Follow the Tao

A night at the ER. Image by Susan Dubrofsky

The Tao Book Club gang was  safely ensconced in the corner of the restaurant mezzanine by the time I got there. I peeled off my coat, shook the droplets of water on the dark carpet and sank into a chair. When the waiter showed up I ordered a beer and,  pointing at a plate of veggies with brown rice,  asked for ”what he usually has”.

The discussion went well, without the usual bickering over whether the author of the assigned book was a snob or just a nit-wit.  When my plate arrived, I started digging in but suddenly felt full. I thought a trip to the loo would help matters.  No such luck. I stared at my face in the mirror. A very angry nose and burning cheeks stared back. A splash of cold water didn’t help either. My heart was popping out of my rib cage. I made my way back upstairs, surveyed the assembled faces and announced that I felt ill.

The woman sitting on the banquette patted the seat beside her inviting me to sit down. I slumped next to her and slid my body flat on the frayed upholstery. She opened her eyes wide and mewled softly.

-…not well, I repeated.

My friends looked at each other in consternation.

-My pill box please, in my purse.

My banquette neighbor zipped and unzipped several compartments and came up with nothing. Mustering enough energy to do it myself I retrieved a little blue pill and popped it into my mouth.

-Do you want to call somebody?

-No. Yes. Call, call…I forgot his number.

Our unofficial chairman, the veggie-&-brown-rice-eating guy, saved the day. Rather his Blackberry did.

–SOS, he texted, come…she’s not well.

-Should we call an ambulance?

–  yes

A while later the paramedics thumped their way up, grabbed my nearest arm and tied a cuff around it. 200, someone said.  They also pulled up my blouse and stuck electrodes under my bra.

The word modesty floated all the way up to my frontal cortex but I let it sink like useless ballast.

-We’ll sit you on a chair and strap you down but make sure not to move while we go down the stairs, otherwise you could hurt yourself.

Her thick Quebecois accent morphed into a crystal-clear message: behave yourself or else!

I shut my eyes as the paramedics  stomped down, one step at a time, the woman

leading the vanguard, her male partner holding up the rear.

Who paid for my bill? Did the woman on the banquette pay? Did they all pitch in? I made a mental note to thank them.

The transfer to the ambulance was a cinch except that my blouse barely covered my torso on account of the electrodes. Ping! A sharp pain settled down under my heart.

Riding in an ambulance that’s not in a real hurry is like riding on a sampan, just a gentle swaying motion. No sirens, no jumped red lights. Route   unknown, destination certain.

The ER entrance was familiar, thanks to a copious nosebleed years before, but the response of the triage nurse was unexpected.

-Acute care, that way!

Suddenly things started popping.

Sleepy residents in urgent need of a Botox job stuck needles and tubes into different parts of my body. The oxygen tube was surprisingly pleasant, the needles felt as usual. I recited my story umpteen times until I knew it by heart. By the time I started sounding glib they left me alone so I tuned in to the voices on the other side of the curtain. What I heard were  Goldberg   variations of  stories of woe.

A new face updated my parameters.

-We’re going to put you on heparin ‘cause of the pain in your back. It could be a lung embolism. Make sure you don’t scratch yourself, you might bleed a lot.

-But doctor, the pain only started when they put me in the ambulance.

-Did the paramedics jostle you?

-Not at all but cold air hit my back.

-Anyway, we’ll also do an X-ray just to be sure.

I tried to sleep but had to pee. Urgently. But I didn’t have the chutzpah to ring the bell  just for a pee. After all, I hadn’t heard anyone come running when the monitor of the patient across me flattened out. But I finally pressed the button and they came on the double. They tried to sit me up but the tubes and wires kept  popping  out, so they slid a recycled cardboard bed pan under my bum and discreetly left me alone. Ah…I was finally able to pee except that it went all over the sides of the bed-pan, the sheets and what was left of my decorum.

-We’ll do a scan, sometimes blood clots are so tiny they don’t show up easily.

So this machine gave me the once over. How had I fallen for a procedure that I routinely refused at airports? The computer monitors flashed thumb-nail images of myself   with different views of my innards. Then they lobbed a ridiculous  question at me.

-Do you smoke?


-Have you ever smoked?


The changing of the guards at dawn   brought in a bright-eyed orderly not intimidated by wires and tubes. He plunked   me on a chair provided with a hole and a pot underneath  so I could go about my business with dignity. Number 2?  he asked. No, I lied.  That’s when he showed up, not wearing shining armor or riding a white steed but with pecs and abs bulging under his aqua scrubs. When he saw me sitting on the throne he mumbled he would come back later.

After they shifted me back to the bed I managed to  drift off but was woken up by someone who grabbed my armpits and sat me up. It was him again. He deftly jabbed his fist under my left shoulder blade and let out a satisfied aha!

-It’s just a muscle spasm, not an embolism, he said, massaging my back.

-That feels good!

-I should know. My mother used to be a massoose.

His south-of-the-border accent betrayed his origins.  

-Unfortunately, our tests sometimes clear one problem but reveal another one. You have two nodules in your lungs.

-So why did they risk heparin?

He intercepted my pissed-off look.

-I know, we  could have killed you, but undetected  nodules can be lethal.

-Right, Dr. House! I was beginning to enjoy myself.

As I was checking out of that madhouse  a  familiar voice caught my ear.

-She’s in here?

My GP, who was talking to the jock in scrubs, threw a glance at me.

-No need of seeing a specialist. I’ve known about those nodules for years.

– And you didn’t tell me because?

– Nothing to worry. Everybody your age who’s lived in tropical countries can expect TB scars in their lungs.  I have to run, I have a serious patient in ER. Come see  me next week.

And I did.

– Your heart is fine. Just watch your blood pressure.

-But what happened to me?

That’s when my doctor flipped and  uttered  something in what sounded like  Mandarin with an Oxbridge accent.


 – Chinese  Restaurant Syndrome. MSG  intoxication.

Our Tao Book Club meets again next week. I think I’ll just follow the Tao and chill at home.

Maya Khankhoje is not sure whether this is a true story or a figment of her imagination but she avoids Chinese restaurants just in case.