THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

i . am . lying . face . down . on . the . floor .

that’s
not
right

my . chin . is . bleeding . I stood up slowly, and saw big red drops on the wood-grain ceramic tiles.

that’s
not
good

I walked into the bathroom, got a towel and pressed it to my chin, walked into the bedroom. I got onto the bed … trembling.

that’s
not
normal

David was sleeping, and I squeezed his hand. I squeezed again as he woke up.

ME: [quietly] David.
DAVID: [groggy] What’s wrong?
ME: I collapsed. My chin is bleeding. You need to call the paramedics.
DAVID: What? Ok.

David called right away. The local fire house was just several blocks away, so they arrived quickly. The paramedics … young, muscular guys (clearly I wasn’t too out of it to notice [wink]) … asked what happened.

I had fallen asleep on the couch. I walked to the bathroom to pee. Then at the sink, I felt dizzy. And. Woke up on the floor. Face plant.

I was able to sit up on the bed … stand up … in fact, walk up the apartment stairs to get onto the gurney. The ambulance took me to UCLA. No lights and sirens, except for a brief moment that I thought might be in Westwood Village.

I got my wrist bracelet and was moved to a wheelchair … then rolled into a large room to be triaged. The nurse had long, turquoise hair, and I told her she looked like a mermaid … adding that at a moment like this, it was somehow reassuring. She smiled. A wall clock showed midnight. Saturday becoming Sunday.

I waited in that room, under a blanket. Listening to co-eds chatting about a hurt ankle … a guy entering their conversation, flirting … a woman in another area moaning in pain.

Eventually a tech arrived. I said that the fact I was waiting must be a good thing … a serious problem would have been treated immediately. He liked my attitude, adding that he wished more people realized this. I had a CT scan of my face to see if anything was broken and an EKG. But there was no cat in the CT scan room. I know … because I asked, “Where’s the cat?”

I waited some more, trying to get comfortable in the wheelchair much like one does … or doesn’t … in an airplane seat. Finally, I was rolled into a room with a bed, and a nice nurse with curly hair made sure I was comfortable.

Time floated.

All the medical professionals wanted to know if I’d ever fainted before. No. Really, no. But I have vertigo … have been dizzy or light-headed plenty of times. I know how it feels, the white stars … I know what to do, sit down with my head down. This is the first time I blacked out.

An ER doctor came in with the news. My mandible was broken in three places. The maxillofacial specialist had been called … and was coming to discuss what could, should, would be done. Sigh.

The specialist arrived sometime later. Two small breaks in the right, a more jagged one on the left … but my jaw was still in alignment, no damage to the joint. The options were surgery to insert plates to stabilize the left side OR wiring shut my jaw for 4 weeks. She’d talk with the other doctors, and let me know their recommendation the next day. I explained that I needed to know by then … so I could change our airline reservation. Sigh.

We wouldn’t be going home that Tuesday.

The ER nurse came back in, and asked if I wanted morphine. I wasn’t in much pain, so didn’t know if that was necessary. She said, “Honey, you broke your jaw. You deserve morphine.” And as she put the syringe into the IV tube, she said, “Go to your happy place and relax.”

I needed 5 stitches on the underside of my chin. The ER doctor numbed the area, and soon it was finished and bandaged. He said his shift was ending in an hour, and a new doctor would be taking over. They would admit me … to rule out a heart-related cause for my collapse. A while later, he re-appeared. “I just came back to say good-bye and hope you are better soon,” he said smiling. How nice was that?!

Now that I knew what was wrong, I called David. I hoped he had slept. He could come to the hospital, with proof of vaccination, when I was admitted … I’d call him when I was in my room. He was with our friend Nancy, and she wrote down what I needed. Toothbrush … cream … phone charger … leggings, sweater, shoes.

I was rolled into Observation, where I’d be staying … a large room with 4 curtained areas. I had the 4th bed, at the end by the wall. I only saw the woman in Bed 3 … she looked like someone I might have gone to school with. We smiled at one another.

And at some point, I had two more CT scans. One of the brain, another with contrast dye of the heart and lungs. Both were normal. (No Abby Normal for me.)

It seemed I wouldn’t be having any sort of surgery that day, so they brought food. “Blenderized” according to the print-out … squash soup, applesauce, chocolate ice cream, hot tea.

That evening, instead of our original plan to meet Barbara and Peter for ramen at some cool restaurant on Sawtelle, they came to visit. We’ve known each other since elementary school and … how convenient … Peter is an E.R. doctor. His diagnosis was syncope. Barbara was happy that I didn’t have much pain, and pleased I could talk. Then they went to dinner with David.

Over the next day, the patient in Curtain 3 and I commented to one another casually in positive yet not invasive ways. “Sounds like good news.” … “I hope you get to go home soon.” When she was discharged, she said, “I think you are someone I could have been friends with.” I hope she gets, stays, is well …

The maxillofacial doctor re-appeared, saying they had decided to wire my jaw, since the joint was still aligned. It was much less risky than surgery. They’d do it the next day, right there in my hospital bed, you’ll just need novocaine. With gel on my gums, I said [emphasis in original]. The doctor gave me a quizzical look. I repeated that since novocaine has a needle T H I S L O N G [demonstrating with my hands] there must be gel“ [emphasis in original]. Ok, he said, we’ll bring some from the clinic. The good news, he said, was that I’d be wired for 2 weeks.

Only two weeks … David & I exchanged glances. We could stay here for 2 more weeks, and have the wires removed here. Only 75 minutes on hold with Lufthansa … no fare increase.

The next afternoon, without notice, the trio of doctors appeared to do the wiring. As they stood there, I said, “You’re going to wire me for 4 weeks, aren’t you?” “Yes.”

I brushed my teeth.

There was gel and the female doctor reminded me to keep breathing. Soon it was done.

David came back into the curtained area. My mouth was numb, talking was awkward. Saying the word “awkward” was too awkward to say. We sat, 3 feet apart, exchanging WhatsApp messages.

The next morning, I was wheelchair-ed outside where David waited in the circular driveway. I had excellent care, and am appreciative of the myriad of tests to make sure it was merely syncope. Fainting.

I do have a special shout-out to the Nurse Practitioner, Stephanie. She came immediately with test results … explained … smiled and encouraged … hooked me up with some morphine before they wired my jaw … got me extra ice cream … brought me a bag of plastic straws that I’d need for my four weeks of sipping. If you’re reading this, Stephanie … grazie mille.

It was good to be back in the apartment … but strange to see the spot where I had fallen. I was nervous the first couple of times I walked across that area. But the feeling faded as I began to feel like myself again. Myself, with my jaw wired shut.

I was entering the brave new world of enhanced beverages, the most famous of which is Ensure. The containers have inviting images of chocolate chunks or vanilla flowers, cinnamon rolls or coffee beans. The first sip offers a surge of that flavor, coating the mouth with lab-manufactured chemicals. But sips 2 through the last are simply sweet. Sweeter. Sweetest. Cloying … lingering … longing for something vegetal. I also bought protein powder to pump me up.

Chocolate was my choice.

David & I have a rating system for wine. Great … really nice … we’d buy it again … good value for money … acceptable if purchased by-the-glass … (sarcastically) it’ll go better with food … time for a vodka drink. My liquid diet gave me a new one — “pardon me while I go and gargle.”

I paced my path from the sink to the floor … 6 to 8. I don’t remember 6 to 8 steps.

I bought jumbo-sized reusable straws, rubbery and colorful. And a shaker bottle (pink, of course), so I could make drinks without bothering with the blender. It would be mandatory for the 12-hour plane ride home, together with the doctor’s letter explaining my bottled beverages to the TSA agent.

Trader Joe’s has a Banana & Almond Butter Smoothie and a Vanilla Almond Spiced Chai that are good enough “to drink in real life.”

And best of all, Agat brought me delicious homemade soups … assorted veggies, another with carrots and ginger. Both full of potatoes and butter and love.

David & I walked over to the fire station to thank the paramedics who came to my aid. That crew wasn’t on duty, but the Captain was appreciative of our visit.

On Day 5, my PCP removed the stitches. And the cardiologist said the Holter Monitor confirmed I was in excellent health. Dizzy blonde. Peter was right … I fainted. Note to self: Don’t do that again.

Behind my mask … nobody saw the stitches, nobody knew my jaw was wired. Not too bad for a gal who fell on her face.

I was very fortunate. It could have been worse. So. Much. Worse.

… EPILOGUE follows …

STRAWBERRY-HONEY CUPCAKES

2 oz. butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1–½ cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
6 strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
¼ (approx.) cup honey, heated

- Preheat the oven to 350° F (170° C). Place 12 paper or silicone liners in a muffin pan.
- In a large bowl, mix sugar and eggs until well blended, then add the melted butter.
- Stir in the flour and baking powder, mixing until a thick battery is formed.
- Pour batter into muffin cups.
- Place a strawberry half, cut side down, onto each cupcake.
- Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until done.
- In a small saucepan, gently heat the honey.
- Brush warm honey onto each warm cupcake.
- Serve at any temperature.
Enjoy!

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Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.

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