I roll over in bed this morning and nearly scream. The sensation is familiar: a pinched nerve. I manage to get out of bed and lurch, twisted like a stick of licorice, toward the bathroom. The slightest attempt to move my left arm or my neck triggers an electric current of pain that produces small, mewling sounds from my throat.
I’m panicking. It’s five days until we leave for vacation. And exactly one year to the day (which was also five days before we were due to leave on vacation) when a cat bit my hand and I ended up in the hospital.
The cat that bit me was mine.
Stupidly, I’d grabbed him from behind as he crouched, growling and hissing, prepared to launch all thirteen pounds of righteous fur and flab at our neighbor’s cat, which was hunkered down a tail’s length away. He snapped his head around and sank his kitty fangs deep into my left hand.
My two cats are gentle, playful and friendly. Except when confronted by strangers on the property they have rightly claimed as theirs (though they’re overdue on their mortgage payments). And, apparently, when they’re thwarted from confronting intruders.
The pain was excruciating. But I had a vacation to get ready for and so I washed the wound, bandaged my hand and went on with my day.
By the next morning (Tuesday), my hand had ballooned to twice its normal size. It looked as though I was sporting a hot pink boxing glove.
OK, so I needed antibiotics. A quick trip to the local urgent care center, and I’d be all set.
I finally saw a doc after two hours of waiting. When he unwrapped my hand, he went pale. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed in a very undoctor-ly way. “A cat bite? This could be a disaster … the infection could spread into your blood … people have lost hands and arms to cat bites. Or died! I’m sending you to the emergency room, pronto.”
This is when I began to hyperventilate. I didn’t want to lose an arm! It would be impossible to do yoga … grapple with a pint of coffee ice cream … take up bow hunting …
By the time I got to the emergency room, according to the nurse who admitted me, my blood pressure had shot up to 240 over 130. My teeth began to chatter with fear: not only was I in danger of having my entire torso amputated, I was probably going to be felled by a stroke.
An hour later, nurses hooked me up to an IV through which two different antibiotics dripped. I immediately became nauseous.
I spent the night at Dominican Hospital. But I didn’t sleep. And not because of the nausea or because the nurses had to change my IV every six hours. it was because my neighbor in the room next door was also was having trouble sleeping.
He was watching TV but couldn’t find anything to suit him. Click. Cheers from a sports game. Click. A chorus of canned laughter. Click. The babble and giggle of cartoon characters. Click. The rat-a-tat-tat of tommy guns.
Eventually, he got bored and made a few phone calls. From what I could tell, they did not go well. But then again, few people appreciate being jolted awake by calls in the dead of night.
“Sheila came by for, like, three seconds! Can you believe it? Bitch. And she brought me a tuna sandwich! I CAN’T STAND TUNA SANDWICHES!”
I think another call was to a son or daughter. “Well, now, I’m doing just fine, no problems at all, though the nurses have to help me do my business, if you get my drift … oh, is it really that late? Say, could you bring some Doritos when you visit tomorrow?”
And so it went. At 3 a.m. I texted Frank: bring earplugs.
Which he did, the next morning. My second night at Dominican was blissfully quiet.
I was feeling pretty chipper Wednesday, and fantasizing about drinking margaritas on a Mexican beach, when the doctor strolled into my room. “I’m not comfortable with you heading out of the country on Saturday,” he said. “Do you really have to go?”
I gave him a long, measured look. “I am going on vacation even if I have to pack my own IV,” I informed him. Eventually, we struck a truce: we’d delay our departure until Tuesday. I’d see him on Monday.
Sitting now in my living room, I gently roll my neck, swivel my shoulders. The three Advil I downed an hour ago appear to be kicking in. Or maybe it was the warm, just-from-the-oven berry muffin I just inhaled.
Never underestimate the healing power of muffins.