When I wake in the hospital, I first have no idea where I am.
White room. No windows. Twin bed. Parrot. I add them togetherlike a strange equation. I look on my arm. Green wristband. Bracelet one: “Fall Risk.” Bracelet two: Name, birth date.
And then, bleary-eyed, I hear a knock, and Josh walks in.
“Hi,” he says. He walks over and sits on the edge of my plastic twin bed.
“Hi,” I say softly and look down. I feel stupid, for lying, for being here, for not running when I heard the word vacation, for saying I wished I could step in front of a bus. Adam and Eve are not the only ones who have hid, naked and ashamed.
He sits down on the bed beside me, gives me his hand. “How are you?”
I tell him that I’m tired, that they have been checking me all night, that if I’m not mistaken, there was a door that swung open at 3:30 am and a light that shone into my room. I show him the parrot.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you. I just didn’t want you to worry.” The only words that come are tired, cliched. I say them anyway. “I’m sorry that you had to come here at 7:00 on Saturday.”
“I wouldn’t be anywhere else. I just wish that you’d told me.” He squeezes my hand, looks me hard in the eyes. “I love you.”
I am quiet a minute, let the words sit with me. I do not argue. I listen and am loved.
We talk until a breakfast tray appears, until an announcement over the intercom shoos away the visitors until noon. “I’ll be back,” he says, putting a bag in the corner filled with clothes and shoes and toothpaste, Bible and novels. “Don’t worry about things at home. You just be here. I just want you to get better.” And he kisses me goodbye.
Doctors never travel alone. The ones here travel in twos, and the first thing I notice is their kind eyes. There is a woman, ponytailed and soft voiced, and a man who would be almost cute if he didn’t wear glasses that magnified his eyes.
“You’ve had a pretty bad weekend,” says the woman. “Can you tell us about what brought you here?”
They nod as I talk, and they scribble on their pads, but they also look me in the eye. They ask me about my dad’s illness, about what I was like as a child, about how long I have felt this way, when was the first time I felt anxious and panicked for days, the kinds of things I say to myself in my mind.
They listen to me, and I listen, too. To what I am saying, maybe for the first time.
How much do you sleep? I have a lot of work, so maybe five hours a night. Or four, if it’s a hard time. What is your eating like? Well, I forget to eat sometimes. I don’t know, maybe skip breakfast. And lunch.
Have you ever felt like this before? Anxious, panicky, depressed? For the last few years off and on. Well, in college, too. Sometimes I would worry and not want to get out of bed. So that was a while ago? Yeah, I guess. Ten years ago.
The ponytailed doctor sighs and speaks soft. “Christina, it sounds like you have anxiety and clinical depression, and it sounds like you’ve had it for probably at least ten years.”
She pauses and smiles sadly. “You’ve been suffering for a long time.”
My eyes well up as I listen to her words. Finally, I think. Finally, someone knows.
I hear the chorus of what well-meaning people have told me for years, “It sounds like you’re a little down. Everyone has rough spots.” “You’re being too hard on yourself. You just need to stop.” “Why don’t you pray? You just need to give it to God.” “We all have times like this.”
“Yes,” I tell her, and the tears spill. “Yes, I guess I have.” They keep talking, these kind-eyed doctors. They tell me that I will stay for the weekend to monitor my reaction to the medicine, that the nurses up front will give me this new medication, Zoloft, that it may cause me to feel sick, that the hospital will make appointments for me with a psychiatrist and therapist after I get out.
I listen to them as much as I can. But I think, over and over: Finally. Finally, someone understands.
Bonnie comes later with Josh. They walk in the room, and I am sitting on the bed reading. “Welcome to the Four Seasons,” I say. Bonnie wraps me in a hug.
I give them a tour of the 50 square foot room. “These are the windows that look like they have been plastered over. A nice touch. This is the parrot painting. I like to think of the person who was like, ‘What should I put in the room for a crazy person? How about this strange parrot? Oh, yes, perfect!'”
We laugh, and I sit on the bed, back against the wall, blanket tucked around me. Bonnie sits on my left, Josh on my right. We talk about the finer points of my dinner tray (the red Jell-O and bottled ginger ale). Bonnie laughs at my bracelet. “Fall risk?” she says. “I think they put them on everyone,” I tell her.
I can feel the warmth of their bodies as I sit on the Fisher Price bed. We look at a poster in the corner. “The Five P’s,” Josh reads. “Position, prevention, possessions, pain, and potty.” He snickers at the last.
“Potty?” I say. “Wow, I’m glad I’m in good hands with people that use the word ‘potty.'”
“I think Parrot should be one of the five P’s,” Josh says, and I laugh. “The parrot is an important part of my healing process,” I lecture him.
As the dinner tray is taken away by the white-haired man who does my safety checks, Bonnie rises to leave.
“I’m sorry you had to come here on Saturday night,” I tell her.
“Christina,” she says. “I didn’t have to come here. And I’d rather be here in the psych ward with you than out with anyone else.”
She hugs me, and I let the words go deep, past my mind that doesn’t believe them, down to my heart, down to my bones. I do not argue, do not think my way out of this love.
I listen, and I start to hear the truth for the first time.