Our theme for February is actually a challenge: write a piece without using first person pronouns (I, me, we, etc.)

2:28 a.m., Arrival

The gate to the emergency care lot lifts, and the car, its faulty timing belt cricket-squeaking beneath the hood, tools in. Jes sits forward in the passenger seat and raises her eyebrows.

“Didn’t feel like stopping?”

The digits of the car radio appear for a moment, reflected in the lens of her glasses. She grins and leans back.

“Don’t be sorry. It’s just that’s what you did last time. Walking is fine. Walking doesn’t hurt.”

The headlights sweep blindly over a brick wall as the car pulls into a spot. Jes, bundled in Carhartt and mittens, eases herself out and stands breathing in the cold.

Back a ways, at the car port where an on-call valet stands waiting outside the sliding doors to the clinic, a pair of ambulances roll up and back into the docks. Lights on but no sirens.

2:35 a.m., ROMI

They do an impromptu triage in the lobby.

“So, you’re feeling some pain in your arm?”

“Arm and shoulder. And jaw a little bit.”

“Are they tingly?”

“No.”

“But it’s constant.”

“No. No. Well, maybe. It’s been on and off. Tonight was really bad, though.”

“She couldn’t sleep.”

“Hmm.”

The nurse taps her chin. After a moment she says she’ll take Jes’s vitals and then look into getting her a bed. It’s been busy, though, so busy, so she’ll have to wait till one frees up.

“Ben,” Jes says, turning, “did you get your visitor’s sticker?”

3:10 to 3:30 a.m., Good Patient

There are rules to being a good patient, and Jes knows them. In her room, she takes off her shirt upon request. She puts on the gown. She’s cold, but she lies quietly in bed and doesn’t make a fuss, though when a nurse comes by to ask whether she’d like a blanket, Jes says yes please thank you—all very politely—and drapes it over her legs. She folds her hands. She waits. She smiles. She waits.

3:30 to 7:10 a.m., Pharmakon

There are other rules too, in addition to these. Sit tight. Speak clearly. Press CALL if you need anything. Know your medication (Trivora, prednisone, plaquenil, Tylenol). Have insurance. Don’t get frustrated when you have to repeat yourself. Don’t get frustrated when you don’t see anyone for a while. Be polite. Don’t fiddle with anything. Bonus points if you know which arm is better for drawing blood. Stay in bed. The remote to the TV is over there if you need it. The bathroom’s down the hall, but CALL for that too. Be pleasant. Don’t fight the nurses. Don’t fight the doctors. Suck it up, if you can. Be patient.

Be patient.

That last one is hard. Still, it comes with the territory of one further rule, which is to trust in the miracle of medicine. Trust, trust, trust.

In fact, “trust in the miracle of medicine” might not even be a rule at all but the premise that all those other rules assume, the rock upon which this church is built. Else, why would anyone so agreeably submit to needle-jabs, boredom, radiation, poison?       

4:45 a.m., Okay

They might have to run a CT scan. Once the labs come back, they’ll know if they need to.

“Check out that everything’s okay with your heart,” says the doctor. “Okay?”

He waits and then says okay? again.

“Okay,” says Jes, and she smiles.

5:10 a.m., Flirt

A nurse comes by to administer a belated EKG, and she asks Jes if she wants to be alone for it since the nurse will have to lift the front of her gown.

“No,” she says, and when the nurse turns away, she looks sideways and wiggles her eyebrows in a way that’s supposed to be suggestive. Under the circumstances, however, it comes off as more seismographic than anything: a measure of uncertain, moving ground beneath.

6:30 a.m., CT

“How did it go?”

It went fine. It was weird. The dye made her feel like she’d peed her pants.

“You didn’t, right?”

Of course not.

“Did they say when the results would get back?”

Soon, but they didn’t say when.

“Oh.”

A pause.

“Well, do you want your phone? Do you want your book?”

Jes leans back into the bed and shuts her eyes.

7:20 a.m., Homeward

Walgreens hasn’t filled her prescription yet, and Jes shifts uncomfortably in the passenger seat as the car squeaks out of the drive-thru and onto the road. Traffic isn’t bad. At the McDonald’s near the corner of Neil and Kirby, a queue of cars and SUVs coils slowly around the back of the building.

A stack of stapled paper lies in Jes’s lap. On the top page are home-care instructions for pleurisy.

“You’ll come back to pick it up?” she says.

Then she says, “Thanks.”

She wipes at a smudge on the glass with the thumb of her mitten and then grimaces and starts plucking at her seatbelt, trying gently to reposition her shoulder.

“Can’t imagine sleeping like this,” she grumbles. “They didn’t do anything.”

But they did. They did do something. They said what it wasn’t, and they said what it wasn’t with such confidence that negation became a sort of charm—an amulet that you can hang around your neck and that’s far better for your chest than some old bottle of anti-inflammatories that’ll be waiting for you at the pharmacist’s an hour from now.

Jes sits back in her seat, resigned. Ahead, the stoplight turns. The car swings slowly from Neil onto Windsor, and beyond the overpass, the apartment complex comes into view, the brick gone shadowy-cool against the pale yellow of the sky.

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