We broke up. But when we landed in the ER, that didn’t matter.
By Amanda Ottaway
February 24, 2016
The Washington Post
He was the first man to break my heart.
We dated casually this past summer, and I’d fallen harder and faster for him than I could help. He liked me, he said, but didn’t want anything serious. One Wednesday night at the end of August, we sat on my front porch and he told me he didn’t think we should do this anymore.
We wanted to stay friends, but we both knew that process would be harder and take longer for me than for him.
Two weeks later, we were on a basketball court together, me filling a spot on his rec league team. The game was scrappy, dirty and good. With 10 minutes left, he drove the key for a fast-break layup and got undercut by an opponent. He flipped over the guy and fell hard, breaking the fall first with his hands, then with his face.
“I think my wrist is broken,” he groaned immediately. Putting a hand to his lips, he asked: “Is my tooth missing?”
I leaned over and squinted into his mouth.
“Yup,” I said.
One of his front teeth was half-gone. Blood was coming from somewhere — and a lump was swelling on his right wrist.
A half-hour later, we walked together into the nearest hospital’s emergency room. We were sweaty and smelly, wearing cut-off purple T-shirts, baggy shorts and sneakers. I was carrying our bags and a coffee mug full of milk (to keep the tooth from rotting) and the tooth itself; he was holding his right wrist.
The place was packed. After his X-rays, we waited. And waited. I tried to distract him from the pain in his wrist. But I didn’t know how to touch him to soothe him. The last time we’d touched, I’d been trying to seduce him, to keep him from leaving my front porch for good. Tonight, I wasn’t trying to get him back. I figured that if I were him, I’d want to be comforted.
Hours later, a doctor told us that his wrist was broken and it needed to be set that night.
“So, guys,” another doctor, a young orthopedic resident, said casually, “I’m supposed to have a medical student here with me tonight to help me with this. But I don’t.”
He glanced at me. “Do you wanna help? I need someone to be the leverage while I set the wrist.”
“Um,” I said, a little startled. “Well, I’m here to help out, so if that’s something you think I’m qualified to do — I was just gonna hold his hand, but …”
“Great,” the resident said. “Come here, I’ll show you what to do.”
I have no medical training. I can barely apply a Band-Aid. But I walked up to the head of the bed. Our patient was loopy on morphine, looking amused. I was instructed to lace my fingers around his right bicep and pull down while the resident bent his right elbow at a 90-degree angle, grabbed his hand and pulled up. The resident counted down. All three of us grunted as we began to wrench the bones back into place.
My face was inches from my ex’s brown eyes, the scruff on his cheeks that I adored. He was miserable.
“Hey, you’re doing great,” I told him in the calmest voice I could manage. “You’re doing so good, babe. We’re almost done.”
But we weren’t done. Still hanging off the bicep with both hands I craned my head to give the resident a pointed, questioning look and saw his face, clenched with concentration as he yanked at the fingers and hand. I saw the misshapen wrist. I felt dizzy.
Then I passed out.
“Do you have a history of seizures?” one of the other ER doctors asked when I’d come to and been helped to a chair. I said no.
“But she has a history of concussions,” my ex chimed in from the bed. It was something we discussed on one of my favorite dates with him. I’d told him there was a funny story behind the first of my three concussions.
“I want to hear about all of them,” he’d murmured in my ear, a slow smile on his lips, his arm heavy and warm around my shoulders.
“Did you urinate on yourself?” the doctor asked me pointedly.
I honestly didn’t know. I was shaky, confused and sweating all over. I shrugged.
“Are your clothes damp?” the doctor pressed.
“It’s probably just sweat,” our patient piped up from his bed.
Bless you, I thought.
“Urinary incontinence is one of the telltale signs of a seizure,” the doctor plowed on. “We’re gonna need to check you in.”
They brought me my own bed and wheeled me out of the room. A nurse politely informed me that I had in fact wet myself and handed me some wet cloths so I could clean up. I changed into a hospital gown, crawled into my new bed and cried. They were telling me I’d had a seizure. It was almost 2 in the morning. My head hurt. I’d peed on the floor.
Later, I was lying in a sleepy haze, hooked up to an IV, when I felt a hand on my shin. I opened my eyes and looked into his.
His right arm was in a sling. His tooth had been glued back on, somewhat haphazardly.
The orthopedic resident came back in to show us the results of the new X-rays. He saw that my visitor still had IV needles in his arm, so he had him stand still while he yanked them out. A few minutes later my visitor, standing by my bed watching TV, started to look pale and sweaty himself.
“I feel like I’m gonna pass out,” he mumbled.
There was nowhere for him to sit, so I scooted over as far as I could, adjusting the tangle of wires protruding from my arm and patting the small sliver of bed next to me. He climbed in and we lay side-by-side on our backs, squeezed close together, shoulders touching, 3 in the morning, the way we used to. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths as I rubbed his good arm. He didn’t pass out.
Around 3:30 a.m., we were discharged. He politely stepped out of the room while I got dressed. I came out wearing two mismatched hospital gowns, high red basketball socks and sneakers, holding my basketball bag and the plastic bag with my pee-soaked clothes in it.
“How do I look?” I asked him.
He looked me up and down.
“Super hot,” he said.
He called a Lyft, and, because I was still feeling sick and shaky, told the driver how to get to my house. Grasping my hand with his good hand, he helped me out of the car and walked me slowly up my porch steps to the front door. I thought of all the times we’d stood kissing on that porch and he’d asked to use my bathroom as an excuse to come upstairs. A few feet away were the white plastic chairs we’d sat in as he gently broke things off with me.
We hugged gingerly, not wanting to hurt each other anymore. I went inside alone and watched the car pull away, fingering the lump on my head, trying to figure out how deep the pain went.
Amanda Ottaway is a freelance writer currently working on a book about women’s basketball.