After kissing Winnie goodnight, Joel and Marshall started down the hall but didn’t make it all the way to the elevator before Joel broke down in sobs. His brother-in-law wrapped his arms around Joel, and for a moment they clung to each other in tears.
Joel sensed a person approaching and pulled apart from Marshall.
“Mr. Anderson, I was hoping to talk to you before you left for the night.” The man was wearing a white lab coat and had a stethoscope around his neck. “I’m Doctor Sunil. We spoke on the phone earlier.”
“Dr. Sunil, thank you so much for calling me.” Joel dried his tears with the sleeve of his shirt. “I guess I thought you were the ER doctor.”
“I was acting as intake physician, actually. We were in the process of admitting her as you and I were talking. What time will you be back up here tomorrow morning? We’d like to have a team meeting.”
“A team meeting?” Joel asked. “What do you mean by that?”
“The inpatient medical stabilization team will have representatives from all three essential departments. The doctors will evaluate Edwina from a medical perspective, conduct a psychological assessment, and determine dietary needs.”
“That sounds intense…”
“Your wife is very sick.” The doctor nodded with a sympathetic frown. “Her first stage in treatment will mostly consist of refeeding her body.”
“Refeeding?” Marshall butted in. “What does that mean?”
“We can’t even tackle the underlying causes of her illness without first getting her body some nourishment,” Dr. Sunil explained. “So far today she’s only had fluids and electrolytes intravenously. If all goes well between now and tomorrow morning, she’ll be given just a little bit of Ensure to see how her body responds. If she keeps it down, we’ll give her a little more, and a little more. The initial stages of treatment will seem very slow to the outside observer, but when a person has starved her body for as long as Edwina has, giving her too much food right away will cause more harm than good. As it is, her stomach will probably hurt the first few days.”
“Do you have any idea why she’s done this to herself?” Marshall asked. “She used to be so healthy. She’s a professional athlete.”
“At this stage, I doubt she’s fully aware of the catalysts for her disordered eating. Women feel a lot of pressure to be thin, especially in her line of work. Anorexia is quite common among dancers, unfortunately.”
“That’s so sad.” Joel shook his head and lowered his gaze to the floor. “I should have been here for her.”
“Please don’t blame yourself, son.” Dr. Sunil put a comforting hand on Joel’s shoulder. “She’s likely been hiding her illness for years. Her body’s just had enough.”
“Is it true that I may have to authorize her being forcefully admitted?”
“That’s a possibility.” The doctor nodded his head. “Hopefully she’ll recognize the need for treatment, but in reality, her brain is not firing on all cylinders right now. Irrational thoughts and behaviors are likely.”
“You said this is the first stage of treatment. What are the others?”
“Inpatient residential treatment will probably be the next step and then gradually she’ll be able to rely on outpatient treatment and then long-term maintenance. She’ll tackle this illness one day at a time for the remainder of her life.”
“I read on a blog post earlier today that having an eating disorder is like being an alcoholic,” Marshall said. “Except an alcoholic can quit cold turkey. A person can’t exactly quit eating.”
“That’s a decent comparison,” Dr. Sunil agreed.
“Okay, what time did you want us back for the meeting?” Joel asked.
“Can you be here by ten o’clock?”
“Yes, we’ll get here.” Joel nodded.
“Thank you, doctor.” Marshall extended his hand to the man. Joel did the same.
“I’m glad you’re here,” the doctor said. “A support system is an essential part of recovery.”
They said their goodbyes and headed down the elevator and toward the main entrance of the hospital. “You call your parents,” Joel said. “I’ll call mine. Perhaps we can get everyone on speakerphone tomorrow morning.”
“Great idea,” Marshall said, pulling his cell phone from his pocket.
Joel lifted his hand to flag down a taxi and called his mom while they were in the car. By the time they made it back to the apartment building both families were on board for a conference call. Some big decisions would need to be made at that meeting and Joel wasn’t sure he was ready.