It could have been the fresh basil in the pasta I’d cooked for dinner…or the parsley. At any rate, something I ate made my system very, very unhappy. I spent an entire winter’s night with stomach pains that felt as if gremlins had my insides clenched in a vise. The pain kept me wide awake and totally miserable.
Somewhere around dawn, knowing I was in no shape to teach school, I cranked out some of the least inspired substitute lesson plans ever.
“I’m calling the after-hours advice nurse,” I told my husband, who was starting to get the boys ready for the day. “Maybe she’ll recommend something for the pain.”
“Stomach pains, you say?” said the nurse. “You’d better go right to the ER.”
I was hoping that I could just wait until my doctor’s office opened. “Well, of course, it’s your choice,” said the nurse in a tone that clearly said, I’m the professional here. “But with stomach pain, we recommend that you go to the ER.”
We headed for the hospital. Six-year-old Matthew and four-year-old Luke were delighted to find SpongeBob on the TV in the ER reception room. I waited to be admitted, still not sure why I was there. What could the ER do that my own doctor couldn’t? They’d examine me, give me pills, send me home in two hours. It would be like a visit to the family practitioner, only far more expensive.
An orderly came out with a wheelchair. I gamely climbed in, feeling like a frail little granny, and waved goodbye to the boys and to my husband, Scott, as I disappeared behind the ER door.
That’s when my mind started to change. Let me say this: that ER was nice. The entire hospital had just undergone a massive renovation, and whoever chose the paint and textiles had an eye for style. The ER corridors were more tastefully appointed than my living room, and certainly far less cluttered with Matchbox cars. The orderly wheeled me into a newly painted and decorated private room.
A sympathetic nurse gave me a hospital gown and took my vitals. There were warm blankets (warm blankets!) and a bed that was like a La-Z-Boy recliner. She took a blood test (that part wasn’t so fun) and stuck an IV drip in my arm. The medication made the claws of my pain finally start to relax their grip. I began to relax, too.
Minutes later, the doctor arrived. I can best describe him by saying that if you were a casting agent looking for an actor to play “an attractive, athletic doctor, about forty-eight to fifty,” this was exactly the guy you’d pick. He strode confidently into the room, trailed by a bearded young intern who was scribbling notes, and I thought: I’m in an episode of “ER.”
George Clooney, M.D. was affable and easygoing (even though, in his presence, I was painfully conscious that I was not wearing any makeup). He ordered a CT scan and left. The nurse handed me a remote for the TV, but suggested that I could sleep instead. She went out quietly, turning off the light.
For the next several hours I luxuriated in the bed, alternating between resting and talking to Scott (who by this time had dropped the boys at school) and reading the novel I’d tucked in my bag. There in the bed, with an IV in my arm, I couldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t clean the house, or grade papers or fold laundry. No one expected anything from me. More to the point, I didn’t expect anything of myself, either.
I don’t let myself relax without guilt very often. Even when I have a few hours to myself, I always have to tamp down that nagging feeling that I should be doing something useful. But there in the hospital, I was guilt-free. Other people were taking care of me. All I had to do was lie there. I was totally off the hook, even in my own crazy mind.
It turns out that the CT scan didn’t reveal anything abnormal. “I’m a little stymied,” said Dr. Clooney, rubbing his jaw. “If you are feeling better, you can leave; if not, we can admit you and keep you overnight.”
I’m not going to lie: I was sorely tempted. An entire night with a call button and warm blankets and no one to look after but myself? But I couldn’t deny that I was feeling better. It was time to go.
Months later, I look back on my day in the ER with great fondness and nostalgia. It was a little oasis of guilt-free relaxation in the middle of my crash-panic life. It taught me a big lesson, too: it shouldn’t take a night of crippling stomach pain to let myself enjoy some well-earned downtime. I need to work on letting myself off the hook in my daily life, without needing an IV and a backless gown to do it.
But you know how WWI soldiers used to shoot themselves in the foot, so they could get out of the trenches and into the hospital? Well, I keep eating that basil and parsley pasta. You never know.
QUESTION: What keeps you from being able to fully relax, even when you are treating yourself to some downtime?
CHALLENGE: Next time you feel awareness of your “to-do” list intruding on your precious relaxation time, stop. Recognize that your obligations will always be there, in some form or another, and then let them go. Return to your downtime with the confidence that you deserve to savor it fully.
Image provided by Ginny Kubitz Moyer.