All night, the wind howls with a strength I’ve yet to experience here. The force causes tree limbs to groan and other strange noises to sound in our dark room. This feels to me as if it is matching the moans of your pain—a tumultuous night’s weather fitting for the fever and illness racking your body. In the morning, I call every doctor’s office in town but to no avail. Just as I am prepared to drive you to urgent care as soon as they open at 8am, you finally start to feel a modicum of relief and your eyes grow heavy with the sleep you lacked all night. You ache for rest and would rather stay in bed than sit in a waiting room for unknown hours, and I can hardly argue with your logic.
So it is in this state of unease that I drive to work, crossing over the Maitai whose usual turquoise waters have been completely muddied into brown. Has the rain carried sediment downriver and out to the sea? Again, nature seems to mimic the mood of our morning: disturbed, muddled, and far from our usual selves. Luckily my work day is short and I return home to you earlier than anticipated, not long after your condition worsens again. Your face is telling of the state you’re in, and my heart aches watching your slow and painful movements.
I drive us to urgent care, trying to ease Regi around the many roundabouts gently. At reception, you manage to still be your friendly self with the desk attendant. It’s at least 45 minutes before a triage nurse assesses your symptoms, then sends us outside to wait for a COVID test. A few more minutes then another staff member comes out in full PPE and walks you to a nearby shed-type building. From my chair outside I watch you careen and reach for walls for support. I watch the little brown outbuilding intently.
Suddenly, the staff member walks briskly out and back towards reception to call something out to the desk staff, and moments later two nurses move quickly to the room you occupy. My stomach lurches and my heart is in my throat as I watch in panic, then hurriedly gather up our things and move closer to the outbuilding. My mind flits between images of you on the floor and imagining what may have transpired in those brief moments and what do I do? I know it’s best to give them space so I wait outside, awkwardly pacing and heart pounding and praying that you are okay. One of the nurses walks out and our eyes meet but he says nothing, just returns to the main building. I hear your laugh from inside the room I cannot see into, but it does not give me relief yet. Then the second nurse walks out with you and glances in my direction, “Is this your girlfriend?”
Nodding, I take a few quick steps to get next to you and hold your arm for support. She takes your other arm and walks us around the back of the building and into an isolation room to run an ECG. I’m still silently panicking from lack of information, but you are alive and that is enough for now. I can be at least a little patient. Eventually I learn that when the first staff person put a pulse oximeter on your finger, it read an alarming 240 beats per minute, which is why she called for help. After repeated readings and manual bpm measurements, plus reassurance from the ECG, they chalk it up to a device malfunction. You joke about getting to jump the queue and I marvel at your ability to chat lightly with the nurse as my own heart finally settles.
After gathering your vitals, the easygoing nurse leaves the room and assures us that the doctor will be in soon. And for once, this statement is pretty accurate. Doctor Patel introduces himself and quickly gets down to business. He takes the most thorough account of symptoms and history I’ve ever witnessed, and periodically looks to me for additional input. He seems to genuinely care about gathering as much information as possible to sort out what’s going on. An unfortunate rarity in our experiences, both in the US and in NZ. He orders a few blood tests that will be marked as “rush”, and expects them back in an hour or so.
A few hours float by as I alternate between staying close to you to stroke your hair softly and murmur I love you’s, and sitting in the chair across the room to watch you rest. Usually I am full of anxiety and frustrated impatience and general grumpiness when I am at a medical clinic for myself—but this time is different. My usual frantic mind that prefers to stay occupied is suddenly quiet. I simply watch as your breath moves and expands your torso beneath the thin sheet, contentedly observing the gentle rhythm. Love wells up in me and threatens to spill over.
Eventually I turn to reading a book for a while, but after each paragraph I glance up to watch a breath cycle. Each time you shift or change positions my eyes dart up, sometimes meeting yours to share a brief weary smile. Time passes this way until finally the doctor returns to fill us in. The bloodwork results are (obviously) delayed, but he comes up with a plan and answers our lingering questions. A few more in-and-out as he gathers prescriptions, makes a phone call to a specialist, and writes a note for your uni instructor. He walks us to the door and we exchange gracious thank yous before departing, nearly six hours after we arrived.
At home, I cook simple foods for dinner and bring them to you in bed. You’ve done so much attentive caring for me during my months of health issues, and I have no problem with the role reversal. I hope this strange illness is brief and does not intensify in the coming days as we wait for the rest of the results to come back, but I am more than happy to care for you during this time. I’m reminded of the fragility of human life, and that nothing is promised. Though our love is strong and we have plans for our future together, it is not guaranteed. I’m grateful that we both put effort into expressing our love and appreciation for each other every day. I look to you tenderly, my heart nearly bursting with love for you every time we lock eyes.
Postscript: One week later, Leo is doing much better. He is still fighting an infection that was never specifically identified, but he’s on the mend and we are very grateful for that. On our second visit to the urgent care clinic, we met Magic: the sweet black kitty who lives in the waiting room as an emotional support animal for patients.