When she pulled up Rachel’s file, her eyes widened.
“What is this mess?” she said. Her pupils flicked as she scanned the page, the screen reflected in her eyes.
“Oh my God,” she murmured, as though I wasn’t standing there to hear. “He never did an exam.”
The male doctor had prescribed the standard treatment for kidney stones—Dilaudid for the pain, a CT scan to confirm the presence of the stones. In all the hours Rachel spent under his care, he’d never checked back after his initial visit. He was that sure. As far as he was concerned, his job was done.
If Rachel had been alone, with no one to agitate for her care, there’s no telling how long she might have waited.
It was almost another hour before we got the CT results. But when they came, they changed everything.
“She has a large mass in her abdomen,” the female doctor said. “We don’t know what it is.”
That’s when we lost it. Not just because our minds filled then with words such as tumor and cancer and malignant. Not just because Rachel had gone half crazy with the waiting and the pain. It was because we’d asked to wait our turn all through the day—longer than a standard office shift—only to find out that we’d been an emergency all along.
Suddenly, the world responded with the urgency we wanted. I helped a nurse push Rachel’s cot down a long hallway, and I ran beside her in a mad dash to make the ultrasound lab before it closed. It seemed impossible, but we were told that if we didn’t catch the tech before he left, Rachel’s care would have to be delayed until morning.
“Whatever happens,” Rachel told me while the tech prepared the machine, “don’t let me stay here through the night. I won’t make it. I don’t care what they tell you—I know I won’t.”
Soon, the tech was peering inside Rachel through a gray screen. I couldn’t see what he saw, so I watched his face. His features rearranged into a disbelieving grimace.
By then, Rachel and I were grasping at straws. We thought: cancer. We thought: hysterectomy. Lying there in the dim light, Rachel almost seemed relieved.
“I can live without my uterus,” she said, with a soft, weak smile. “They can take it out, and I’ll get by.”
She’d make the trade-off gladly, if it meant the pain would stop.
After the ultrasound, we led the gurney—slowly, this time—down the long hall to the ER, which by then was completely crammed with beds. Trying to find a spot for Rachel’s cot was like navigating rush-hour traffic.
Then came more bad news. At 8 p.m., they had to clear the floor for rounds. Anyone who was not a nurse, or lying in a bed, had to leave the premises until visiting hours began again at 9.
When they let me back in an hour later, I found Rachel alone in a side room of the ER. So much had happened. Another doctor had told her the mass was her ovary, she said. She had something called ovarian torsion—the fallopian-tube twists, cutting off blood. There was no saving it. They’d have to take it out.