Surrounded by the absolute darkness of a rural highway at 1am, I’m staring at my girlfriend who’s only barely visible in the weak dashboard lights of her ten-year old Mazda, with its broken something rattling around in the wheel well, as she drives me to the Emergency Room where doctors will tell her whether or not she’s having a miscarriage.
The CD she just put into her stereo is playing “The Hamster Dance”, her three-year old sons favourite song. I hate the Hamster Dance and I’m wondering whether skipping to the next song, or changing over to a radio station, will break a spell… I’m not sure if this song has meaning to her in this moment, or if she’s just zoning out to something she plays in the car three to ten times a day. Or even if she’s in a spell.
It’s a long, empty, winding and narrow road from our village to the emergency room. I asked her as we were leaving if maybe we should call an ambulance. But she didn’t want to answer the inevitable questions from her roommate and neighbours. Her pregnancy was still a secret. On some level that was my fault. I wanted to wait until the second trimester, because miscarriages are most likely in the first and I didn’t want my mother to become a grandmother for two weeks. Because it takes a lot less than that to plan for your unborne grandchild’s entire future.
When the Hamster Dance started it struck me that we could have stopped at the truck stop we had just passed and called an ambulance from there. But I didn’t want to break her spell. If she was in one. It would have been so easy just to pull in, park and use her cell phone to call 9-1-1. “Pregnant woman, bleeding with cramps” would have gotten her to the top of any list.
It was hard to see her face in the lights from the dashboard… I’m not even sure if I really took more than a glance anyway, so I decided it would be best not to push any decisions onto her. Let her concentrate on the road and the pain in her belly. So I stared straight ahead, put my hand on her leg, watched the tiny hamlets pass by and listened to her sons favourite music.
I kept thinking what a great photo opportunity was being wasted not being in the ambulance together. I wondered if the paramedics would object, and if I’d listen.
On most occasions it would take forty minutes to get to the hospital. There is one substantially closer, but the waiting times can be four to seven hours depending on how many people thought 1am would be a great time to beat the crowds. My girlfriend and I, just last week, waited for seven hours in the emergency waiting room for an ultrasound because she was cramping up. It turned out to be a fibroid, but the “triage nurse” had forgotten to add “pregnant” to the chart… so they weren’t in any rush.
Across the river from Ottawa, in “West Quebec”, the average waiting time in the emergency room is now 21.5 hours. There are hospitals in Quebec where people with an emergency have to wait more than twenty-four hours to see a doctor.
In the past three weeks, for the fibroid pain and for the pregnancy, we’ve been to the emergency room four times together — she’s also been twice without me. The fully functional emergency room we were travelling to has wait times of less than thirty minutes.
It took more than an hour but finally the lights of the town came into view as we topped a large hill. As we got into town the Christmas carols started playing. Some of her sons favourite songs are techno versions of the Christmas classics. I couldn’t take it. It was very possible our child was being flushed out of my girlfriends body and Christmas carols were playing. So, as we turned onto the street to the hospital, I pushed “function” and the radio came on… and Bon Scott, AC/DC’s long dead frontman, started screaming out “Highway to Hell”.
And I said “you’re fucking right it is.”
The nurse took my girlfriend right away into the triage area… a glass box behind the reception area with decorative window blinds offering the only real privacy. It seemed like the only other person in the hospital was an elderly man wearing a security uniform sitting at a computer playing digital checkers. I started to pace up and down the hallway. It took a few minutes until I realized I must have looked like an expectant father.
But I wasn’t just anxious, I was angry as well. Really angry. Angry at myself for not wearing a condom. For putting myself into this situation. For getting her into this situation. But then I started to get angry at her… or maybe, more likely, my anger with her came to the surface.
Not just about the contraception issue. That issue has been long dead. But she’s not eating right. She’s been complaining of being nauseous for at least ten days, but she’s eating one or two meals a day. She constantly complains about pains, but never thinks to take Tylenol. She shakes her head and gags at every food option.
I was pacing up and down the hallway outside a glass door, behind which my girlfriend and a nurse were deciding whether or not she was in the process of miscarrying our child, and I was blaming her because she can only seem to eat massive amounts of fucking pickles.
For fifteen minutes I paced from the out of order drink machine and emergency exit and back again. Each time going back to that out of order drink machine I was just that much more thirsty. Until I finally turned right and walked down the hall to the cafeteria. Which was closed. And just as I got back my girlfriend came out of the glass room equipment necessary for a urine test. I asked if there was anything I could do for her, and she told me she was thirsty.
So, as my girlfriend disappeared again, this time into a washroom, I asked the nurse for something to drink. A few minutes later I was handed a small Styrofoam cup with two inches of apple juice. Apple juice is one of the many items which make my girlfriend gag. So I turned around, looked at the out of order drink machine, and said “something is going right tonight” and I put in my $2, pushed the oversized button… and out came a bottle of water.
So I kept putting money in, and bottles kept coming out. When my girlfriend came back with her little pee sample I had two bottles of water, a bottle of orange juice, a bottle of lemonade and a bottle of apple juice (for me).
And I felt better. She took a bottle of water to sip on. It was the first thing I did that night that felt necessary. Her next step was to wait for the doctor. The nurse put my girlfriend into a small observation room. I thought it best to wait back in the hallway… which is when and where I started to write this story. It helped. Getting everything down on paper helped put things into perspective. I even wrote “getting this down on paper is putting things into perspective”.
After another ten minutes writing down two small pages of notes I decided to make sure someone was with my girlfriend. When I found her she was alone, laying down on an exam table, staring at the cigarette-stain yellow ceiling and shivering. So I raided the other three rooms for some blankets, and she perked up and thanked me. Which is when I really noticed how uncomfortable she was. How much she didn’t want to be there.
So I found some large tongue depressors and started to make her laugh. I put them in my mouth like walrus tusks, I put them under my watch band and told her I was Wolverine, I made a lot of stupid observational jokes, I held her hand and she relaxed and started to laugh and joke.
When they moved her to the examination room, where they’d look for the source of the bleeding, do an ultrasound and make sure her cervix was closed, they left her alone again. So I made sure she had enough blankets, then I stole a large surgical mask, placed the tongue depressors into it so they were sticking out like fangs and walked back in pretending to be the Predator.
I waited outside while they performed the exams. Including this one my girlfriend has been pregnant four times. One ended in a miscarriage, another was stillborn, the third was her son and now our child. When the doctor came out from examining her I was pacing again. He told me everything looked fine. There was no miscarriage tonight.
When she was ready we left the hospital and had a short walk. Then we got into the car and she drove us home. We arrived back here around 4am. I don’t remember much of the car ride, except we listened to a classic rock FM station all the way back.
She finally saw her family doctor on Thursday. According to the tests the foetus could be pulling away from one side of the uterus and today (Friday) she had her blood work done, and had a shot of something which has made her feel much better… apparently there’s a complication because our blood types are different.
I go in next week for blood work… something about possible “Rhesus factor problems”. And there’s the possibility of having something inside her “stitched up”. But I’m not really sure what that means.
There is some relief in finally writing about what’s going on. The night at the hospital, writing down the notes, was the first time I’ve put this adventure into perspective. I’m not really sure what’s going to happen next, but I do know I’ll be spending the weekend explaining all of this to my mother.