When I arrived at the emergency room at about 3:00 am on Sunday, I was pretty sick and almost completely incoherent. The triage nurse called me right over and starting asking questions. Her voice sounded really, really loud, but as if it were coming from the far end of a long tunnel. It was all I could do to respond via "yes" and "no," hoping for some semblance of accuracy.
Now that I have some recall of my mini-sojourn in the ER, I am dumbfounded by how little we understand of each other. Even when the questions and answers seem utterly direct, we may neither of us have any idea what the other is thinking or trying to communicate.
I recall only my own thoughts, of course. Now I wonder what hers were.
After she asked my husband whether I was always that pale (Uh, no), the following interaction took place:
Nurse: Do you feel safe at home?
Me: Safe at home? (Safe at home? They're going to send me home? I just got here. I guess they can tell by looking at me that I'm not going to die. Well, if I get any sicker, home is only five minutes away. I can always come back. Except for the fact that standing up and walking and sitting are all problems at the moment.)
Nurse: Yes, do you feel safe at home?
(Oh. I get it. That's a DV* question. She doesn't think I'm well enough to go home. She wants to know if my husband hits me. I was supposed to understand that. I'm about to collapse here and I'm supposed to understand DV code. ) (*DV = domestic violence. The question has finally sunk in only because I used to practice family law.)
Nurse: Do you have an advance directive?
Me: (She does think I'm going to die. She can tell by looking at me that e coli has invaded my body and is about to finish me off.)
(How embarrassing. I still haven't filled out the forms. But no Terry Schiavo. Please. Don't do anything stupid. I cannot get any words out. Surely my husband will remember. No Terry Schiavo.)
Nurse: Do you have any religious needs? Any denominational concerns?
Me: (Do I have any religious needs? Well, I am trying to decide whether I am called to go to seminary and whether I can manage it. I am working through a whole theological thing in my head, pretty much all the time. I'm a Presbyterian who was a Methodist who once wanted to be a Catholic. Do I have any religious needs? Or denominational concerns? Religious needs and denominational concerns are ALL I have.)
(Oh. She wants to know if I want to see a chaplain, because I am dying of an e coli infection, and whether I want her to call one of my pastors. Is that what she wants? Whatever. I can't figure out anything that's going on. I guess I will just try and aim for consistency.)