Chest pain and shortness of breath. These are never good symptoms to exhibit. I think I might have pulled a chest muscle, but the truth is, I can’t walk too far without feeling like I’m going to pass out. WebMD has already diagnosed me with certain death. My primary care doctor shrugged with uncertainty and apologized before sending me off to the Emergency Department.
It’s there that they take nearly 45 minutes testing me for the death the internet warned me about: x-rays for pneumonia, an EKG to check for heart attack, they’ve even drawn blood to test for a blood clot. All tests come back negative, which is great news, but means the ED doctor feels a little like his time has been wasted.
My cousin is an ED doc, so I get it. She’ll tell me stories of people coming in repeatedly with chapped lips convinced it means they’re going to die. My favorite story of hers is about a couple that came in because, as the man put it, his wife had a “bump” on her “down there” (also known as a “vagina” for those of us that are adults). After careful examination of the woman’s aforementioned “down there”, my cousin made her diagnosis and broke the news to the husband (and, apparently, the wife) that she, the wife, had a clitoris.
I think of my cousin as this ED doctor tells me that I’m “probably just stressed” and “need to relax”. Because I’m not dying, I might as well have come in with chapped lips. I want to tell him I’m not an idiot–that I didn’t want to come here. That I was the one that came in thinking I’d just pulled a chest muscle, that he was the one that said “blood clot” and “heart attack”. I want to tell him that I KNOW ABOUT THE CLITORIS.
But I don’t. I thank him. Who cares.
The nurse squeezes my hand as the doctor leaves. “So we’re going to test you for all these terrifying things that will kill you but YOU NEED TO RELAX.” It makes me laugh, which I need more than anything. I am a total chicken shit in hospitals. He brings me a couple of People magazines, tells me to make myself comfortable on the hospital bed, and plugs me into a saline drip.
“I’m also going to give you a dose of Ativan,” he says.
“I’m really sensitive to drugs.”
“Ok I’m going to give you half a dose of Ativan.”
“What is Ativan?”
“It’s like baby Valium.”
“They make Valium for babies?”
I leave the hospital with the chest pain and shortness of breath I came in with but also a bottle of anti-anxiety medication. I have never felt more American.
I am a terrible drug taker. I did shrooms one time in college with two friends and I spent the entire experiment convinced devils were following me as we walked to the beach and arguing with a plant once we finally got there. We eventually went back to one girl’s mom’s house to get away from other people. Her mom brought us tea and two green leaf-shaped glass plates decorated with slices of glowing green kiwi and vibrant orange apricot. Our dramatic and awestruck reaction to her presentation terrified her; but to be fair, she had just handed us rainbows. As she left the room and closed the door behind her, she said something in Cantonese to my friend, her daughter, who would later translate it as “what the hell is wrong with your friends?” It seemed a good time to end what had only just started.
The Ativan will sit idly and take up space in my medicine cabinet for almost a year. Around that time, my relationship with my best friend will fall apart. She will feel I don’t want to be her friend anymore, which, were it true, would make what will happen next (losing her) so much easier to accept. Our once beautiful and close relationship will be pushed to the point of becoming so stressful, irrational and emotionally exhausting that the simple act of picking up the phone to call each other will bring on a panic attack. It will get so bad that one night, after pacing the varnish off of the wooden floors of my apartment trying to gather the courage to call her, I will be revisited by the chest pain and shortness of breath and be reminded of that bottle of Ativan. I will take one tiny little pill with one tall glass of water and later, Joel will find me passed out on my couch with the phone in my hand, my friend’s number one digit shy of being dialed.
“What is going on here?” he will ask.
“I took an Ativan.”
“It’s like baby Valium.”
I will walk into my bathroom, open the bottle of Ativan and flush the remaining nine pills down my toilet.
“Honestly Joel,” I’ll say, wiping drool from my face, “I don’t know how those babies do it.”