I’m pretty pissed off. It’s the first day of my period. I wasn’t allowed to have any caffeine or water this morning. I’m also starving; I haven’t eaten in 16 hours per the instructions of this “cardiac stress test” that I’ve rescheduled a total of 3 times. (I later found out that I misunderstood the lady on the phone, and I only had to stop eating 4 hours prior to the test. Great.) Since I couldn’t eat or drink, I couldn’t take my medicine this morning either.
This is a recipe for disaster. Jack has just about had it with me between the car ride over and now at the hospital. Apparently, it isn’t kosher to explain to an unassuming receptionist why this hospital needs a more integrated care system. “They don’t care hons. They’re just doing their jobs. Take it up with McKinsey.” I groan, trying to hold myself together.
Finally, my buzzer starts buzzing—you know, like the ones you get waiting for your table at Olive Garden—and it’s my turn. An African American woman comes out to get me and leads me down the hallway of the diagnostics unit and into the examination room. (Jack isn’t allowed to come with me.) I explain to her how I’m feeling, and she acknowledges it but doesn’t take any bullshit. It occurs to me that I like this woman which lifts my mood ever so slightly.
The woman proceeds to pepper me with pre-examination questions. We go over my medications, all 7 of them, the majority of which are for mental health. She then starts preparing my skin for the electrodes. This involves wiping down my chest and stomach with alcohol, using an abrasive tool to get rid of the dead skin for optimal readings, in addition to more alcohol. It stings like hell.
Then she hooks me up to the wires. There are 9 of them connected to a treadmill and a computer. She starts explaining the test to me and takes my blood pressure. I look down at her name tag and it says “Tamika.”
“106/80,” she says. “That’s a little low. You really must be hungry. Let me get the nurse practitioner.”
The nurse practitioner comes in and offers me some juice and graham crackers, which I eagerly accept. The nurse says she’ll be back in 20 minutes to give me some time to eat and for my blood pressure to come back up. I then realize it’s just me and Tamika here for the time being. I gulp down the first apple juice.
After 30 seconds of silence, Tamika says, “So, is that your ‘boo thang’ out there?”
I jolted, not expecting the question. Then I laugh. “Yup, that’s my ‘boo thang.’ That’s Jack. He’s the best,” I say, opening my pack of graham crackers.
She looks at me, then looks at her computer. “He looks so concerned out there, asking to come see you and what not. I’ll tell you what, that’s a keeper. You can get rid of the other ones, but to me, that’s a keeper.”
I laugh again, crunching on the crackers. “He definitely is,” I agree as I look down at the wires on my body.
Tamika goes on. “So, what do you do for work?”
“Ah, I’m not working right now,” I confess as I stare at the floor, embarrassed by my response.
“So, what do you do instead?”
“Well…I’m trying to go to grad school…so really just preparing for that.” I move on to the orange juice.
“What degree? Where do you want to go?”
I always hate answering this, because I don’t want there to be any kind of divide between me and the other person. But I’m not going to lie to her, I’ll tell you that right now.
“I, uh, I got into Stanford for my masters…so that’s on the horizon…”
Her eyes widen. “Oh wow! Congrats girl! We got a smarty in here!” I blush. I never know what to say to things like that. But she continues.
“That’s still stressful though. You got to be careful with stress and tension, that’s what gets you in here for more tests like this. You know my son, he goes to Rider University. And I always say, you got to watch out for the quiet ones. He was doing fine, great grades, and when I asked him how he was doing he always said, ‘fine.’ But last week he called me up and asked to come home. He said he needed a break.”
“Oh wow. What did you do?”
A look of pride emerges across her face. “I drove on over there and picked him up. I said, ‘Come on home baby.’ He’s my one and only son. If anything ever happened to him, I don’t know what I’d do.”
I exhale. “You’re a good mom for doing that, you know, letting your son come home when he wants to, even as an adult. For providing that safe space. Some people don’t have that.”
“Of course I’m gonna do that. But I know not everyone has it that way,” Tamika acknowledges as she looks over at me.
I exhale again. “Yeah, I mean, my situation was the opposite. I couldn’t go stay at home even if I wanted to, even today. When I was young, I couldn’t wait to get out, but now not having that safe space really affects me as an adult. You saw all those mental health medications on the list at the beginning. So that’s a product of that life.”
She nodded like she understood. “Honey, I came from a broken home too. If I called my mom saying I wanted to come home, she’d tell me to ‘figure it out.’ So that’s what I did. I figured it out,” She pauses. “Alright, now that you got some food in you, let’s take your blood pressure again.”
Tamika wraps the blood pressure cuff around my arm and glances at my engagement ring. “When are you getting married? Congratulations!”
I always wince at this question too. “It’s been hard to plan because we moved twice in the last 2 years, we’re not really in a rush,” I tell her.
“I get it. I didn’t even want to get married or have kids because of that broken home I told you about. I’ve known my husband since I was 14 and we didn’t get married until I was 38. Take your time. You’ll know when you’re ready.”
“Since 14?! Wow, that’s wild! How did you know he was the one?”
She laughs and says, “Well he used to tease me a lot back then. He called me names that made me cry. He was so aggravating.” I recall how little boys on the playground often tease the girls they have crushes on.
“Anyway, one day on the way back from school, I broke my arm and he was there to help me. He would bring me the homework every day from class. He would come sit on my porch and tell me what I missed in school that day. It was then I realized that this guy isn’t half bad,” she says with a smile. “And my husband is a big guy from the Caribbean. You know, when my son wanted to come home, we picked him up, and my husband gave him the biggest bear hug.”
I’m startled by how much we have in common, including this: “You know something similar happened to me,” I remember, thinking back to a harder time. “I broke my arm in an accident two years ago and Jack took care of me every day. That’s what made me realize that I want him in my life for a long time.”
I point at my scar, and she points at hers.
At that moment, the nurse practitioner comes in. “Are you ready? It’s time to take the test.” Tamika and I smile at each other, and I hop on the treadmill.
As I’m packing to leave, Tamika shows me the door. “Have a great rest of your day, and I’m proud of you,” she says as she gives me a hug.
“I’m proud of you too!” I say and head towards the exit, albeit in a much better mood. There’s nothing like an unexpected friendship to turn your day around. Tamika, if you’re reading this, thank you.