An ER Visit During A Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has only heightened my desire to stay inside


Mitchell Warnken

3 years ago | 7 min read

I have always been a germaphobe. When I say that, I don’t mean I carry Bath & Body Works hand sanitizer in my car and use it after touching door handles (even though I do love the little fruity-smelling pocket hand sanitizers).

I am referring to full-fledged OCD, diagnosed, obsessive hand-washing, red and raw skin, dry to the touch, masks, and gloves, disinfecting everything, mopping clean floors, and dusting shiny surfaces.

So, as many of my fellow obsessive hand washers can relate, the Covid-19 pandemic has only heightened my desire to stay inside, ignore others, not touch anything and use lots and lots of soap.

Besides getting sick or asymptomatically spreading the coronavirus to the few older relatives I have come in contact with over the last few months, I have had one other disheartening fear, hospital visits. More nights than I would like to admit recently, I have been kept awake, stomach in a knot, of an all too common emergency in my household, my husband’s chronic kidney stones.

The first time he had a kidney stone, roughly three years ago, sent us rushing to the nearest emergency department in the muggy dark early morning hours.

I feared Noelle was dying from the orangey-red urine he was producing accompanied by pain neither of us could have ever imagined possible to be felt. The morphine drip worked quickly once he was admitted, and before long, he was falling hard into a restless sleep, his hospital-issued gown too short, falling just short of his large, protruding kneecaps.

Ever since the first kidney stone, like clockwork every eight to ten months, we have ended up, me driving and him shouting and screaming in pain, racing to the ER for another CT scan, more urine tests, and not to forget heavy doses of effective painkillers.

So, when April rolled around, and it had been more than half a year since the last sleepless night in a cold alcove of a hospital, I knew it was only a matter of time.

I hoped and prayed my fears were unwarranted and more a product of my anxiety and OCD than something based in reality, but I was wrong. Towards the end of April, just a week after COVID-19 cases had finally started to decrease in North Carolina and the Charlotte metro area, Noelle and I awoke.

He went about his usual morning routine of Tumblr and Reddit surfing, and I went about my self-mandated yoga and meditation to calm my shaky nerves.

As I methodically tied my tennis shoes to go on my also self-prescribed morning walk of precisely 1.72 miles, Noelle blurted out that he wasn’t in pain, but he could feel something moving around in his right kidney.

I made a snarky remark about his tea and coffee habits, which may or may not aggravate and produce kidney stones, (the research isn’t clear), and went on my way out the door, listening to music, already forgetting our short conversation.

Twenty-eight minutes later, and I know, because that’s how long it takes me to walk my loop, I returned to a quiet house. I called his name, and instead of Noelle’s usual bounding down the steps and outstretched hands to collect my AirPods, I was met with a faint grunt coming from the bedroom.

Without having to see him, I already knew what was wrong, instantly remembering our heated discussion. Laying on top of the blanket, sprawled out across our full-size bed, glasses, and watch lying haphazardly next to him, was Noelle, barely able to speak, eyes shut, and nose wrinkled in what appeared to be excruciating pain.

I didn’t have to apologize, even though I did, Noelle knew I was sorry just by looking at him, for not taking him seriously a half an hour before.

The anxiety rose in me, and within seconds, palms sweating and heart racing, I was pacing around our small two-bedroom townhouse, placing call after call to my dad, mother-in-law, and Noelle’s doctor, determined to avoid the hotbed of virus transmission that is a hospital.

After an E-visit in which Noelle mumbled a few half-delirious fragments declaring his pain level and failure to keep his meds down, our choices were becoming smaller and smaller, as the sweet but curt doctor on the other end of the video chat announced he would have to come into the doctor’s office.

I was determined to stay strong for my husband. So, taking deep, measured breaths, I fought off my panic attack and collected masks, gloves, wipes, towels (for vomit), and clothes.

Hurriedly, I shoved sweatpants, socks, and shoes on my squirming partner, led him to the car, and driving so fast that my knee hurt the next day; I swerved in between the few cars, buses and trucks until we were at his doctor’s office.

Feeling instantly and hopelessly as though I had to pee, I waited in the car right in front of the door to the building, fearing that I already knew what came next. Unfortunately, once again, I was correct. A few short minutes later, Noelle returned, half bent over as he shuffled, arm interlaced with the lead doctor.

They were unable to do anything for him due to his high pain, and I would have to rush him to the hospital now twenty-five minutes away.

If a doctor’s office was akin to a bad dream than the emergency room was a horrific night terror. Again, I floored my Mazda, now smelling more like a sterilized surgery room than a car, making the trip to the hospital in only fifteen minutes.

I deposited my husband alongside the curb of the Emergency Department’s loading zone, not allowed to go in even if I wanted to, and started toward home.

Once parked in my designated space in our complex, I went to work, swiftly changing clothes, washing my hands, regloving and wiping and scrubbing every inch of myself and my car, the compulsions in my brain warning that I would surely miss a spot.

The first lesson I learned that day was never to use a dentist-grade disinfecting wipe on a plastic touchscreen. Who would’ve thought that potent alcohol and chemicals would scratch a cheap car infotainment? A couple of hours after he was admitted, Noelle was released, once again, semi-high on morphine and destined to either hold the stone in until it dissolved on its own or pee it out at home.

Reluctantly, for I and my faux leather interior still smelled more like a Lysol factory than the outside air I rushed through open windows, I made the drive to pick up Noelle.

Of course, I was extremely relieved and grateful for the excellent doctors and nurses who worked so hard to simultaneously protect my husband and alleviate what was ailing him. Still, at the same time, the germaphobe in me couldn’t help but feel angry.

Angry at God for the pandemic, at Noelle for indulging in hot teas on occasion, and at my neighbors and fellow residents for not wearing masks or socially distancing, significantly increasing our odds of contracting coronavirus.

Once home and both of us exhausted despite it only being halfway through the afternoon, I went to work once again, completing my ritual for the third time, disinfecting my car and myself, and now Noelle, from an invisible virus that was making me feel crazy.

That night, lying in bed, unable to sleep as Noelle breathed heavily and evenly beside me, I rewound through everything that happened less than twelve hours before.

I found I no longer feared the hospital, for it had already happened, nor did I any longer fear the doctor’s office or even having to get gas. I’m not saying that my OCD was immediately cured and that I no longer washed my hands every time I touched an Amazon package because I still am OCD,

and I still do wipe down every box, grocery, and essential piece of mail. But, by facing my fears, unable to choose an alternative, I learned that there are far worse things than germs, viruses, and dirty palms.

The main takeaway is that Noelle fought hard and brave as he always did, suffering from unimaginable and terrible pain, as a small stone dug into his ureters.

I put aside my selfish attitude that I claim is a product of my OCD and anxiety, and ignoring the panic in my chest and spinning of my head, did what I had to do to help my husband. Am I the hero of this story? No. Is my life so much more vibrant as I learn to ignore and better adapt to my mental disorders? Perhaps.

What has changed positively is my marriage. I am now able to admit what my husband has been privately wishing what I could years ago, that I act out of selfishness during anxiety-producing times, and that I am not merely a victim when it comes to my obsessions and compulsions with cleaning and sanitizing.

Enabling myself to admit this oversight and face it head-on has strengthened my marriage tenfold and allowed me to cultivate a life where instead of sidestepping or running from my nightmares, I meet them and amazing myself every time, push through them.


Created by

Mitchell Warnken







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