I open my eyes and am surrounded by white light. Am I dead? As the blur of my surroundings slowly takes shape, the pain comes swiftly into blinding focus. A strangled cry escapes my throat. My fingers grasp for my belly. Has anyone heard me? Is anyone coming to help?
A nurse in navy blue scrubs appears next to me. She asks me, “On a scale of one to ten, how bad is your pain?” I can’t answer. I can only toss my head back and forth on the granite-hard hospital bed. “Okay, let me get you something for that.”
She vanishes into the whiteness and is gone for an eternity. The pain in my belly swells and swirls deeper with every passing minute. No. I’m not dead. The dead don’t feel pain, but I certainly do. It’s burning like a fire down my legs and up my spine, wrapping in thick tendrils through my chest.
Not dead, but wishing I were.
Wisps of memory begin to come back. I’m in Denver. In the hospital. I’ve just had surgery to remove 15 inches of my small bowel that Crohn’s disease had killed. I’d been terrifed of having such a surgery, but there was nothing else to be done. Either I removed the destroyed section of my intestines, or the disease removed me from the world. And all those people who had reassured me that having the surgery felt like they’d done too many sit ups? They could jump off a cliff.
The tendrils of blazing heat that had been burning through my body had turned into sharp shards of ice. Shivers wrack my body, slowly at first, then harder and harder until I’m certain I’m having a seizure.
The nurse materializes by my side again and squirts something into the IV tube jutting from my hand. The metallic tang hits my lips. I rub my tongue hard against the roof of my mouth and end up biting it as I quiver and shake.
I’m packed in warm blankets, layers deep. The weight presses me deeper into the gurney. I can’t escape. My head swirls with the medicine she’s given me and the shakes slowly subside. A moment of temporary relief from the raging pain in my belly washes over me. My eyes drift closed. I just want to go home. I just want my cat.
How long have I been in the hospital? Two days? Three? A week? Time has slipped by like a gushing river while I’ve been confined in the tiny, one-bed hospital room. The bland taupe walls and pastel blue privacy curtains make my stomach turn. A brick wall that forms the next unit over is the only view from the single window. Not even the sun can help me track time. Not from in here. There’s nothing except the round wall clock hanging on the opposite wall. I watch the second hand tick-tick-tick the minutes away.
Pain begins to creep up on me, clawing through my belly. My eyes squinch shut. I frantically jab the button on the pain pump with my thumb. It gives a harsh beep. No more morphine allowed. Sleep was my only refuge from the constant stabbing now.
Nurses buzzed in and out like a stream of busy worker bees. Lab techs poked and prodded my bruised arms with their stinging needles at all hours of the night. Anxiety closed around my throat like a cold hand. What if this pain never went away? What if the incision wasn’t healing right? What if I never left this hospital ever again?
The lightest of all touches grazed my foot. Another rustled the thin white blanket that covered my toes. Tiny footsteps marching up the mattress toward me. No, it couldn’t be!
My eyes flew wide open. Next to my knee was my cat: Cammie. I sucked in a sharp breath, jostling my insides. But I didn’t care. My best girl was here!
All of the times that I’d been admitted to this hospital for various complications, Cammie had been banned. “No pets allowed.” My sweet girl was always hissing mad about it. Perhaps, just this once, they knew I needed her more than I needed any medicine.
Cammie sat back on her haunches. Her pink tongue bathed the back of a delicate white and gray paw. “Of course I’m here,” she seemed to say with a sassy wiggle of her shoulders. “Where else would I be?” The ragdoll cat had been with me through every rapid on the white water ride called Crohn’s. She’d pulled me back in when I’d gone overboard and nearly lost my mind. She'd kept me from giving up. The cat was my lifeline.
The cat tap danced around my fresh incision and crawled up onto my chest. Cammie laid down, delicate as a curtsey. Making muffins against my ribs, she purred like a Harley.
“I’m so glad you’re here.” My fingers wiggled through her silky fur. Her striped tail quivered with contentment. “I’d die without you.”
There were so many things I was uncertain about, my health and my future being one of them. But if there was anything I knew, it was the weight of the cat on my chest. I had to fight for her; get well for her. For my family.
My husband, Jason, sits at the foot of my hospital bed. How long had he been there? Had he ever left? He must have if he’d gone home to get Cammie. Why didn’t I remember?
A smile flickered across his thin lips. “Who are you petting, baby?”
My muscles unknotted bit by bit, relaxing under the cat’s mesmerizing purr. My eyelids drooped. “Cammie… My Cammie…”
Reality blurred by as the car wove through the Denver streets. The thirty minute trek wafted by in moments. Did I imagine the scent of street tacos from a food truck? Or the way the sunlight played across Jason’s face? The pothole that had jarred my guts was was crystal clear.
Jason helped me stumble from the car. Up the steps, I weaved and wobbled into the house. The feat was more taxing than climbing Longs Peak. I couldn’t take one more step. My fingers clung to my husband’s arms, leaning into his strong body for support. He kissed my forehead and rested his cheek against my unwashed hair.
“Thank you, baby.” My words are muffled by his shirt.
“For always being there. For driving me home. For bringing Cammie to see me.” The last of my energy bled out of me and Jason eased me on to the couch. “She really helped me get through it.”
Jason licked his lower lip. Silence settled on the room.
“Babe, Cammie passed away over a year ago. Don’t you remember?”