When Someone You Love Goes to the E.R.

September 13, 2022

Time stands still. You hang on every word the doctor utters. All the noise and chatter of life falls away and things get very quiet.

My daughter woke up with acute stomach pain a few days ago. I was in Miami and she was in her apartment in NYC with her roommate. Thank God they knew to call 911. The ambulance rushed them away as my daughter’s pain was crescendoing. Her screams landed her at the front of the line in the ER where they quickly administered morphine. An ultrasound and CT scan quickly led the doctors to conclude that abdominal surgery was necessary immediately.

My husband booked me the last seat on a flight from Miami to NYC while I threw some things in a bag. My daughter’s roommate put the surgeon on speaker phone for me as my plane taxied so I could hear what they were about to do to my 23 year old daughter while she was under general anesthesia. Terrified, I wiped my tears and wished the plane could fly faster up to NYC. Thank God for the wifi on-board: I notified my people, canceled appointments, booked a hotel, and prepared for the worst as Mothers tend to do.

Luckily, the surgery went smoothly while I flew. The doctors were able to remove a stomach adhesion laparoscopically. All in, the surgery was easier than anticipated by the doctors. Thank God.

It’s just that another veil of innocence fell for my 23 year old. Now she has to assimilate into her brain the reality the doctor presented: “This was just a freak accident. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent this.” Her organs just decided to get a bit tangled or “have a tantrum” as the doctor so aptly described it. In other words, sometimes our bodies don’t follow the rules. They go haywire with no notice, they disrupt work, they scare us, and we’re supposed to make sense of this disruption and keep going.

One of the definitions of trauma I use with my clients is “when normal things don’t follow the rules or when routine events fall through the cracks of predictability.” These abnormal moments makes us feel helpless. They wreak havoc on our sense of stability, especially if our physical or emotional states are threatened in any way during the traumatic event. Trauma can leave us in a state of hyper-vigilance, anticipating the next time that events don’t follow the normal rules of conduct. Asking the brain to make sense of these anomalies takes time and patience. It’s part of the healing process that lies ahead for my daughter, unfortunately.

My job this week (which I love and am honored to play) is to be a nurturing, maternal nurse to my sweet girl. She’s still struggling with the pain from her incisions, she’s nervous about peeling off the numerous bandages on her tummy, and she’s mostly napping in bed. It’s nice to be needed in this way again, to have her lean on me, to let me massage her aching neck, and bring her water.

I was supposed to attend a few social events this week, none of which seem the least bit appealing to me right now. A momentary brush with the severity of a loved one in emergency surgery puts everything in perspective. Making chit-chat while wine-tasting is the last thing I feel like doing right now. Being near my girl while she heals means everything to me. This act of love gives me clarity right now. For that and for my daughter’s anticipated return to almost-normal, I am so grateful.