The Heart of the Matter
I spent most of the weekend in the hospital. My heart decided to stage a revolt during a community service event Saturday morning, so I drove myself to the ER to get it checked out.
You read that correctly--I drove myself 25 minutes to the ER while in the midst of cardiac distress. Why, you might ask?
Hell if I know. I just did because that's what I do.
I also really didn't let anyone know what was going on until the ER doctor decided to admit me, and I only sounded the alarm at that point because my friend was expecting me to come over to spend the night. If I had been discharged, I would have shown up at her door with leftover birthday cake and a bottle of wine and said, "Guess what happened to ME this afternoon!"
As soon as she could, she and her daughter got in the car and rushed up to the hospital. After being alone with my thoughts (and my almost-dead cell phone) for hours on end, her face coming through the door was such a gift. I could feel something inside myself unclench and settle back into place, and even though my heart continued to misbehave, it didn't seem so scary with her there beside me.
Here's where I admit that I'm kind of a moron (and there are a few people reading this who must be gloating that I admitted that in writing--enjoy it, guys). I don't ask for help when I know there are people who would be happy to give it to me. I have a pathological aversion to being the center of attention, so I keep the highs and lows of life to myself most of the time, often not sharing much of anything with people who genuinely care about what happens to me. I am stubborn and reckless with myself, and Lord help you if you offer to do something for me that I can do on my own...except I think I can do everything for myself, so there's no reason to hand over the reins, ever.
At the Ash Wednesday service I attended with my youngest daughter, the priest told a story about watching a man try to pay for dinner for himself and his two children. The restaurant's cash-only policy surprised him, and he didn't have enough money to cover their bill. A woman behind him tried to offer him $10--which clearly would not be too great a burden for her--and he shrugged off her offer instead of graciously accepting the help. His refusal to be vulnerable shut down what could have been a moment of intimacy between strangers; it showed his kids a higher priority on self-sufficiency than the interconnectedness of community--"I've got it," rather than "We're all in this together."
It made me think of another time I went to the Emergency Room. We had just moved to Connecticut so that my ex-husband could start a new job, and my middle brother was dying in Texas. I was in a constant state of stress and grief, and one day, I thought my right eye was going to explode after a particularly hard cry. The pain, sensitivity to light, and redness got worse until I knew I needed medical attention, but I hadn't been there long enough to find a doctor. That time at least I knew I shouldn't try to drive (but only because I couldn't see), so I loaded up the kids in the double jogging stroller and walked to the closest ER about a mile away.
After an initial examination, I needed to go from the ER to a doctor's office in another building, but the kids were both hungry and thirsty. I knew they would never make it through another set of waiting and examination rooms without a pit stop. So we found the hospital cafeteria, and I grabbed some stuff for them to share. I had to keep my sunglasses on even though we were indoors because of my eye, and I was in pretty rough shape all the way around.
The line took forever, but when I got up to the register, I couldn't find my credit card. I used it last to get gas and stuck it in my back pocket while waiting for the tank to fill rather than returning it to my wallet. I hadn't needed it in the ER, so I didn't notice it was missing until that moment at the cash register. I looked at the kids, my two-year-old's frantic reach for his juice, and couldn't put two thoughts together in any one direction.
The lady behind me in line stepped forward and said, "I've got it."
I started to demur, and she put her hand on my arm and said, "Hon, I've got it."
I started to cry and thanked her profusely and made an enormous scene. I wheeled the giant stroller through the doors and out to the sidewalk, where I knelt and uncapped the juice for my son and the water for my daughter and opened the package of crackers they had to split. I cried all the way to the doctor's office, and I still get choked up thinking about it.
I don't find it difficult to be vulnerable with my thoughts and emotions, but where there's a practical or physical need? I will run away as far and as fast as I can to discourage anyone who tries to lighten my load, even people I love and trust. The foreman at the construction site where I've been volunteering teases me because the first time I went out there, he tried to help me put away some (really heavy!) buckets of nails, and I told him in no uncertain terms to back off. He jokes, "She won't let you carry a box of Kleenex for her!" and he's right. But that's not how I want to live.
My heart needs to learn to rest. It needs to slow down instead of speed up when people try to make things easier for me. Even in the checkout line at the hospital in Connecticut, it was easier to say yes to a stranger than it would have been to say yes to help from a friend. Someone I would have to see again. A friend who might (God forbid!) remember a moment when I was vulnerable and needed help. A friend who might see me a little more clearly for the needy creature I am than the strong, capable face I present most of the time.
The doctors never did figure out why my heart won't behave. They sent me home with some medication that's marginally helpful and instructions to follow up with a cardiologist, all of which pretty much amounts to a shrug of their shoulders. It's okay, though. I think I know what I really need to work on.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.