Boystown with copious amounts of glitter in my hair, SHORT silver shorts on, and my homemade Pride flag decorated with sequins and garland wrapped around my shoulders to stay warm. Ah, Say YES to Life! right? So I made it back to my car and finally home. It was a long day, and I’m grateful for the care I received and that it was “just” a migraine.
The next morning I texted my friend Dave to let him know about my day. “Never sit alone. You do not ever have to sit alone.” His text made me tear up. As humans, single or partnered, we don’t want to be alone, especially at uncertain times. However, I believe that us singles understand “alone” a bit different. Dave got it. Dave said it. Dave meant it. “Never sit alone. You do not ever have to sit alone.”
And so, life has a funny way of challenging us AND showing us things we need to recognize. I am not alone and you are not alone. If we can’t surround ourselves with family we must make a family of friends to love and support us. As Carrie Bradshaw once said, “but in the end they’re the people you always come home to. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.” Do yourself a favor, go out and create yourself the best damn family of friends you possibly can. Believe me, this I know for sure, the real ones will be by your side whenever you need them, you just might need to ask.