The second heart attack later the next evening was only the second of the many dishes of pain and fear that were served to me over the next few days. As an antipasto goes, it was a sour and bitter dish indeed, especially considering that I’d helped prepare it.
I went home the next morning, AMA. That means Against Medical Advice. The staff at
was dumbfounded. “If you have another incident, it
could be worse,” insisted one nurse. Michelle
was livid. Her e-mail was brief, bitter and to the point: Way to go! You’re going to really love it if they stamp your file with
a great big UNTREATABLE in red ink and send you off somewhere else! Providence
I should have listened. Why I did not remains a matter of conjecture, but I attribute it largely to one last gasp of my defiance; my denial; my refusal to accept the inevitable. That I was an idiot goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway:
I was an idiot.
My teacher, mentor, and all-around wonderful human being, Maria Caruso, saved my stupid ass. She came by my apartment while I was trying to complete the rest of my homework. I would be roasted in Hell before I would let something as picayune as a heart attack keep me from another term of straight A’s, damn it!
Yes, I really was thinking that way. Insane, isn’t it?
She took one look at me when I opened the door and said, “What are you doing out of the hospital?” in a quiet, steely tone I’d never heard from her before.
“Uh,” I said. “I’ve got homework due.”
“Not in my class, you don’t,” she grimly. “I called
and they said you’d checked out. Are you out of your
mind? You had a heart attack, woman!” Providence
“I have work to do,” I repeated, robot-like.
“Michelle.” There was a metallic glint in her big brown eyes that I could not recall ever having seen before. “You look awful. Let me take you in.”
“I have work . . .”
“That can wait!” She was visibly angry and a little shaken, I think. “Your health is more important. If you die, you can’t do it anyway, can you?”
I stared at her. “You have a point.”
She took me back to the hospital. She told me not to worry about homework, that she’d speak to my counselors and advisers and help work something out. I don’t know what all she did behind the scenes, but for one exception, she was an enormous influence on events. I know she told the rest of my instructors. They responded with cards and flowers and personal visits, including Doctor Pryor, that wonderfully hobbit-like little genius who was my instructor for Mass Media. I have effectively zero interest in men, but in his case, I’d be honored to make an exception. My God, what a mind that man has! He’s wasted in a community college like PCC. He ought to be teaching at Stanford or even Harvard. He brought me a bouquet of lovely yellow mums that brightened my room considerably. (2G-24, the cardiac unit. Great view)
But I digress, as always. The second heart attack happened later that evening, after Maria got me re-checked in and said goodbye.
“You aren’t going to leave us again, are you, Michelle?” the resident ER doc said, rather irritably. He looked again at the EKG and shook his head, lips pursed. “If you do, we may think twice about taking you. You keep this up, we’ll be admitting you DOA, do you understand?”
“I understand, doctor,” I muttered, a little irritable myself.
“This is serious! I want you to consider the consequences if you try to check out again against medical advice.”
“I got it already,” I growled. Shut the fuck up, doc! “I just wanted to try to finish this term. I’m due in
on the twenty-sixth for . . .” New York
“You need surgery. Immediately. So put all that out of your head. You aren’t going anywhere for at least a month. Is that clear?”
There was a taste of lemon rind in the back of my throat that had nothing to do with the pills they’d given me. “Clear, doctor. You’re right. I’ll stay. Sufficient?”
He flipped his stethoscope around his neck and left, shaking his head. I watched him go, thinking, Your bedside manner could use a little work, doctor.
I relaxed, or tried to. My heart seemed okay, but I was terribly tired. After a while, the nurses came in and transported me up to the cardiac floor. I had the same room before and after my surgery, which was nice, except when the sinking sun was coming through the window and turned that tiny room into a greenhouse. I had some dinner while they continued my work-up and told me that they would be doing an angiogram within the next day or two.
Wonderful, I thought. Now they’re going to pump dye into my heart through a tube inserted into my groin. Ought to be a really lovely scar. (In fact, you can’t see where they went in unless you look closely)
I laid there and brooded. I watched TV or tried to: Weeds, with Mary Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins. Magnificent, both of them. But the eye-candy value was all but lost on me. I brooded instead.
About , I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable. Not a racing heart this time, but there was an odd squeezing feeling in my chest, as if the gown I was wearing was too tight. Not bloody likely; the damn thing was as big as a pup tent.
I twisted and turned, trying to get comfortable, but it didn’t seem to work, no matter how I was laying. I reached over to thumb the call button and it hit me again.
An elephant stepped carefully onto my chest and settled his full weight upon me. I couldn’t breathe. My eyes crossed involuntarily and the lovely Miss Parker suddenly split into four people. (One was quite enough, thanks) I rammed my thumb into the call button and arched my back as a spasm jolted through my whole chest.
“Uck,” I croaked. “Help.”
There were heart monitors attached to me and attached in turn to a telemetric transmitter, a module about the size of a big smart-phone, but much thicker and heavier. I knew that it was probably ringing alarms down at the monitoring station, but what the flamin’ hell was taking them so long? “Help.” I croaked again. “Please.”
She bustled into the room: young and slender, dark-haired and rather pretty in a nerdy sort of way. She wore glasses. Her hair was tucked into a neat ponytail.
I never learned her name.
“Are you all right, sir?” she asked, rather tentatively.
“No.” The pronoun registered rather belatedly and I arched my back again as another spasm hit me. “Don’t call me sir!”
She came to the side of the bed and tried to hold my shoulders down. The head of the bed was raised about twenty degrees. “Sorry, uh, sir. What do you want me to call you?” She peered at my wristband. “Mister Rosey?”
Jesus H. Christ. I dropped the final ‘r’ off the end of my name to make it easier to pronounce and this little airhead mangles it anyway! “Not a mister!” I gasped. “Not a . . . man! Woman! I’m a transgender woman!”
There was honest confusion on her face; confusion and alarm and genuine concern. Her brow wrinkled as she tried and failed to comprehend what I was saying.
“Frankly, sir, I don’t know what you are. But you have to hold still. They’ll be in here soon. There’s another patient coding down the hall.” She glanced at her watch as she was trying to hold me down. “I’m just filling in while they care of that.”
“Don’t care!” I almost shrieked. “Don’t call me sir! Not a man!”
(I confess: I allowed myself to become shrill. But that ain’t all . . .)
Her eyes widened as I grabbed the end of her stethoscope. Another chest spasm was arcing through me like sheet lightning. I can honestly say that I was not in my right mind. In fact, it might be said that I had no mind at all at that point.
“You,” I croaked like Lon Chaney as Quasimodo, “Need to Google Trans101 and read everything on there. Now get the fuck out of my room!”
Her eyes behind those nerdy glasses were bulging with shock and fear. I hope I never again see that look on another person’s face, for any reason.
“Don’t you ever touch my stethoscope, sir!” she hissed.
“Get out!” I shrieked hoarsely. “Out! Now!”
She got. I writhed in pain. About three or four minutes passed, during which time I could hear her outside my room, sobbing. Another nurse poked her head in, one I recognized this time, thank God. “Michelle? Are you okay?”
“No,” I managed to squeeze out. “Chest hurts.”
“Okay.” She looked bewildered, but cautious. “Are you going to behave yourself?”
“Gah.” I tried to breathe, but that elephant was bouncing playfully on my chest. Little bright lights were flickering in my field of vision. “Yuh. Help, please.”
They hit me with a hypo of morphine and some other stuff. The tightness eased, the elephant reluctantly dismounted, and I could breathe again. While I was recovering my wits, the nurse told me quietly, with very little emphasis, that the youngster was a newbie on the floor, not briefed as to my situation and not particularly experienced.
“But that doesn’t excuse your behavior, Michelle.” She said it without any accusing tone in her voice, but I’ve never before been so ashamed as I was in that moment.
At that moment, a burly security guard poked his head in the door and eyed me. “This the one?” he asked.
I met his measuring stare with one of my own. “Don’t tell me you’re going to stand guard over me now,” I rasped. “Gimme a break.”
His gaze turned wary. “If I have to,” he said quietly and withdrew. There was a discussion going on outside the door that featured him, the newbie nurse, and two other voices I couldn’t identify. The nurse fussing over me said calmly. “It’s policy. When we have a patient that acts out like this, we have to take precautions for everyone’s safety. You understand?”
“Yeah,” I said bleakly and began to cry. The owner of one of the voices I couldn’t identify entered the room. I did a slow, painful double-take and my tears dried up. “Howdy, Padre.”
He was elderly, portly, and looked tired. But his eyes were sharp and his demeanor gentle. He looked me over and I could find only compassion in his gaze. “Howdy. You wanna talk about it?” he said, settling down in a chair.
My strength was returning, so I waggled a finger at him. “You realize that your boss has condemned people like me, don’t you, Father? Have you read Benedict’s latest edict on trans folk? How we’re violations of nature?”
“Big deal,” he grunted. “A lot of us don’t agree with what the
has to say.” Vatican
“Careful, Father. “ I waggled the finger again, mostly because it was all I could move at that point. “You risk excommunication with an attitude like that. Even your immortal soul.”
“I’ll risk it,” he grunted again. “You wanna talk about what happened?”
I took a breath and blessed the fact that I could. “Sure. She mis-gendered me. I told her to get out.”
“Kinda rough on her, weren’t you?”
I stared at him. Fatigue lined his face, but he wasn’t giving an inch. “Maybe.”
“She didn’t mean it, you know.”
The morphine was making me positively languid. Perhaps that was why I was so truthful. “She should have known better.”
He had me there. “Well, for . . . Jesus, Father! Oops, sorry. Who hasn’t heard of trans folk?”
“Some of us haven’t,” he rumbled like a far-off roll of thunder. “Me, for example. I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never met one until now.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You gotta be kiddin’.”
“Well, howdy. My name is Michelle. I’m a trans woman.”
He got up and shook my hand. “Nice to meet you, Michelle. Tell me about yourself.”
But I couldn’t. The morphine was slowly dragging me down and I desperately wanted to sleep and put the day, the whole damn disaster behind me. But I couldn’t do that either. I was thinking they were going to cut me in a few days; open me like a defective doll, stop my heart, and slice out a valve. It was all I could think about.
“Maybe later, Padre,” I said drowsily. “Tomorrow okay?”
He nodded. “Sure,” he said in that rumbling voice. I’ll be around.” He got up again and speared me with one sharp eye. “Do I have your word that you won’t go after any more nurses?”
I nodded slowly, as if it was an effort and it certainly was. “Yeah. You have my word. Just . . . tell them . . . would you? No more . . . wrong pronouns. It hurts.”
He eyed me. “I get the picture, Michelle. I don’t think it’s gonna happen again.” The priest ambled out.