This past weekend I watched one of my closest friends throw up blood. So much blood that it looked like he had a full bottle of red wine in his stomach. And then an hour later, it happened again. After 4 hours of waiting in the ER and 4 more hours of waiting for results, they said he was ok and it was just flu combined with an internal tear from throwing up earlier in the day and it would fix itself. Today he’s back at work and the world continues to turn.
There are things that I learned over the last few days that I don’t even know if I can articulate, but I feel the need to try anyway. Lessons about fear and empathy and how when your best friend is curled up around a toilet bowl with blood running down his chin, and the entire toilet is bright red, nothing fucking matters anymore. Nothing except for a constant mantra in the back of your head, “Please don’t die. Please don’t die." The fear that rises up every time he leaves your side in the ER to use the rest room and you start imagining what if he falls down, what if he throws up again and loses consciousness, what if he has lost too much blood and will stay on the floor of the ER bathroom helpless for the next 10 minutes.
And you look around at all of the other people waiting there, and you see their fear too. Not for your friend, because they don’t know him the way that you do, but for the wife they have their arm around who has silent tears streaming down her face, for the mother with her head in her hands as the kid sits helplessly by her side. When someone you love is sick, nothing fucking matters anymore. Not if you grabbed the right shoes on the way out the door, not if they accidentally throw up on you, not what anyone else in the ER thinks about you. All that matters is that mantra, “Please don’t die. Please don’t die.”
And somehow that stunning realization of what really matters is so simple but so incredible all at the same time. We get so wrapped up in little, irrelevant things about life. How we look, who likes us, what someone thinks of us, if we’re good enough, what we’re doing with life.
A day after he was released from the hospital, I woke up at 5am and started throwing up uncontrollably - presumably because I’d contracted whatever he had. I spent the day throwing up and shitting my brains out and he took care of me the same way that I had taken care of him. He didn’t flinch when he found me lying on the bathroom floor in a pool of cold sweat and vomit running down my chin. He didn’t wrinkle up his nose when I had diarrhea all day. He didn’t take care of me because he “owed” it to me, but for the same reason I took care of him.
It made me remember all of the times my parents took care of me as a kid when I probably never thanked them. It made me forget about all of the stupid things that seemed so important before he started throwing up. It made me appreciate everyone in my life who I hold dear and realize that I would do the same thing for them, and they would for me. And that’s perhaps the most startling realization of all. I’m a grown woman and there are people in my life who love me enough to wipe my forehead and bring me water when I’m sick and people I love enough to spend 8 hours in the ER with and clean blood and urine off the bathroom floor for. The nature of the relationship, what that person does for a living, who makes more money, where they got their clothes - none of that matters. The only thing that matters is suddenly so mind-numbingly simple: “I love you. Please don’t die.”