Wednesday, October 22, 2008


It was Saturday night, our friend Ghusun had come over for dinner. The Poet had made his signature dish—roasted whole trout. I had made a cobbler with blackberries I picked from the vines lining our sidewalk. We had all eaten well, the movie was over, Ghusun had left. It was now 10:30 and the house was quiet, but my head was still buzzing from too much TV, so I went for a walk—up and down the hills of Fremont, towards the bars, where there were lights and people to make me feel safe.

Back home again, I whizzed through my bedtime routine—chlorella powder mixed with water and electrolytes, the handful of pills from the days-of-the-week pill box marked N, then the immune booster I let dissolve under my tongue after pulling the capsule apart and measuring out half a dose. I brushed my teeth, took my vitamin C and salt. By then the Poet was asleep. I wasn’t sleepy, so I read in the living room until I felt tired, then slipped into bed.

(Now the Poet and I have worked it out that we sleep in the same room, in separate beds. He kicks in the night, and I get up to take medication. Neither one would get enough rest if we tried to sleep side by side on the same mattress.)

Within a few minutes I was asleep, and in a few minutes more I was awake again. This is always a sure sign I had forgotten a supplement. I took a Heart Gems capsule (vitamin B), then drank down more Vitamin C & salt. I still couldn’t sleep.

Doh! I hadn’t done my Bicillin injection—the antibiotic injection I do three nights a week before going to sleep. I got out of bed, wishing my body weren’t so sensitive to these things. Couldn’t I just forget, just once, and still get a good night’s sleep? It wasn’t the end of the world. But even when my mind forgets, my body doesn’t. This wasn’t the first time I couldn’t sleep because I had inadvertently skipped a dose of medication.

When I went into the kitchen the clock read 1:30. I got the antibiotic-filled syringe out of the refrigerator and read a Willa Cather essay as I iced the spot for the injection, i.e. the side of my butt.

The hardest part about the injection is first thrust of the needle. I’m supposed to hold the syringe as if it were a dart, and insert the needle with a quick throwing motion. Only it’s hard to do that on myself. I hold the syringe and do the motion, but I inadvertently pull up in the last instant, so the needle just barely breaks my skin—and this of course makes it hurt ten times more than if it went in quickly.

That done, I have to push the 1½ inch needle down into my flesh, then pull the plunger up a few millimeters to check if I’ve hit a vein. If blood flows back into the syringe, then I’ve hit a vein. I have never had this happen. From there, I start to push the plunger down. This I do very slowly, to avoid it hurting. Some nights it hurts anyway, some nights it doesn’t hurt at all.

Tonight it wasn’t hurting if I kept the needle about 1/8 of an inch short of its full insertion. I figured there was some nerve down there that I was brushing against, so I kept back from it.

When I pulled the needle out, a small stream of blood flowed quickly down the side of my hip. I had never seen so much blood after an injection.

I grabbed for a cotton ball, mopped up the red liquid and pressed on the spot of the injection. “Please let this stop,” I begged the powers that be.

I switched the cotton ball for the ice pack, pressing to the spot while I read a little more to distract myself. Willa Cather had met Flaubert’s niece while she was vacationing in France (I wasn’t really sure that I cared). A couple minutes later I pulled the pack away and saw that blood had soaked a thick oval across the Kleenex I used to line the cold pack. Now I was scared.

In retrospect, it wasn’t all that much blood, but when you’re up alone, pushing needles into yourself in the middle of the night, it’s hard to keep things in perspective.

To add to that, several weeks ago I had read the warning label on the package. “Not for intravenous use,” it read, and went on to explain that if it was used inadvertently in an IV, you could die. Was hitting a vein without knowing it an “inadvertent intravenous use?”

Had I hit a vein? I had pulled the plunger up once the needle was in, but now I didn’t remember checking at the base of the syringe for the red spot of blood.

The bleeding wasn’t stopping.

“M., help me!” I called out. The Poet was in the other room, and asleep, so it wasn’t surprising he didn’t hear. With some reluctance, I opened the bedroom door. “M. I’m scared!” I called out to him.

“What is it?” he said, rolling towards me under the jumble of quilts and blankets on his bed.

“I just did my injection and it won’t stop bleeding, and it’s never happened to me before.”

“Come here,” he said. I sat down on his bed. “Just press on it until it stops bleeding.”

“OK,” I said. “I’ll got get another cotton ball.” Once I was back he put his arm around me while I sat next to him, pressing.

“I’m scared I hit a vein,” I said.

“Is it bad when you hit a vein?”

“I think so. It might be really bad.”

“OK, then get to sleep soon and we’ll call Dr. Ross in the morning.”

“But I think I might die in the middle of the night!” I blurted out.

He laughed his big rumbly laugh.

“Then go lie down in your own bed. I don’t want to wake up in the morning with a dead body next to me.”

I laughed too, but against my will. The part of me that was laughing and the part of me that was scared were duking it out.

“If I do die, you’ll be sorry you were so mean to me!” I shot back.

“You won’t die! They wouldn’t give you this injection to do at home if you could kill yourself,” he said dismissively.

OK, he had a point, but I wasn’t giving up so easily.

“If I die, will you tell my parents I loved them?”

“All right. Anything else?”

“Nope, that’s all.”

“I don’t want to die right now!” I howled a minute later. “I don’t want to die now, while I’m still sick and before I’ve done anything with my life!”

“You won’t die.”

“I might.”

“OK, I’ll bet you fifty dollars you won’t. If you’re right, I’ll give you fifty dollars---”

“Why would I do that? If I wake up tomorrow and I’m alive I’ll have to pay you fifty dollars, and if I’m dead you’ll pay me fifty dollars?”

“Yeah! I’ll bet you!”

I was laughing again. I checked to see if the bleeding had stopped.

“Is it better?” he asked. It was. I went to put on a band aid. I was still a little miffed that he hadn’t taken me seriously. I had been scared, I wanted to be comforted.

“Do you think I could be bleeding internally?” I asked when I got back to the bedroom. Then, “Can I lie down next to you?”

“No, I want you to die in your own bed.”

“OK, you’re right. You need to get a good night’s sleep because if you wake up with a dead body in the other bed you’ll have a lot of stuff to do tomorrow.”

I gave him a kiss and went to the living room. I wasn’t that worried anymore, but I was still wide awake. I lay on the couch and did my relaxation technique.

Twenty minutes later I heard the Poet calling. He doesn’t usually talk in his sleep, so I was surprised to hear his voice. “Noelle!” he called again.

I peered into the bedroom. He was half asleep, looking up at me. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

“I’m OK, I don’t think I’m going to die. I’ll go to bed soon.”

He had taken me a little seriously after all. I went back to the living room, no longer feeling embarrassed or neglected. In a few minutes, I was sleepy.

“I’m so sorry for waking you up last night,” I said the next morning.

“It’s OK, sweetie, you were scared. It was understandable.”

“But you didn’t sleep enough and now you’re tired.”

“That’s OK, we’ll have a relaxed Sunday,” he said.

And we did.


Joe said...

Hi Naomi,

I'm reading all this stuff for the second time, as you port it to the new blog (I have plenty of time now that I don't have to go to work :). I liked this the first time, and this time it had me laughing out loud.

I know. You were serious. But you sure make it seem funny now (says he who hasn't yet had to take bicillin).


Naomi Adams said...

Hi Joe:

Thanks for the compliment. You know things aren't that bad if you can still laugh!