Ben and I flew out of the snowy single digits last Thursday and landed on an island rimmed with coral. For a couple of days we alternated between driving on the left exploring the twisting roads, pulling over to following paths through the sea grapes to hidden sandy coves, and lounging at the hotel. But on day three, stomach pain knocked Ben out. As we talked about his symptoms, he mentioned that on our first night, he'd swallowed most of a wooden toothpick in his sandwich. What?!? Yeah, I guess I should have mentioned it. I just figured it went down, so it would go out. In the hours that followed, it became clear that his equation might not be true, and he needed to see someone. Googling "swallowed a toothpick," it turns out, can be traumatizing when, in fact, you have a toothpick lodged somewhere in your body. It can impale the liver or pancreas on the way out (both of which the GI we met had seen), and depending how that goes, one could, of course -- thank you google -- die.
We drove to the pink island hospital ER and waited in white plastic chairs until Ben's name was called. The air conditioning made our hands and feet feel clammy. Soon Ben was moved from a curtained examination room, to a room with a prehistoric x-ray machine, to a room to take blood, and then was asked to wait until the paged GI came in.
We both liked the doctor immediately. He ran down a list of possibilities for the deep pain and abnormal blood results. He seemed generally unconcerned about the toothpick working its way out -- a lot of inmates come in who've swallowed all sorts of foreign objects; it's amazing what the body can pass -- but he wanted to see where in Ben's body it was, if there was blood loss, and if the toothpick could have coincidentally coincided with a more serious source of pain. Endoscopy it would be, first thing in the morning.
Despite the unpleasant prep, Ben never complained. We rented a movie and lounged on the porch reading Wild aloud until it was too dark to see.
At 7 AM, we drove back into the parking lot on the left hand side and parked under a shaggy palm shadow. The whole procedure took only an hour, but in that hour as I waited, each detail of the room pressed against me: the creamy mint wall that yellowed our skin with it's reflection, the dark turquoise frame of the old hospital bed; the bee-hive patterned metal screening on the outside of the windows; the rust spots going up the leg of the bed-side table. What would they find? Probably (hopefully) a toothpick, but would there be more? A tumor? Something we couldn't foresee? I studied a patch of drywall where the bed had bumped it too many times that had been badly mudded and not repainted, the 2 on the door of our room.
These are the moments we hold our breath; we realign our trust; we wait.
When I found Ben in recovery in his stars-and-moons hospital gown, he looked tired and happy. He asked me several times about the cafeteria and when and how he'd gotten in that room, blissfully unaware of my previous answers as he ate a sandwich with a single slice of turkey on it. What did they find? I asked in my head. What did they find? He wondered if they'd announced finding a toothpick during the procedure or if he'd dreamed it. I think I dreamed it. And we waited, as I told him again about how the cafeteria was a small local scene with glazed donuts and white bread egg sandwiches. I noticed the bright periwinkle of the wall to my back that Ben got to face and the empty pump soap at the sink. Ben looked so much himself, but I peeled the tinfoil off his juice cups. What did they find? What if he is sick and life is about to change in this room?
Finally the doctor came in. Clean organs and a photographs of a 3" (at least) toothpick removed! The nurses handed us a flurry of papers and handouts and instructions for next steps, but Ben, my Ben asking again when I came in, was well.
We had spent what amounted to a whole day of our getaway in this island hospital, but now as we walked back into the sun, my goose bumped skin relaxing in the heat, Ben was well. Well! We drove to the botanical gardens and named the plants we'd seen for days -- Flamboyant, Agave, Sandbox tree, Travelers tree, Spurge -- and then dove into the ocean for our final minutes, climbing on the plane wind-blown and salty and well.