On the morning of June 14th, I went for what was to be a vigorous walk with a friend. About 30 minutes into our walk, we took a set of stairs up and out of Riverside Park. Stairs I’ve walked and run up for almost 30 years, with ease. I was so winded that I needed to take stop to catch my breath. Then I got dizzy and my friend suggested we sit down on a park bench. I started crying. This is what I was talking about, I said. I’d been telling her about my increasing tiredness these last months. The trouble I was having mustering for a workout. Not mentally. Psychologically, I still wanted to move. Very much. And physically, my body was fritzing out on me. That morning I’d felt my physical exhaustion as I lay in bed. My heartbeat was erratic. The way it gets when I’ve had far too little sleep for several days running. I’d already made a doctor’s appointment to check my blood work for a clue about what was up. But it’s New York City. The appointment wasn’t for another month. I’d started taking more iron and a B-complex.
We’re walking over to urgent care, my friend said. I agreed. Reluctantly. At urgent care the doctor took my pulse and blood pressure and pointed his finger out the door. You need to go to the hospital emergency right now. Whatever is going on with you, it’s beyond what we have the capacity to address here. I don’t remember his name. As I write this, I’m thinking that I want to go back to that office and thank him.
I walked up the 10 blocks to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. With my note from the urgent care doctor, they whisked me to the head of the line of walk-ins and zipped me through intake. I waited a short time, that felt like forever, for them to take my blood. I sat on the last free chair, that had been wiped free of its streak of … was that shit or blood? I felt tired and frustrated and disconcerted among all the ailing people. Notice that I didn’t say “other ailing people,” because I wasn’t one of them. In my mind. I was just anemic, or just … something else. A woman next to me on a gurney was sitting up and moaning. Pulling on her clothes and skin and hair. Begging for more painkillers. All the patients, regardless of race, looked like they’d been washed with a patina of grey.
Then a nurse (was it a nurse?) came and crouched down beside me with a look of urgency…