It is nine days in the hospital before anyone correctly diagnosis Emily, days with nauseating medicine and needles keeping her alive, days with invasive tests and contradictory orders to discover that she suffers from a case of cryptosporidium from some infected source in India. Most people suffer far milder and quicker symptoms than she does. Most - aside from the very young, very old, or immunocompromised - never even know they have it.
I visited as soon as I could. She lay weakly in a sterile bed in one of the best hospitals in America for a week before I got there, fortunately a short drive into Hackensack from her mother's apartment. There were closer hospitals, but none specializing in travel medicine. However, such specialization does not do a damn bit of good when the doctors either take long weekends or openly contradiction one another to her detriment. I wanted some brilliant diagnostician, Dr. Gregory House ideally, to look over her list of symptoms and recent history and - after tersely telling his underlings that it isn't lupus (it's never lupus) - deducing her condition and the cure in 44 minutes, less commercial breaks. Real hospitals disappoint on this count, dealing more in sugar-free gelatin and persistently beeping IVs than quick cures.
This began in Delhi. As Emily prepared to take in the sights and debark the Asian subcontinent for the relative serenity of New York, she passed out in the bathroom of her flat. Please understand that I do not mean "passed out" in the woozy, soap opera sense, the back of her hand to her forehead followed by a graceful swoon. No, she stood, became lightheaded, then woke on the floor an unspecified amount of time later, having injured her elbow and endured unconsciousness. She managed to land with her head between the toilet bowl and the cement edge of the shower, a narrow margin of space between severe cranial trauma. She had not been feeling particularly vivacious prior to this, but passing out in a strange city was frightening enough that she conveyed to the nearby driver/tour guide/helper, "I need you to take me to the hospital." The man knew enough English to bring her immediately. In fact, he even knew enough to grasp when she insisted upon being brought to the best hospital possible. The Indian doctors did not quite know what to make of this queer American - several people came in to "clean in room" in the first hour she was in this hospital - but obligingly pumped her full of liquids and hoped for the best because they felt equipped to do little else. All that was required of them was to make her able to sustain the long plane ride home, so they were not spending much effort on curing her.
When I finally saw her, she is better than I expected, particularly given that my prior conversation with her came at the inopportune time in her emerging consciousness where she has to stave off vomiting. I felt likewise sick with the dawning knowledge that this may not simply be another part of the adventure, something I can laugh off as an anecdote. I have nursed her through mono and the recovery from knee surgery, but I have never heard her voice twisted even close to this groan.
Emily's mother and my travel companion to the hospital did not help. She has developed a well-deserved sense of fear and revulsion at hospitals and related what of Emily's condition she knew to me with a sense of mortal fatigue. Hospitals containing loved ones do not fail to evoke terror. She lost Stuart only a bit over a year ago and cannot help but noted the similarity in timing. She won't lose Emily if only because she can't possibly.
My first instinct upon seeing Emily was to hug her leg, a gesture I find myself repeating every few minutes I am in her presence. Then, I slid my silver dragon ring onto her swollen finger. I take this ring off only to shower, but it - and liberal doses of prednisone - managed to heal me from an apparently near lethal dose of mono and I could only hope that my talisman would have diagnostic and curative powers for whatever malady ailed M. The sheer force my accumulated faith these last twelve years should have been enough to dislodge whatever vile humors had taken residence in her lower GI tract.
In the hospital, she sounded and generally behaved contrary to my initial assessment that she was near death. She was weak and occasionally in pain, particularly when the nurse puts M on a magnesium drip, but she remained herself. What plagued her more than her illness was the sense of boredom and irritation that she had fallen ill and had to be confined to a hospital bed as her reintroduction to the United States. The inability to venture far from a bathroom and a plastic needle pumping her full of saline had not been something she had factored into her plans. This is not as obvious a statement as it might read - no one quite settles upon a hospital worthy gastrointestinal bug - but Emily was fully prepared to have a bout of what is too affectionately referred to as "Delhi Belly". She just assumed that it would resolve itself in a few days, as it had for all of her traveling companions.
I sat by her bedside all weekend, watching TV and engaging in silent conversations with Emily about her rotating roommates. It seemed as though no significant time had passed between us, as tend to be the case with real friends. It was simply as though she had gone to work and gotten sick, not that this was the first time I would see her in five weeks and it would be in far from ideal circumstances. We did not feel the need to run into the other's arms, and not simply because hers were attached to a metal coat rack by intravenous tubes. I cuddled by her while she remained awake and typed away when she drifted off to sleep, a habit identical to our normal domestic behavior, aside from the intrusive nurses.
Only when Emily realized that I would have to return home Sunday night to be ready for work the next day did her tears come. She didn't miss me unduly when I was many thousands of miles away, but seeing me and then knowing that I would soon be one hundred miles away was too cruel. She begged me to stay, in that she said she completely understood that I could not but couldn't help from asking anyway.
It was another week before she was discharged and healthy enough that I was allowed to remove her from her mother's care. The treatment was a couple of pills for three days and the finger-wagging lecture about hygiene habits and forbidden interpersonal acts until she is free from infectiousness. The hygiene is simple, thirty second of hand washing and spraying toiletries with ammonia. The forbidden acts refer exclusively to me, barring full reacquainting for another two weeks on top of the last five if I don't wish to discover the joy of cryptosporidiosis for myself.
She is home and things are quickly returning to normal. I had forgotten how utterly blissful normality felt when it included her.
Soon in Xenology: Substantialization.