Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”Mary Anne Radmacher
The sound echoed in the nearly empty waiting room when my name was finally called and I rose slowly to my feet and made my way to the waiting nurse. I was taken to a small triage room just beyond the open door where my vitals were taken and I was shocked to see my blood pressure register so high. I chalked it up to anxiety and began to try to explain how I felt. My symptoms had gone from a minor stomach ache and feeling worn out to extreme nausea, short term fevers, and body aches. The symptoms resembled the flu, so I wasn’t really concerned, but they had lasted for more than 3 weeks and I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I had been to the doctor a couple of times in the last couple weeks, but I didn’t seem to be getting any better.
The nurse listened and took notes but didn’t give me any indication as to what she thought may be wrong. She handed me a gown and a cup and directed me towards the restroom asking for a urine sample and then to change into the ever-so-lovely hospital gown.
And so began the first of many, many awkward hospital rendezvous. In case anyone is curious, it is nearly impossible for a female to aim for that tiny little cup required to submit a urine sample. There are reasons females don’t “play swords” when they go to the bathroom together…it’s not that it doesn’t sound like fun, it’s mostly that we aren’t good at it. And it has been my experience as a woman that we don’t like to participate in things we are not good at. I also learned very clearly that it’s called a “sample” – because that’s all you get. And no matter how bad you have to “go,” when put on the spot, you will develop a sudden case of stage fright and then you will just barely get the required amount in the cup, all the while dousing your hand in a nice warm rinse.
With that unpleasant business out of the way—and my hands washed—I began to undress. If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid spending much time in a hospital gown, let me just say that no matter how distinguished of a person you may seem to think you are, they have a way of stripping you (often, literally) of every last shred of dignity you have. The unflattering potato sack shape of the gown and the pale cotton faded from countless washes, seems to make even the most vibrant person seem shrunken and pale. To put it mildly, if there was a label on it, it would more likely say “one size fits all” and “wash with like colors,” and not Versace. Frumpiness aside, the strings were actually torn on my “designer” gown so I couldn’t secure the back. And so, holding the clothes I had changed out of, my “sample,” and what was left of my dignity in one hand, I clasped the back of my gown together with the other hand and prepared to make my runway (i.e. hallway) entrance.
As luck would have it, I nearly bumped (yes, urine and all) into the second nurse of the evening. He was…tall, dark, and handsome. I was… barely descent, feeling like all the worse for wear in a garment one step up from a garbage bag, oh yeah, holding a jar of PEE in my hand. Do I need to further explain the humility and humor of this situation? He graciously offered to hold my gown closed for me as I was directed to a bed. It was then, shuffling down the hallway with Nurse Charming at my backside attempting to prevent indecency charges, and my boyfriend up ahead waiting for me, that I realized my “room” was actually a bed stationed in the hallway of the emergency room with a couple of makeshift curtains placed haphazardly around it. I scooted onto the bed as gracefully as I could, hid under the blanket, and took a deep breath as I felt the last of my reserve begin to slip through my fingers.
Hospital lessons number two and three: there is no such thing as privacy, and in this world of give and take, the hospital, in its entirety, will take more than you think you have to give. It will always find a way to reach deep within your weary and bruised emotional state and yank the very last shred of decency and dignity you have right out from under you. God must have a sense of humor.
In the next couple of hours I had blood drawn and various tests completed including a chest x-ray, ultrasound and EKG. A barrage of nurses, doctors, and other important, white-coat-wearing people came and went while continuing to ask me what seemed to be the same questions over and over again.
Nearly six hours after we had initially entered the hospital, a doctor entered the room with the latest test results. I don’t remember her name or what she looked like. I don’t even recall her exact words, but I do remember the phrase “acute renal failure” very clearly, as if she had shouted those three words and whispered the rest. Surprised into silence (a rare occurrence in my world), I listened as she explained that my creatinine—a test for kidney function that I would soon become overly familiar with—had increased six-fold, skyrocketing out of the normal range, since my labs had been drawn two weeks prior in my doctors office. My kidneys were in approximately 90% renal failure, but they weren’t sure what was causing my kidney function to deteriorate so rapidly. They would have to run more tests and I was to be admitted to the hospital that night as soon as they could find an open room.
After she left the room, the words “renal” and “failure” bounced around the walls of my head, like a continuous game of ping pong, somehow always keeping the words suspended in mid-air. I couldn’t even begin to think about what would happen when that ball finally dropped.
Eventually I was taken to an actual room where I could be monitored throughout the night. As I was wheeled down the hall, I tried to catch a glimpse of my new “neighbors.” They all appeared to be very old and weak, and that scared me perhaps more than anything. It was obvious that some of these people may never leave the hospital; what did that mean for me?
After I was settled in, I tearfully bid good-bye to my boyfriend and decided to check in with my mom. She had already begun making plans to drive to Denver as soon as she could arrange it. As a nurse, I knew my mom would know what to say, what to ask, what to do next. She calmed me down by reminding me that all I could do for the moment was try to rest – it seemed my body would need all the strength I could muster in order to combat whatever battle was going on beneath the surface. I thought of my body as having its own anti-virus software, fighting off an unidentified enemy and I needed to power down and restart the next day.
It didn’t occur to me until after we hung up that it might be a little premature for her to drive all that way to see me, especially since my dad lived nearby in Denver already. He would surely be at the hospital the next day to help. It was nice to know my family was coming, but it also terrified me that this situation was serious enough for them to make the trip. I was still clinging to hope that a little medication would do the trick and they would send me on my way.
Laying there in the dark, alone for the first time since coming to the hospital, I thought I would never be able to sleep. Eventually my eyes starting to droop, heavy from the weight of the days events. As I tried to replay the last few hours through my mind, I still found it hard to wrap my brain around the words “acute renal failure.” It seemed that my body had decided that I had had enough for the day and at last I drifted off to sleep.