19 March 2011

Debtors Prison

It was so beautiful yesterday that Emmaline and I were playing in the swing when it was time for me to go to work. Complimenting my stylish blue scrubs and yellow and pink striped socks, I was debuting the rain jacket I had bought from the Land's End overstock catalog in the deepest darkest part of winter. It is a lovely magenta with white polka dots and was offset by a magenta and navy striped Harry Potter scarf. I felt energetic and ready for my twelve hour shift.

When I got to work, however, I mostly felt hungry. I saw a few patients. I tried not to be distracted by the rumbling of my belly. I pushed the feeling aside. When I was pregnant with Emmaline there were times I would be consumed by hunger in a way I had never experienced before. Everything was amplified. Having to pee, for instance, is something everyone talks about. But I also went from satiated to famished in record time. When I was thirsty it was as if I had crawled my way across a dry and arid plain to reach the coveted bottle of Gatorade. When I was tired it was as if I had not slept in thirty hours...well, I suppose there was a reason for that one.

Last night, though I was able to stave off hunger for a time (like any other organism not being doggedly drained of all things oxygen and glucose related by a small parasite) I knew I would not make it to the end of my twelve hours without some form of sustenance. During a quiet moment I took the opportunity to tell Teri, the nurse I was working with, that I might run up to the cafeteria to grab some food. I had just sent a few patients home and there were no more, for once, waiting in triage. I asked if she wanted me to get her anything, but she was leaving in a few hours and would eat when she got home.

Then I realized I didn't have my credit card. There was no cash in my bag. In my excitement at being able to model my new coat I had not moved my wallet from my winter coat. Instantly, realizing that I might not be able to eat for another eight hours, I was just as hungry as I had ever been while pregnant. A trick of the mind, I'm sure, but I felt my belly rumbling with ever increasing intensity and thought desperately about what I might do.

Now a normal person would have asked Teri to borrow five dollars, or one of the other lovely people working that night. But I am not normal. I am horrendously embarrassed by asking kindness of folks I don't know that well. I once borrowed  fifty cents from a classmate of mine in residency who, graciously, told me it was not at all necessary that I pay him back. But I had to. I felt uncontrollably compelled to not be a mooch. And when I could not find him to repay the debt in person, I left the fifty cents taped to his binder on the oncology floor.

So what did I do last night? Did I starve? No. I called my mother.

The baby asleep, she was doing grocery shopping about fifteen minutes away from the hospital. I talked in my most pathetic voice, the one that made her quit her job to move in with us and help with Emmaline, and put in an order for some sushi.

A half an hour later, walking back into the ER from the hand off, Teri shook her head at me. Of course when I told her what happened it became clear just how silly I was for not asking her to borrow some money.

"Yes," I said, "everyone in triage just saw my mom bring me dinner and hand me five dollars."

For the rest of the night I was teased without reprieve. I didn't care. Market Basket actually makes surprisingly good sushi and, since my mother had said she brought more than any one person would be able to eat in one sitting, I had made sure to prove her wrong.

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