In The House of God by Miriam Sagan (#2)

It began when my boyfriend got strep throat. Of course I continued to make out with him. He was a handsome WASP, tall, dark-haired. and too cute for me really with his high cheekbones and athletic build. He was a completely unfaithful run-around. If I neglected him for fifteen minutes or left a dull party early, he’d go off with someone else. So I kissed him despite his white-spotted tonsils.
Soon, I was sick with a fever. I was a year ahead of most of my friends in college, and had graduated the previous spring. I lived on Mass Ave. in cavernous apartment with an old friend. She was still at Harvard. My boyfriend was still in the dorms, working on his thesis about the Swedish penal system, an admiring view for its liberalism.
I went to a clinic in north Cambridge and tested negative for strep. I did not have health insurance, wasn’t even really aware of the need for it, a fact overlooked by my family. I had inherited some money from my grandfather at the age of twenty-one, and a season or two into this I was considered to be completely on my own in terms of finances and practicalities. I was teaching part-time and trying to become a writer. I had been rejected from grad school, and was re-applying. I lived on a tight budget, and ate mostly bagels, doughnuts, and coffee. I did not have a doctor in Boston.
My fever got worse. It spiked 104 and I went to Cambridge City Hospital in the middle of the night. I had an agonizing pain on the right side. In that crowded hell of an ER I was not given a chest X-ray, was prescribed valium, and sent home.
Over the next few days I grew steadily worse, sleeping a lot and reading the depressing, if proto-feminist, diaries of Sophia Tolstoy, and sleeping with my boyfriend.
My parents were somewhat aware that I was sick in Boston. Call Dr. Z., my father suggested. He was a doctor I had seen once for something minor in the autumn. I called, and he berated me forcefully: I’ve told you before there is nothing wrong with you! Stop calling this office. I won’t speak to you again.
Horrified, I hung up the phone.
I later found out that he had confused me with another patient. He actually tracked me down months later when I was hospitalized to apologize, and to say he hoped he hadn’t been part of my inability to get care. Although of course he had been.
I went again to City Cambridge, was again sent home with a diagnosis of flu. I then, half unconsciously, must have settled in to either live or more likely die. A clinic, two ER visits, a doctor, my parents, and my friends did not think there was anything seriously wrong with me. I must have been making it up, I concluded, or “overreacting”as I was often accused of doing. The excruciating pain on my right side, which I later found out was called devil’s grip pleurisy, and the high fever were messages I was now set to ignore.
My father, however, was concerned enough to stop by on his way to his weekly class in Boston. He took one look at me, called a cab, and took me to the Beth Israel Hospital, which in those days was an enormous chaotic center looming over the slums of the Fenway and Roxbury beyond. I was wearing jeans and a lose white Indian tunic embroidered in purple. No bra—it was too painful. Also, a tiny ring of yellow enamel flowers, which was a token from my boyfriend. I had my purse, but otherwise not so much as a toothbrush.
I was admitted from the ER and given a room.They wanted a sputum sample, but my lungs no longer had the strength to expel anything. I was given a lung tap with a local anesthetic block on the skin of my back. The pain was so severe that I screamed uncontrollably, completely disoriented, unaware that the sounds were emanating from me. “Would someone please tell that woman screaming down the hall to shut up,” I murmured.
Dr. Frank, a famous surgeon, decided to cut me open. My parents were no doubt distraught, but also on reassuring turf, a Jewish hospital, a famous surgeon. In fact, in this very same Jewish hospital my paternal grandfather had been given one of the first pace makers to ever be installed and my maternal grandfather had been diagnosed and treated for tuberculosis of the liver. This was the B.I. This was Boston, covered in sleet and snow and rain, but the greatest medical center on my family’s map. Indeed, its name was House of God.

6 thoughts on “In The House of God by Miriam Sagan (#2)

  1. Good God, All in the H of G. Miriam!!!! My hands are trembling, my heart is breaking. It is beautiful and haunting and of course sassy and searing. Katherine Why is Edith Piaf resounding in my brain…that little French dynamo letting it all hang out!!!

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