There’s something kind of nice and reassuring about being someone’s emergency contact. Somehow, the fact that I’m responsible enough and close enough to someone to whom I’m not related validates that I’m a terrific person. I’m worth keeping around. I’m a viable option for 5 and a half hours in the emergency room of UCSF on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.
I am Melissa’s emergency contact. And over coffee yesterday afternoon, an array of weird symptoms punctuated by a dizzy spell freaked Mel out enough to call our friend, Dr. Leslie. Dr. Leslie is a pediatrician, but willing to diagnose potentially life-threatening illnesses in adults via phone. Leslie was worried Mel’s swollen arm and her dizzy spell might indicate a blood clot. So off to UCSF we sped, maneuvering around a homeless man taking a standing nap in the middle of 18th Street.
Who doesn't love any excuse to yell out a car window, and I felt our ride to the emergency room gave me carte blanche to dole out personal advice.
“You need to pull it together!” I shouted this at a hobo, much to Melissa’s amusement.
I realized then my role. Much like a family funeral or my brother’s towed car, my job was comic relief. Gallows humor is my only real talent, something I can consciously summon, like math skills or fluency in Spanish.
At 2:15pm, we raced into the UCSF Emergency Room. I was given a pink sticker proclaiming, “GRIFFIN” by a wall of a woman and we walked to the check in window. Each administrative window has one seat, by the way. So guests of the dying have to stand. We held hands as Melissa explained her symptoms, handed over her insurance and detailed her medical history. I was hoping she’d be forced to reveal some huge medical secret I’d never known, but it turns out, I knew everything already. (Snooze.)
Suddenly over the loudspeaker, someone requested a rectal thermometer.
Melissa looked up from her paperwork. “Did someone just request a rectal thermometer?”
“Yep.” Said the young woman helping us.
“Fabulous.” I smiled. “That’s why we’re here!”
There was lots of hurry up and wait. We found two seats by a small mounted flat screen in the waiting room and watched Tombstone with a couple chomping on hot dogs. Occasionally we lept up whenever we heard, “Marissa Gliffin,” heading "backstage" to get Mel’s blood pressure taken or repeat the swollen arm/dizzy story again.
Sitting in that waiting room watching Tombstone, Melissa announced, “If this is the last movie I ever see, I’m okay with it.”
I thought she was kidding until she amused herself by shouting our each line before the actor could. This was my first viewing of the film Tombstone and it provoked an hour long conversation on whether or not Billy Zane wears guy-liner. (For the record, we’re fine either way.)
Cell phone reception is very limited in the waiting room, but I tweeted our circumstances in the hopes that flowers and hysterical concerned phone calls would flood UCSF. Other than Hastings offering to bring us magazines, everyone was being very blasé about Melissa knocking on heaven’s door.
Punctuating this was my standard Sunday plans with Big Chris, which are always vague, but always. I texted Chris to alert him of our grave medical emergency. My phone glowed with the response, “Can she get me some painkillers?”
“No.” Melissa rolled her eyes. “But I bet I can get him birth control.”
In response, I texted her offer. Chris’ response isn’t appropriate, even for here. It was 3:45 in the afternoon. And much like an experienced babysitter, I knew Chris would need to be fed soon.
Looking around the waiting room, we were disappointed that maladies and injuries weren’t obvious. Everybody looked perfectly fine to us, making it doubly frustrating that their names were being called before Marissa Gliffin’s.
“Nobody’s got a fucking arrow sticking out of their head” Melissa whispered, “but some of these people look pretty anxious.”
One gentleman had clearly taken a nasty spill on his bicycle. I suspected him a victim of yesterday’s “Escape from Alcatraz Triathalon.” He looked bloodied, bruised, miserable. Surrounded by his family and fiancé shoving her engagement ring in the face of everyone with 20 feet, I couldn’t help but think, “Any man of mine could ride a fucking bike, but congratulations to you both.”
As Melissa ate the Chex Mix I procured from the gift shop in the regular part of the hospital, she watched Tombstone and sighed, “This is like a really long Pace Picante commercial.”
With that, they called her name and we were led through a maze of hospital hallways to our very own private Emergency Department room, complete with hospital gowns, latex gloves and lots of monitors begging me to “touch screen to start.”
This, of course, is when the real action began.
The two most beat-up patients waited on gurneys in the hallway while we, perfectly fine and giggly, lounged in Melissa’s very own brightly lit boudoir, providing the perfect view of hubbub and hot doctors. Time ticked by while we discussed life and love and sang songs and created so much noise, nurses poked their heads in to see what was so funny.
As we were laughing at the cyclist, I imagined a blood clot shooting from Melissa’s arm to her brain. “What if you dropped dead right now?”
“Well” Melissa said, “You could write on my tombstone, ‘She died as she lived: Laughing at the expense of others.’”
We decided I should venture outside to call Chris and warn him this was taking forever. “When I pass the cyclist, do you dare me to say something?”
“Yeah! Yeah! Talk shit!”
We came up with, “Nice work, Live Strong” but I chickened out at the last minute, only because I was distracted by a child in a crib cage, complete with bars across the top. The moment I stepped within range, my phone beeped a text at me. It was Big Chris.
“I’m hungry!” This came through three times.
Next, “Brilliant idea! We can go to San Tung!” Chris had clearly realized our proximity to his favorite Chinese joint in his hand-wringing fret over Melissa.
Finally, “This is taking too long.” I had to agree with him on that one.
I walked back inside, passing our hot dog friends who’d gone from watching Tombstone to Law & Order SVU. The woman, her blouse falling forward to reveal inappropriate and ill-fitting themed lingerie, exhaled to her mate, “My eyeballs feel hot.”
Upon informing Melissa of this symptom, we decided she was Zuul from Ghostbusters. I became distracted by any attractive man, numbering the hot doctors and calling dibs on them, particularly number 2.
“Wait, wait, wait. Which one is number 2?” Melissa climbed forward on her gurney and popped her head above mine. “Him, in the black shirt? He’s gay.”
“How dare you.”
A nurse came in and thanked us for being so patient. “Most people are yelling at us by now.”
Had we only known.
“When will we get a hot doctor?” I asked.
“Well, it depends on what you consider hot.”
“General, stereotypical, Hollywood-style hotness.”
“The supervising attendant is pretty hot. And he’s going to come by and check in. He does that with everybody.”
We received confirmation from various sources that indeed, the supervising attendant would live up to our expectations. Each time someone walked past, our noses would slam against the glass. “Is that him? Him? What about him? Jesus, lady. We’ve been here for 4 hours. And we some action!”
As soon as Dr. Nate walked in, Melissa gave me a knowing look. This was clearly him. Just like Dr. Cox on scrubs, Dr. Nate had two doctors with him, following him and his fabulous timepiece around with this big ultrasound machine so we could all learn how to determine if Melissa had blood clots swimming around in her arms.
UCSF, for those of you who live somewhere else, is the University of California’s Medical School. I kind of equate it to getting your hair cut at beauty school, but apparently the whole place is perfectly safe.
Dr. Nate dimmed the lights and we all began ultra-sounding Melissa’s arm. I could see what was going on inside Melissa on the little screen as Dr. Nate pointed out the differences between a vein and an artery.
“Oh my God, I can see your insides!”
“Sometimes, you can’t see this much.” Dr. Nate offered to his students. “But she’s thin so…”
I had to brace myself on the wall I was so thrilled for Melissa, who lay on the gurney in the dark, looked up at Dr. Nate and smiled, “I love you.”
Dr. Nate, incidentally, looks like a cross between a tan Hugh Grant and Bobby Kennedy. In scrubs. And kind of smiley and patient. (Hold on. I just got the giggles.)
So here we all are in the dark, Dr. Gorgeous having called Melissa thin and having laughed at my jokes, and I decided this had shaped up to a pretty great Sunday afternoon. Especially because, or perhaps in spite of, nothing was really wrong with Melissa. Whatever caused the swelling and dizziness wasn’t a blood clot. She was going to live.
“Are you sure, Dr. Nate?” I asked, my head lowered, my eyes raised.
“I’m afraid so, ladies.” He may have winked.
Oooh! Giggle! Giggle!
“So we’re allowed to leave?”
“Not yet.” He told us. Melissa needed a prescription for her tapeworm or alien implant or whatever was fucking up her arm. And I needed to call Chris one last time.
“She’s fine!” I announced.
“No shit she’s fine. I’m on my way now. Where are we having dinner?”
“Somewhere fancy. We want to celebrate.”
“Excellent. I look forward to making fun of you both over a $35 chicken.”
It was 8pm on the dot when we walked out of UCSF, a full five and half hours we'd entered.
"You are the best friend in the world." Melissa gushed, grabbing my arm.
I gazed up at the sunset. "I know."
"I think it's your humility..."