• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


"I'm in the Emergency Room"

A drop-everything moment.

January 24, 2020

“I’m in the emergency room.”

Wait, what?

My family is a set of low-drama personalities. The Girl is in the 10th grade, and in all of her years of school, we’ve been called to pick her up sick once. That’s it. The Wife didn’t yell during either childbirth. I have been compared to Bob Newhart, and I wear it proudly. As a group, we don’t cry wolf.

So when TW called me at work on Wednesday to say that she was in the emergency room and needed me there right away, I knew she wasn’t kidding.

She felt abruptly and severely awful at work, so she drove herself a half hour (!) to the ER in the hospital closest to where we live and checked herself in.

I didn’t realize how rattled I was until I caught myself loudly cursing out other drivers on the way there. That’s not my usual way.

True to form, even though the pain was intense enough to make her vomit, she kept an even keel. I quickly moved into the advocate/helper role, dealing with doctors, nurses, insurance forms and the various logistics. I also contacted the kids to let them know where we were, why and what to expect. Also true to form, they took it well.

We were both struck by the emotional disconnect of the ER. You show up in miserable shape, in pain and scared. The doctors and nurses treat it like a word problem, methodically eliminating possibilities while you wonder which part of “excruciating pain” they don’t get. And why they let a half hour pass between each step, while you endure.

They figured out pretty quickly what it was. Suffice to say, she’ll be miserable for a few days and then should be fine. It’s nothing life-threatening, though it’s undeniably unpleasant. She was issued a few prescriptions, we checked out with a copay and the vague certainty that another bill or set of bills will follow with random numbers of mysterious provenance, and we left.

Astute readers will see one issue. We took two cars to get there. She couldn’t drive at that point, so we had to leave her car there. After we got home and had dinner, my night was consumed with getting her car back, dropping off and picking up her prescriptions, and getting TG to and from her piano lesson. TW took comfort in the Real Housewives, somehow.

The good news is that in a few days, she should be back to normal. I was glad to have a job that allowed me to dash out the door like that and still come back the next day. The Girl was a reassuring presence when we got home.

Priorities can change so fast. Before the call, I was about to eat lunch and finish preparing for a budget meeting. Those both immediately became irrelevant. And I discovered just how vivid a medical imagination I can have in traffic.

Work-life balance is a great long-term goal. But some days, life pushes down so hard on its end of the scale that it’s all you can do not to tip over.

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Matt Reed

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