Going to the Hospital

 Nonfiction / Brittany Ackerman

:: Going to the Hospital :: 

You are thir­ty-three and today you need help. You teach a class from your lit­tle desk at home, your remote set-up, and you hope the kids can’t tell that you’ve been up all night, beg­ging your hus­band to take you to the hos­pi­tal. He wrapped his body around yours and told you it would be okay, but you knew it wouldn’t. You told him you felt bad that he has to be mar­ried to you, that he isn’t with some­one who can live, laugh, love. Some­one who can enjoy life. 

In the morn­ing, you call your insur­ance com­pa­ny. You have been look­ing for a new ther­a­pist, some­one to talk to because you want to get better—you real­ly do—but you’ve also been hav­ing visions of stand­ing in your back­yard and let­ting the wind take you away. You pic­ture your body dis­in­te­grat­ing into par­ti­cles that dis­solve and pix­e­late and van­ish into thin air. 

Your insur­ance can’t find any open­ings, even for Tele-health. Noth­ing for this month or one after that. They send you a list of phone num­bers to try and you call the num­bers, one after anoth­er. Some places don’t take insur­ance, they aren’t sure why they’re on the list; or they’re too busy, not tak­ing any new clients, but they can put you on wait­list. You don’t know how long the wait­list is and you need help now. You’re not sure how many oth­er peo­ple are wait­ing on the list, but you assume it is a lot. All these places advise you to call your insur­ance, again. 

You sit in your car out­side your new home and refuse to come inside. You have packed a bag because you thought you might go to the gym, take a Pilates class and have a steam, clear your head, but real­is­ti­cal­ly you know that won’t work, that the whole class you’d be anx­ious the entire time while you wait for phone calls, for good news. 

Your hus­band comes out to the car and encour­ages you to come back in. You tell your hus­band you are going to the hos­pi­tal.  You close the door, start the car, and dri­ve. It is just after 11:30AM when you pull up to ER and roll down your win­dow. Here is where you start yelling, where you scream at every atten­dant, every passer­by, that you need help, that you are hav­ing a break­down, that you are not okay. This is the begin­ning of the yelling, of com­plete­ly los­ing your mind. The day seems stretched and mea­sured by fits like these. 

Your hus­band fol­lows you in his car and pulls up short­ly after. He han­dles your keys that you have thrown on the ground. Your ID.  Your wal­let. He han­dles every­thing.  The whole check-in process. You cry and yell and want to know if you can talk to a doc­tor soon. A woman comes up to you in the wait­ing room, she tells you what a great hos­pi­tal this is. A man in a flow­ered shirt and a cow­boy hat tells you you’re in the right place. He says he was once in your posi­tion, that we’ve all been here before. You are tak­en to triage. Your vitals are tak­en. The nurse asks how you are doing and you don’t answer.  When she asks again you say, Not good. 

You are admit­ted to the ER and giv­en a bed, num­ber 36, in an area where there are many patients in their own respec­tive beds. Some have their cur­tains closed, some rest out in the open. Your blood is drawn, your nose is swabbed, you pee in a cup and are sent back to your bed. No one knows how long it’ll be until a doc­tor can vis­it. You hear the woman to your right talk­ing about how much she loves oat­meal. The nurse asks for her favorite recipe. She’s too tired to give the whole thing, but she loves to add choco­late. You think of your mom who once told you that the mean­ing of life was good sex and choco­late. Your mom doesn’t know you are in the ER. Your mom is a sub­sti­tute teacher at a pri­vate school in Flori­da. Your mom calls your phone and you don’t answer. She writes, Not impor­tant, just dri­ving home, love you. 

The woman in the bed across from you has her cur­tain closed. She talks in whis­pers on her cell phone say­ing she will have the mon­ey, she promis­es. She is giv­en Ati­van and then a nurse asks if you would like some Ati­van, maybe a small dose just to take the edge off. You say no. You want to have a clear head when you talk to the doc­tor.   

The woman cat­ty-cor­ner has flu­id in her knee. A young man is wheeled past with a swollen tes­ti­cle. He has a copay of $100. You nev­er find out what hap­pens to his tes­ti­cle. 

Every­thing in the hos­pi­tal is blue: the cur­tains, the uni­forms for both nurs­es and doc­tors, the piece of rub­ber they use to tie your arm to find a vein to take your blood, the rail­ings on your cot, the plas­tic water bot­tles they give patients to drink, the chairs in the lob­by, the ceil­ings and the floor tiles, the fan­ny pack the social work­er wears.   

But the blan­kets are sea foam green, a col­or that reminds you of Flori­da. Sea shells and pas­tels.  Sandy beach­es and the waves spread­ing across the shore. You final­ly call your mom and she wish­es she could jump on the next flight to see you. Your dad tells you to get some rest, to relax. You can bare­ly breathe when you speak to them, these peo­ple who brought you into this world. You are wor­ried they are dis­ap­point­ed in you, but when they tell you they are root­ing for you it makes every­thing worse. You can’t explain that you feel like a fail­ure, that you are not sure you will ever be okay, if you will be able to bounce back. 

A nurse named Julie in the hos­pi­tal asks you what you do for work. You say you don’t want to talk about it.  Your hus­band spills the beans that you are a writer. Julie tells you that to write is a gift, that when you write a book, no one can take that away from you. It is your pow­er. You want to believe her. You want to believe that your work is impor­tant, that you can make sense of your life. You want to love your­self, but you don’t. She tells you to let your­self be who you’re meant to be. 

You won­der if it’s worth it to keep try­ing. It is hard to feel like what­ev­er you do is enough.  You write about your life, about what you know. You often tell your stu­dents noth­ing is more inter­est­ing than real life. In real life, you are sit­ting in a hos­pi­tal bed. You are tak­ing notes on your phone because you think this might make for a good essay. 

You think of your child­hood, the things that may have brought you to this present moment. It always felt like a par­ty you weren’t invit­ed to. Even though you were there, you were only ever watch­ing it hap­pen. You were nev­er a part of things, even though you had the same name as your friends, even though you went to the same school.   

You text your Rab­bi and he tells you that you are a child of God, that you have pow­er and mean­ing that can­not be tak­en away from you. It is inher­ent. It is immutable. He tells you that you are strong. 

You do not feel strong here. You feel sick, worth­less. You stand in the mid­dle of the lob­by with your hands on your face. You cry and scream and your hus­band takes you aside. “They will keep you here,” he says, afraid. And he’s not wrong. Your broth­er has been here before, has coached you on what not to say in the ER. He told you about how they strip you naked, how you can’t call any­one, how you are treat­ed like an ani­mal. You haven’t spo­ken to him yet, but you can feel him here in the hos­pi­tal with you.   

You go back to your bed and lie down. You cry into the green blan­ket. You drink apple juice out of a small alu­minum pouch.   

When the sun starts to set, you see a psy­chi­a­trist through video chat. He’s hav­ing tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties, so his screen remains black. He spends an hour with you. You can­not see him, but he can see you. In this way, he might as well be God. As you talk to the black screen, you feel okay for the first time all day. Some­one is final­ly watch­ing you, tak­ing care of you, despite the fact that you can­not see him. But in that hour, he diag­noses you with some­thing that makes sense. He says there is a way to live a nor­mal life. He com­pares what you expe­ri­ence to dri­ving a car, to the gas ped­al being stuck so that your mind is going, going all the time. He says you need some­thing in order for the ped­al to release. 

He sug­gests you might ben­e­fit from being put “on a hold” in the hos­pi­tal, from stay­ing put for a while and being mon­i­tored. But he gives you the option to leave, as you might start feel­ing bet­ter soon. 

And then the ER doc­tor clears you for release. Your vitals are tak­en again. You will not be held here. You walk toward the wait­ing room, toward the door, and then you are out­side. You feel some­thing like relief, the cold air on your face, the world com­ing back to you. Your car pulls up and you get in.   

You wait at home until your hus­band pulls up. You ask if you can go to Top­pers Piz­za. You haven’t eat­en all day and you are starv­ing. Top­pers is your favorite piz­za place in town, a local restau­rant where there’s a build-your-own sal­ad bar and teenagers bring your food to the table. You order a medi­um cheese piz­za and a Coke, a warm cook­ie with vanil­la ice cream for dessert. The first time you came to Top­pers was the day you moved to this new town. It had been over­whelm­ing, but you want­ed your new life here to work out. You want­ed to start over. Some­thing about Top­pers always brings you back to who you are. It’s stu­pid, you know, but you feel at peace here. You feel hope­ful.   

The next day you resume teach­ing, not men­tion­ing to your stu­dents what hap­pened the day before. You look for ther­a­pists and make more calls. While you are on your way to a yoga class, a sec­re­tary calls you back with the good news of an open­ing. You book the appoint­ment and keep dri­ving.   

Your mom texts you that the WiFi is out on her cam­pus, that her and the kids are play­ing cha­rades to pass the time. It’s the end of the school day on the oth­er side of the coun­try and you imag­ine your mom in her cardi­gan, the way she shuf­fles her sore feet in and out of her shoes at her desk. You won­der if the room is cold, what she had for lunch, what she’ll make for din­ner. You tell her that cha­rades sounds fun.   

She writes back: Got to go, it’s my turn.  

You will start writ­ing again soon. It’s just a mat­ter of time. 

From the writer


:: Account ::

Going to the Hos­pi­tal is a true sto­ry—my sto­ry. I start­ed writ­ing this piece the day it hap­pened in an attempt to doc­u­ment most accu­rate­ly the expe­ri­ence. Men­tal ill­ness per­me­ates my whole life, and most, if not all of my writ­ing embod­ies the inner strug­gles that peo­pleboth real and imag­inedface day to day. I think we often want to project a lin­ear ver­sion of heal­ing in sto­ries; a begin­ning, mid­dle, and end to the suf­fer­ing. But the truth is that pain is per­pet­u­al. This does­n’t mean its a hope­less pur­suit to get help, but that it will be a life­long ride of ups and downs, leaps and hur­dles, and thats okay. Post hos­pi­tal trip, I encoun­tered a lot of back­lash and ques­tion­ing about my men­tal health. I had friends dis­tance them­selves from me, not sure what to say, how to deal with me, how to be around me. I had peo­ple tell me that my life was so good from the out­side, there­fore how could I strug­gle so much? While I cant imag­ine com­bat­ing some­ones open­ness with skep­ti­cism, I do under­stand the way that soci­ety and media have flat­tened and fal­si­fied the expe­ri­ence of men­tal ill­ness. With the advent of the glit­tery meme came slo­gans of nor­mal­iz­ing and open­ing dia­logue about men­tal health. But can a tweet or a small carousel of words and images accu­rate­ly por­tray the com­plex, unique expe­ri­ence of what hap­pens in some­ones brain? The more posts I see, the worse I feel. I dont feel the glow of com­mu­ni­ty, but rather it feels like some­one else, some face­less account, is speak­ing for me. I write in order to share my account, which is just one sin­gle sto­ry. I dont pro­claim I am one for all. I only wish to be one voice that inspires oth­er voic­es to share.  

Brit­tany Ack­er­man is a writer from Riverdale, New York. She earned her BA in Eng­lish from Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty and an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from Flori­da Atlantic Uni­ver­si­ty. She has led work­shops for UCLA’s Exten­sion pro­gram, Cat­a­pult, HerStry, Write or Die Tribe, The Porch, and forth­com­ing for Light­house Writ­ers. She cur­rent­ly teach­es writ­ing at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty in the Eng­lish Depart­ment. She is a 2x Push­cart Prize Nom­i­nee and her work has been fea­tured in Elec­tric Lit­er­a­ture, Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, Lit Hub, The Los Ange­les Review, No Tokens, Hobart, and more. Her first col­lec­tion of essays enti­tled The Per­pet­u­al Motion Machine (Red Hen Press, 2018) , and her debut nov­el The Brit­tanys is out now with Vin­tage. She lives in Nashville, Ten­nessee.