“I’m okay,” I said, taking a gulping breath.
The counselor tilted her head slightly, looking at me quizzically. “Are you sure? You look like you’re having trouble breathing.”
“Yes,” I said. I took another gulping breath.
“Well, okay then. Let me know if you want me to take you to the clinic.”
I nodded. I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor. I’d never had insurance – preexisting conditions, you know. It was probably just a bad case of bronchitis. I could live with that. I wasn’t going to mess this up for myself.
May,* the head counselor of the women, continued to lead the three of us in step study. The newest group of girls at the Ranch, we were still only on step one. As much as I tried to listen, I couldn’t focus on anything but pulling in enough air.
Afterwards, I went upstairs to lie down. I’d been up all night coughing, and cough syrup wasn’t allowed at the Ranch because of the alcohol content. Being on my back for about five minutes, I discovered, made the coughing worse – my chest rattled, my breathing grew soupy. I tried to think about my options, but everything in the room swam about as I focused on air in, air out. Can’t go to the doctor. Can’t pay for it.
Pretty soon I started quaking, alternately shivering and twitching as my muscles and lungs told me hospital. Hospital. I heard whispers in the hall, girls talking on the phone
No, she didn’t make it down to dinner…yeah she doesn’t look good.
An hour later, Jen brought in a grocery bag. “May got you some soup. You’ve got to eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” I muttered, but then tried to eat some anyway because it was such a thoughtful gesture.
Almost immediately, the soup gurgled in my stomach and I covered my mouth, hurrying to the bathroom and collapsing in front of the toilet. Up it all came.
Wheeze. Air in. Air out.
Far away, as I continued vomiting, I heard Marissa knocking on the door. “Nat? Are you okay?”
“No” I croaked.
Air in. Air out.
She poked her head in. “May is downstairs. She’s going to take you to the hospital.”
“Okay.” I turned and vomited again, gasping for air afterward. “Get…trash bags…” I wheezed.
Marissa and Jen helped me down the stairs, where I promptly vomited in the flower bed outside.
“I’m so…sorry,” I cried. I had failed. I had failed at staying in rehab. I had failed to not get sick, and I had vomited and someone would have to clean up after me. “I don’t want…to be sick.”
Marissa and Jen buckled me in, and I shoved them away as more vomit came spewing out of me, on the pavement. Now I was alternately weeping and gasping and wailing.
“Natalie, what’s wrong? I’m taking you to the hospital, okay?” May stated in her direct way.
“I don’t…have…insurance…I can’t…get sick…”
“Honey, the hospital has to take you. Don’t think about it, okay? Don’t worry.”
Don’t think about it, I let her convince me, willing myself to not vomit in her car.
Don’t think about it, I thought, gasping as they wheeled me into the ICU.
Don’t think about it. I passed out to the sound of monitors beeping, doctors directing orders to each other, putting the oxygen mask on me.
“Okay Natalie, breath in, breath out…”
– – –
*All names have been changed
Back at Yeah Write, where the best writers on the web hang out. Come and join us! We have snack food…