Part 1 of a new story-in-progress…
“Hyperemesis gravida.” says Dr. Prettyman. He is speaking to me in French. I like this. The doctor then explains that this is my diagnosis, not a French endearment.
“Hyper, meaning greater than normal,” Dr. Prettyman says, “and emesis, meaning-”
“Barfing.” I say. Even in a druggy stupor, I am a cut-to-the-chase type person.
A lady, Vashti Tye, does not wear her candor like a badge. My long-dead mother is floating at the foot of my bed, shaking her head at me like tsk-tsk-tsk. Except that my dead mother came from Bugtussle,Oklahoma, was built like a fireplug, and had a voice as soothing as a foghorn. Why she is now all airy-fairy Julie Andrewsesque in my head – it must be the drugs.
“Yes. Barfing.” Dr. Prettyman says with a quiet chuckle. He is impossibly handsome and has a shy grin. I like this. He continues “And, of course, gravida means pregnant” at the same time that I say “Pregnant. Right.” That much I already knew.
“Oh, shit.” I say. I have just noticed that the embroidered pocket of Dr. Prettyman’s lab coat says “Dr. Praterman.” Not Dr. Prettyman. I am as embarrassed as the raft of medications in my system allows me to be. I pray that I have not been calling him Dr. Prettyman all this time as he is all chiseled perfection in the way of men who are too light in the loafers. I hope I have not offended him, the kindest man in my whole world. And thankfully, Dr. Prettyman does not look offended, or even much ruffled.
“Any questions?” Dr. Prettyman asks.
“How long does this last?” I ask, pushing myself up on the pillow a very little, “And how long will it keep me- ”
“Wait – hypermimi what?” This is not the voice of Julie Andrews, or my poor dead mother. This is Juanita. My father’s girlfriend. Juanita perches on the arm of the beige upholstered recliner near the window. Juanita is not Mexican or Mexican-American, or in any way Latin, but was named after a song that was popular way back when. Juanita is 70 if she’s a day, and she is flirting with Dr. Prettyman who is younger than me.
The doctor repeats it for her, “Hyperemesis gravida.”
“HA! Hyper-ignoramus!” My father says, glaring at me. Getting in jabs while he can. I am too weak to fight back and he knows it. I take after my father in almost every way.
“Oh my gootness!” Juanita squeaks, pressing a fist against her two-toned lips. I am anti-lip liner, I just am. She breathes the words “That sounds so serious!”
“Well, it can be, if left untreated. But, I think we’ve got – ” Dr. Prettyman starts. Juanita grabs his arm with her bizarre eggplant-colored French-tip manicured nails and says “Oooooo!” her eyes all wide, like he’s revealed the meaning of life. Dr. Prettyman looks at Juanita with about one-fourth amusement and three-fourths repulsed fascination. This makes me love him all the more. Juanita is just bizarre. She wears makeup that is spackle-thick and a titch shy of burnt orange. She shops for her clothes at Planet Pluto, a resale shop for teenagers. Her outfit today is a turquoise doozy, a spandex and tulle mini-dress with a sheer white blouse that ties around her doughy waistline. And of course, Juanita’s customary footwear, three-inch heels. She’s got a better body than most women her age, and me, but still.
“How long before I can go home – ?” I have to stop talking. The nausea tsunami hits again. My eyes slam shut. I stop talking, stop breathing, everything. Light hurts, voices hurt, noise hurts.
Dr. Prettyman says something to the nurse and then leans over the bed so he’s talking low to me while keeping Juanita and my father to his back. I like this.
“We’ll see how you feel in the morning, but I’d like to keep you at least two days.”
“I can’t. I don’t have insurance.”
“I’m not paying for this mess!” says Daddy, for the hundredth time.
“Let me see what I can do.” Dr. Prettyman says to just me. I like this. He is stunning, his physical perfection, his manners. His smile has become one of professional sympathy and a desire to move on to his next patient, but still, I like it. I will admit that I had not been much for the Gays per se, especially after they invaded my soap operas, but if all homos are like this guy, sign me up for the fan club, I am in.
He is my hero, and not one molecule short of a real miracle. Since fainting in the Ethnic Foods aisle of my neighborhood Tom Thumb grocery store, in the 29 hours before meeting Dr. Prettyman, I’d endured five different doctors. Four of these doctors half-listened, one totally ignored me and spoke only to my father. Four out of five doctors treated me like a hypochondriac. The fifth doctor insinuated I was a prescription drug addict who just wanted pills. Four of them were men, but the doctor who came in just prior to Dr. Prettyman was a woman. She never examined me, never moved her stethoscope from around her neck. Dr. Traitor – as in, “to her sex” – looked up from my chart exactly once, just long enough to look at my left hand (I’d stopped wearing my engagement ring but was not about to say that as it was and is not any of her beeswax). This affected me, and I started to cry. Dr. Traitor bit the cap off her pen and wrote in my chart. She shook her head and said, “What you need is get right with the Lord.” You can bet I dried up then, but quick. I said, “Excuse me?” and Dr. Traitor changed her tone to falsely cheery and said, “And, make a date with a girlfriend to go window-shopping!” I am not making this up. Dr. Traitor got out her cherry Chapstick and rubbed her lips over and over and over. She might as well have stuck up my nose, the smell was so overpowering. “It’s just morning sickness.” Dr. Traitor said, smacked her greasy lips, and went right back to it. Rub, rub, rub, smack, smack, smack. “Better get used to it, girl. Just part of the deal.”
Once I fired Dr. Traitor – and I will admit that I did not do it as quietly or kindly as I could have – they sent over sweet young Dr. Praterman. He stood at the door and asked my permission to enter the room, and when I said “FINE!” he came in and pulled up a chair next to the bed, looked me in the eye and said, “So, talk to me.” And then, he listened. And then he gave me a diagnosis, an anti-nausea drug that was safe for my unborn child, and a treatment plan that did not include psychiatric drugs, window-shopping, or Jesus.
“So, why haven’t I ever heard of hyperemesis?” I ask Dr. Prettyman once the nausea tsunami recedes. “And why hasn’t anybody in this hospital but you ever heard of it?”
“Well. You have to understand,” Dr. Prettyman says in that uncomfortable way that doctors do, as they hesitate to criticize other doctors. “It’s fairly rare. And it’s temporary – symptoms are usually gone by the eighteenth week.” Then Dr. Prettyman smiles at me and says, “None of which helps much right now, does it?” He is correct; it does not. He asks if I understand everything, and I say yes like I’m agreeing, like I have a choice in any of this. I don’t. My life is not my own. Even if my body does not agree, my heart and soul want this baby.
Daddy exhales like we’ve been keeping him from something real important and crosses his arms across his beer gut and wrinkles his nose to push his glasses farther up on his face. He growls, “Is my grandbaby all right?” Like he’s Grandfather of the Year when in fact he has done nothing but take every opportunity to snarl and insult me since he and Juanita picked me up from the Tom Thumb three days ago. Did not even bother to come in, just pulled up in front of the store and honked.
“The baby is fine.” Dr. Prettyman says to me. “Everything looks great.”
My eyes are fluttering closed. I say, “You are a beautiful, beautiful man, Dr. Prettyman.”
Someone laughs. Familiar sound, but I can’t quite remember who….
My fiancé Shu chuckles again and says “…Feeling those drugs now, Vashti?”
Oh, I am. A wonderful warm drowsiness slowly unrolls through my body, like Ava Gardner doing a lazy stretch before she slides back into bed into Frank Sinatra’s arms.
SLAM. Another tsunami.
Shu quickly steps up to the bed. He holds my hair while I retch into the blue kidney-shaped basin. He whispers sweet, sweet words meant only for me. “At least you didn’t pee yourself this time.”
Okay. This is not Shu talking. This raspy baritone is one hundred percent Lange Terry Thomas, whom I call Tee and whom his family knows as “Lange-Tee,” “Tee-Squared,” “Tee-Tee,” or sometimes “Sonny.” The Thomases love a nickname.
Tee is my best friend since forever, and as such, he is the one holding the basin. My fiancé Shu – a.k.a. Peter Shumard Kraus, IV – is not here. Where Shu is, I do not know. I am a full 88% certain that we are broken up for good, but I don’t know this all the way certain, as Shu and I have not spoken in 18½ days despite the fact that I am pregnant with his child.
I retch again. And this time I pee. Thank god for maxi pads.
“You’re okay, it’s okay, I’m here.” Shu says, “I love you, baby.”
No. Shu is not here. I remind myself: he is not here.
My mind clears a little and I focus on Tee’s left hand and his two-thirds of a ring finger, the result of a drunken “I’n fix that damn propeller” boating incident in junior high school. It was this very stump, a disagreement over it, that ended the brief romance that Tee and I had our senior year of high school. It was a stupid “for the sake of argument” argument, about where would Tee wear a wedding ring if we ever got married – would he wear his ring on the stump, like Tee wanted, or next-door on his middle finger like I wanted? What started as a giggly post-makeout conversation suddenly became the Hindenburg, and afterward Tee and I did not speak for six months. After that, we resolved that no matter how lonely we got, no matter how drunk we got, no matter how lonely and drunk we got – never again. Friendship like ours is too rare and precious to risk. And really, we weren’t exactly gasoline and fire in the sack. More like Coke and peanuts.
Still, people assumed as people will, and everybody in Waxahachie assumed that I’d throw a shoe when Tee shotgun-weddinged Joey Skrdle a month after graduation, when in fact I was tickled to death to stand up as Tee’s best man. I wore the tux and black lace-up men’s shoes, the whole big deal. This was construed by some as a scene-stealing display, and for sure, some brides would have been peeved beyond measure. But Joey Skrdle was a laid-back champion slow-pitch softball player (outfield) with an infectious hyuck-hyuck-hyuck laugh and a wide-sweeping embrace of life, and she thought it was a real hoot. Contrary to the gossip flying around Waxahachie, we all three got along real great. And it irks me to this day that nobody but Tee understands that I was heartbroken when Joey ran off with Brenda, the Balch Springs Country Club golf pro, exactly four months to the day after Tee and Joey’s identical twin redheaded daughters were born.
Like everybody else in town, I’d assumed everything in their household was rosy-cozy, but then came that cold spring morning with Tee on my doorstep at 4:37 a.m. in just his bluejeans and bare feet, a baby carrier crooked in each elbow, looking like he’d walked away from a plane crash. Tee’s mom and I took turns cooking and keeping his house for a year, until Marnie and Taralyn went into full-day daycare and Tee was able, finally, to shake off the blues and fully engage in single-fatherhood. Tee hardly ever gets down but when he goes, he goes deep.
“Try a little 7Up. Come on. For me.” Tee says and holds the bent-over straw to my lips. I can’t make my lips form the word “no,” so I pretend to take a sip.
Dr. Prettyman says something to the nurse and she steps to the side of bed, adjusting the IV pump that is very slowly emptying three bags of fluid through a tube and into the side of my hand. The I.V. needle is pressing against my wrist bone and dear god, does it hurt. I was so dehydrated when I was admitted to the E.R. and this was the only vein the nurse could get. I’ve now had enough fluids to raise the Titanic, surely.
“Hurts.” I tell the nurse. “Move it?” The medications are really working now and the tsunami is finally withdrawing, slowly, slowly, and I am sinking back down into that warm, velvety-deep, delicious hole.
Shhh. Sleep, darling. Julie Andrews is at my feet again, starring as my long-dead mother. Her voice pours like warm honey down through my head. I guess I don’t much remember my mother’s voice because even though I was nine when she died, she’d lost her voice box during her initial bout with cancer when I wasn’t but four years old. (Winston Menthol 100s. Hard pack.)
“Hurts.” I say again. I stare at my hand in the attempt to convey my message.
“HA! What you get for being stupid!” Daddy barks. Juanita swats his arm and whispers “Curtis Tye!” She looks up at Dr. Prettyman and shakes her head like she’s just so ashamed. Juanita is just as fake as her Jennifer Anniston wig.
Tee bends down and whispers in my ear. “I’ll get them outta here, and check back later. Get some sleep.” Tee stands up and says. “Take care, Vashti.” With his Texas flatlander drawl it sounds like “take cur,” and I smile a little because the words trigger an ago-old inside joke between him and me that nobody’d appreciate even if I took the time to explain. He taps the back of his hand against my thigh and says they better go and they do, and it is finally, blessedly, wonderfully quiet.