We saw black widow spiders where my youngest daughter plays. That night my husband killed them, but the next day my daughter’s finger swelled up. It was huge, it was puss filled, it was purple – we were sure it was a black widow bite and that the purple-weirdness would spread. My husband texted: “This is an emergency – go to the ER.”
And I did.
Even though I have an extreme driving phobia, I drove on a freeway that I wasn’t at all familiar with. I almost got into three accidents. I listened carefully to the voice on the phone telling me what to do and I managed to get all the way to a parking garage near the ER. A woman had just pulled into a space in front of me and something in me knew I was about to snap. I rolled down the window and yelled, “I’m so sorry – but can I have this space? I am going to have a panic attack and I don’t want to be driving when it happens.” I started to cry. “I’m so sorry but I don’t think I can drive any further in this parking garage. I need that space.”
She believed me and let me have the space.
I pulled in, looked at the gray wall in front of me, blinked – and had no idea where I was. I knew I was at an ER, I knew my daughter needed medical attention, but I had no idea what state or city I was in. I called my husband, sobbing. I told him I needed him to meet me at the ER because I was having a break from reality. I took my daughter out of her car seat, took pictures of where the car was – including what floor, what the building looked like when you left it, what the building looked like from standing infront of the ER – because I knew I would never be able to explain to him where the car was.
Just thinking about this experience makes my heart race, which is why I’m writing about it. So far, only my closest friends and family know what happened. I just couldn’t talk about it. This is me trying to get rid of the shame that goes along, sometimes, with being disabled.
I walked into the ER with my daughter, sobbing hysterically. I don’t know how I got in the right lines, I don’t know how I got to the right counter, but I ended up talking to a woman who saw what was happening to me. She walked me to a seat, asked for my name and called my emergency contact – my husband. I think three people did? Maybe two. I didn’t know that at the time. I only knew I called him, told him I was in an ER, somewhere, and the baby was going to get seen. I didn’t think he was coming to help because I thought, at the time, that if I didn’t know where I was there was no way he would know.
People checked on me. They brought me juice and an icepack and kept telling me I was in the right place for my child to be seen – which was my main concern. I kept saying, “I’m just having a panic attack, ignore me — it’s my daughter who has the black widow bite.”
When my husband walked in with my other daughter I was shocked. How had he found me if I could be anywhere? I handed him my phone and said, “Car.” He looked at the pictures and understood. I had taken two klonopin when the attack started and had written in my phone notes:
“You are at the ER your child is being seen. You are at the ER, your child is being seen” over and over again, along with the words: “You do not have to drive home. You do not have to drive a car.”
As my panic attack subsided and I slowly came back to reality, I realized I had just had the worst panic attack of my life.
That’s fucking saying something.
I’ve hurt my ribs by throwing myself on the floor during a panic attack, I’ve slammed my head into walls. I’ve stumbled into the ocean or started for a bridge. But this, this was worse.
My husband told me that I had made it to the ER, that I made sure my child was getting medical attention, that I had succeeded.
All I felt – and feel – is shame. Yes, I completed half the journey (barely), but I lost a huge part of my sense of reality at the end of that half of the journey.
I can’t take care of my children, I told him.
You did take care of your child, he told me.
I don’t know when I stopped sobbing, I don’t know when the klonopin kicked in. We were in that waiting room a long time. Maybe I calmed down when a doctor said my daughter would be fine? That she just needed antibiotics and for them to lance the site? They gave her a benzodiazepine, like the kind that had just saved me, to calm her down before her surgery. It made me laugh that we were both on benzos, and honestly, it made me laugh to see her get kinda high.
I wish that I could be the kind of person who gets in a car and doesn’t panic. I wish I didn’t know what it feels like to lose part of their mind. I wish that in an emergency I…
I got interrupted, and I’m glad I did. I had to wake up the kids from their nap so they will go to bed at a reasonable hour — this included me pouring them lemonade and making up a game outside so they would stop crying from being woken up. I saw Elro’s first rainbow, took a video of her explaining what it looked like. I changed both the girls because one sat in apple juice, one had an accident. I made scrambled eggs and ham while my youngest daughter pulled on me as I stopped her from getting in the trash, smashing egg shells with her fingers and pulling everything out of the cupboards. I served dinner, told and listened to knock knock jokes, served ice-cream and then put it all back in the kitchen.
I am not failing.
Driving on the highway without experience on that highway was a mistake. There are other ways to get your daughter to the ER that wouldn’t have triggered a panic attack. I’m a terrible housewife, but I’m a great mother – a fun, crafty, singing, dancing, eccentric, ridiculous mother. My kids are happy. I’m a writer — two of my poems were just accepted in The Paterson Literary Review and I recently read at an open mic night for the first time since covid started.
I’m actually doing more than okay, but I have to do it my way. The house isn’t perfectly clean – did you know you have to dust ceiling fans? Because dust rained all over my father-in-law when he retrieved a balloon from one. I had absolutely no idea! I’ve never had a fan before! How do you even get up there, like some sort of tall Dr. Suess creature? – I cook a lot of meat that I can’t taste because I’m a vegetarian, I skipped doing the dishes to finish this blog post. Maybe because I can’t work a 9-5 job I’ve had the privilege of raising my two children and seeing all their firsts. First steps, first joke, first rainbow. Maybe because I have suffered means that I understand, and can truly be there for my dearest friend when she is suffering. As a disabled woman, you might see that I have many limitations. But as a person? Looking at the whole picture of who I am? I’m kicking ass.
The shame is gone.
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