Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Stone Gossard, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Lost Dogs
Definitive Version: The Five Musketeers, 1993, (renamed Freak in 1994 by me) contains a studio recording of the original version of this song for Ten in 1991 but has never been released officially. That’s the one you want.
It was a typical August day in 2009 when my phone rang as I crossed the tracks to catch my train home from work in Deerfield. It was Laurie. The conversation went as follows:
“I’m fine. I’m in the hospital …”
Considering the ordeal from the year before, this was not the best thing to hear at the beginning of a phone call, but I can’t say it came as a surprise. For about a month before, Laurie had been complaining—irregularly—about being out of breath when she climbed stairs. One of the first times was at the aforementioned Pearl Jam concert (good ol’ No. 220) when they pulled out this oldie but greatie.
Laurie had been going to the gym, so we didn’t think anything of it. She just chalked to up to one of those stupid things that happens to you when you reach a certain age. When it persisted to the point that she was out of breath just climbing the two flights of stairs to our second-floor apartment, however, Laurie went to the doctor to have it checked out.
That was this afternoon. As I stood on the train platform, Laurie told me that her doctor gave a listen to Laurie’s lungs and almost immediately sent her next door to the hospital emergency room … as a precaution. OK, I’m on my way.
Even though I knew the situation was different—different symptoms, different reasons for going to the hospital, different hospital—I still had a sense of foreboding driving from work to an Evanston hospital to see Laurie. I got to St. Francis and went to the emergency room. Laurie was in one of those makeshift rooms, and when I peered around the corner of one of the curtains, I had an intensely painful flashback.
There was Laurie, strapped to an EKG. She wore a pale blue gown and held a breathing apparatus to her mouth. It wasn’t a mask; it was more like a tube that measures your breath. The look in her eyes was vacant and distressed, and I felt my heart skip a beat.
Then she looked up, saw me and smiled. In that instant I knew everything was different. I didn’t know what the matter was but I knew that this was better. Laurie was all there, in mind as well as body.
Laurie felt OK, she said, but they were running this test and that on her, and she didn’t know when she’d be let go, or even whether she would be let go at all. I told her how happy I was to see her and have it be all of her this time in a hospital. She said she was glad to have me there.
Eventually the internist came in with the results. Yep, she said to Laurie, almost matter of factly, you have multiple pulmonary embolisms.
Wait, what?! Typically the only time you ever heard the words “pulmonary embolism” is after the words “cause of death.”
It freaked both of us out, but the good news was Laurie wasn’t dead, and these were easily handled, the internist said. The embolisms, or blood clots in her lungs, were causing her to lose her wind, and they could be broken up with blood-thinning medication, but Laurie would be in the hospital for at least a couple of days for observation.
What could have caused this, Laurie asked? Are you still on The Pill? Yes. OK, you aren’t any more.
I knew from an article our magazine did that excess estrogen from birth-control pills could lead to clotting, so on the one hand, I felt good knowing that this wouldn’t be an ongoing problem, that it could recur. On the other hand, there was a practical matter to address: “I gotta go back to condoms?” Laurie didn’t like it either, but needless to say—and I’ll say it anyway—it was a small price to pay to ensure Laurie’s health.
Then the waiting game began for Laurie to be moved out of ER. It wouldn’t be to her room but ICU where nurses could continue to monitor her condition on a regular basis until a room opened up.
That meant I could home and pack a small bag of things to bring to Laurie for her multiple-overnight stay. When she specifically asked for her computer, that’s when I really knew everything was different this time.
By the time I got back, Laurie was in ICU. I was allowed to stay with her as long as I wanted. By midnight, it became apparent that Laurie wouldn’t get her room right away, so Laurie shooed me out to get some sleep before going to work the next day.
Laurie ended up staying at St. Francis for two nights (in a room, eventually). I visited her the next day but only briefly. Only one friend came to see her; no one else knew anything until after the fact. Laurie said it wasn’t a big enough deal to merit anything more.
What WAS a big deal was her after-care, but I’ll leave that for another time.