Joel glanced at his vibrating phone, knowing that answering a call in the middle of Dr. Nehan’s immunology lecture was beyond rude. He was so startled by the caller ID that he read the words out loud as he rose from his chair, “Mount Sinai Hospital.”
His professor stopped mid-sentence and all eyes turned to Joel as he started side stepping down the row of desks toward the door of the small lecture hall. A foreboding sensation entered his heart, and he knew instinctively that something must have happened to Winnie.
“Hello, this is Joel Anderson,” Joel said breathlessly into the receiver, bypassing the need for them to ask to speak with him. “Is my wife okay?” Joel hadn’t even made it to the door of the lecture hall yet.
“She’s stable.” Thank goodness for the intelligence of an emergency room doctor to give Joel the most important bit of news first. “I’m Dr. Sunil. Your wife, Edwina was brought in by ambulance after collapsing during a dancing class. She is very weak and in and out of consciousness. We’re admitting her immediately to transfer her to a more specialized medical ward.”
“Medical ward?” Joel turned back toward his lecture hall full of classmates and spoke directly to the guy who’d been sitting to his left. “Grab my bag and laptop for me. I’m flying to New York City. My wife’s in the hospital.”
There were a few gasps and whispers of, “I hope she’s okay,” and “Safe travels,” and “I’ll pray for her.” Joel thanked them and turned his attention back to the emergency room doctor. Not a full minute had passed since the phone had begun ringing.
“For now she’ll be moved up to the medical ward, but in the next few days we’ll want her admitted to the psychiatric ward.”
“Why the psychiatric ward?” Joel asked. “She’s not insane… is she?”
“Mr. Anderson, are you aware your wife has an eating disorder?” the doctor asked.
“Yes…” Joel gulped, guilt washing over him because he was in Michigan at all. He picked up his pace down the hall, wishing he could run to his car, pack a few things and get to the airport. He should have left three weeks ago when he realized she was sick. He was still in denial about how sick she was.
He glanced at the closed doors of the lecture halls as he passed, knowing he wouldn’t be coming back. At least not for a long time. He wondered if they’d hold his spot in the program but realized he didn’t care anymore. Medical school could wait. He didn’t need to be a doctor for the trial he was about to face; he needed to be a husband.
“I knew she’d gotten really thin and that she needs to get some treatment, but I thought she could wait until after the season was over and then take some time off work.”
“She won’t be leaving the hospital for several days, possibly even weeks,” the doctor said.
“Weeks?” Tears sprang to Joel’s eyes and his voice cracked.
“Edwina has anorexia nervosa. She’s dangerously thin, severely dehydrated, malnourished, her blood sugar is too low, her heart rate is too low, and she’s not aware of her surroundings.”
Joel crouched to the ground and pulled his hair with the hand that wasn’t holding his phone. Tears flowed unabashedly down his face and sobs wracked his body. Someone’s arms wrapped around him. One of his fellow medical school students, probably. Someone who cared about him enough to hold him at a time when he was too weak to hold himself together. He knew he needed to be strong for Winnie, but he needed just a minute to break down and digest the information he’d just been handed.
“Eating disorders are a psychiatric condition as much as a medical condition. They’ll get her stabilized up on the medical ward and then have the psych consult there before taking her upstairs.”
“I thought you said she’s stable now.”
“There are varying degrees of stability, Mr. Anderson.” The doctor sighed as if frustrated talking to an ignorant child. “She’s not in cardiac arrest, but her condition is life threatening.”
“Life threatening?” She wasn’t that thin, was she? Joel hadn’t seen her in three weeks. Apparently, she’d gone further downhill than when he was in the city for her performance. He needed to hurry. Standing suddenly, Joel shook off the comforting arms and wiped his eyes. He turned to nod a quick smile of thanks to the man who had provided support. Joel didn’t even know the guy’s name, nor did he take the time to ask, just hurried down the hall. The only reason he hadn’t taken off at a full run was so he could hold a conversation with the doctor.
“Mr. Anderson, you’re the only person listed as next-of-kin, and the only person I’m authorized to speak to, so if any of her family or friends wants additional information, they’ll need to come through you.”
“I’ll call her mom and dad,” Joel said. “And I’ll be on the next airplane from Detroit. If she wakes up, please tell her I’m on my way and that I love her.”
“Travel safely, Mr. Anderson.”
“Thank you, Dr. Sunil. I’ll be there and soon as I can. Thank you for taking care of my wife.” Joel couldn’t have said another word if he needed to because his voice choked with tears. As soon as he disconnected with the doctor, Joel dialed his father-in-law. “Mr. LaFleur, I need a ride to the airport and I’m leaving my car at your house. Winnie’s in the hospital and I’m flying to New York indefinitely.”
“What’s wrong with our daughter?” Warren asked. “Hang on, I’m putting you on speakerphone. Teri, come here. Joel’s on the phone. Winnie’s in the hospital.”
“Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with my little girl?” Teri cried out.
Joel was glad Warren had thought to bring his wife into the conversation so he didn’t have to repeat himself. “She collapsed during ballet class.”
“Has she been drinking enough water?” Teri asked, her tone more dismissive than Joel would have expected. “She always gets lightheaded when she forgets to drink enough water.”
“Mrs. LaFleur, Winnie has an eating disorder. She’s anorexic, dehydrated, malnourished, and her condition is life threatening.”
“I’m sure she’ll feel better when she gets some fluids in her. Are they giving her Gatorade or something? She needs some Gatorade.”
“Gatorade?” Joel stopped short. “I’m sure they have an IV in her arm. She’s not conscious, Mom. She won’t wake up. She’s very sick. Very sick.” Joel realized for the first time that he was in denial how much Winnie’s mother was part of the problem.
“Are they going to keep her in the hospital overnight?” Teri asked.
“The doctor said she’ll probably be in the hospital for several weeks.”
“Several weeks? Why?”
Joel was done dealing with his mother-in-law and spoke directly to her husband. “Warren, I’m heading over to my apartment to pack a few things and then driving to your house. Could you get online and find me a flight from Detroit to NYC this afternoon?”
“Of course,” Warren said. “Drive safely, son.”
“Thanks, Dad, I will.” Joel hung up and took off at a full run.