Hello ER, My Old Friend


We were back in the Emergency Room last night. Last year, Annalise and I visited over a dozen times for a constantly re-dislocating shoulder. In December, Annalise underwent shoulder surgery and, after a couple or three return visits for pain management (doesn’t that sound benign?), rehab and physical therapy finally worked and we stopped being frequent flyers.

Until last night.

Annalise has given me permission to write, identifying perhaps more clearly than anyone else that “It’s okay, Dad; I know writing is how you process things.” It is. And I do. And being back in the Emergency Room was like, well, going back into the darkness with that old friend. You know the one.

Annalise went in with a partially obstructed intestine. But of course we didn’t know that. We knew Annalise was suffering horrible stomach pain that was spiking.

When I mention having a love/hate relationship, henceforth I will think of Emergency Rooms. We had a kind, efficient, compassionate nurse last night, who overheard us saying how much we can’t stand the ER. I apologized and he said, “No, I get it. No one wants to be here.”

Of course not. But more accurately, no one wants to have to be there. When one needs to be in the ER, then yes, one very much wants that option.

Today, Annalise is in a regular hospital room. We’ll be here “two or three or more” days while they discern if this obsctruction will require surgery. We are praying and hoping “no,” but as always, we want to get the necessary care, whatever that means.

This is the life of parents with offspring who have medical issues: 1)I want this not to be, but 2)It is, so I want the best medical care possible to deal with it. Sometimes that care causes misery in the short term. No, trust me, “misery” is not too strong a term. As Sting once sang, “it’s hard to tell the poison from the cure.” It can be. Sometimes the cure causes more pain before it alleviates pain. Sometimes the treatment forces more misery before it relieves misery.

There are, of course, obvious spiritual applications. I’m too exhausted to weave them in subtly. All of us human beings wish we didn’t have the “issues” that we have (let the reader understand), but we do, and they can sabotage, or altogether wreck, our lives. I don’t compare Jesus to an ER, but yes, some spiritual truth is not fun, not even close, and I would absolutely avoid it…except for the fact that it saves my life.

The spirituality that would prefer to omit sin altogether and see everything as good if we just look at it right has to find some way to account for how some things kill us. Some choices we make would kill us, physically or spiritually, unless we deal with them. I’m not talking about shame-based religion. I mean that some grace is like the ER. God, I wish I didn’t need this, but I do, so please let it work!

Back to Annalise. The ER has no view, which had literally never occurred to me–you’re not there for sightseeing–until I came up to Annalise’s hospital room. Oh, my gosh, it has a view. Springtime in Wenatchee is the best. The hills are green and remind me of Ireland. And there, up on the fourth floor, is a perfect view of these hills. In fact, as I studied them, I realized I was looking at one of the trails I hike regularly. We chuckled a little about how I could go hike it and Annalise could zoom in on the trail and I could wave. You don’t get belly laughs in the hospital when you are in barely-controlled pain, nauseous, and not allowed to eat or drink so the doctor can test if your body is kind of functioning or needs surgery, now. So we take our chuckles where we can get them. We’re grateful for our view, even when we sure as hell would prefer not to be in a hospital room and instead out hiking in those hills.

Another spiritual truth of our ER and hospital life: we look for bright sides, not to pretend that shitty things aren’t, but because positives are also true and it helps us to remember them. It helps us especially when everything feels miserable. Yes, it could be worse; if you can’t see that in a hospital, you’ll never see it.

Truthfully, one could argue Annalise has more than a a 22-year-old’s fair share of medical issues. Thursday night we were in the ER after Wednesday’s endoscopy. Yep, a day after a sugical procedure. Heck, Annalise had more than a lifetime’s fair share at birth, and way more so by six months. The list never seems to end, and honestly, I want to demand, “Give Annalise a break!” But getting stuck wallowing, even “justifiably,” in what feels like unfairness misses the point that we still have much to be grateful for, beginning with Annalise’s life. Again, I’m too tired to be anything but blunt: we did not leave the hospital with Isaac; we will leave the hospital with Annalise. Having seen worse, I’ll take this.

As I’ve told you before, Annalise is the Storm. I’ll close with this. We went into the ER about 9:30 PM. They decided to admit Annalise at around 1 AM, but it was well past 3 AM when we actually got a room. I have no idea how much sleep Anners got, but it couldn’t have been much. Visiting hours began at 9:30 AM, so I was back in the hospital, walking through the door about then (punctual me), to find Annalise on the phone. “That’s good,” I thought, “someone called to help cheer Annalise up. I’m all for it.”

Nope. I mean, yes, but also…the phone conversation was our mighty Storm helping a cousin with her college Spanish class. I sat and looked at that magnificent view through my sleep-deprived eyes and listened to my young adult in a hospital bed correcting Spanish-to-English translation.

And I chuckled.

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