As we loaded into the ambulance, here’s what we didn’t know: Rachel had an ovarian cyst, a fairly common thing. But it had grown, undetected, until it was so large that it finally weighed her ovary down, twisting the fallopian tube like you’d wring out a sponge. This is called ovarian torsion, and it creates the kind of organ-failure pain few people experience and live to tell about.
…Other nurses’ reactions ranged from dismissive to condescending. “You’re just feeling a little pain, honey,” one of them told Rachel, all but patting her head.
…The average emergency-room patient in the U.S. waits 28 minutes before seeing a doctor. I later learned that at Brooklyn Hospital Center, where we were, the average wait was nearly three times as long, an hour and 49 minutes. Our wait would be much, much longer.
…The diagnosis of kidney stones—repeated by the nurses and confirmed by the attending physician’s prescribed course of treatment—was a denial of the specifically female nature of Rachel’s pain. A more careful examiner would have seen the need for gynecological evaluation; later, doctors told us that Rachel’s swollen ovary was likely palpable through the surface of her skin. ….And every nurse’s shrug seemed to say, “Women cry—what can you do?”
Nationwide, men wait an average of 49 minutes before receiving an analgesic for acute abdominal pain. Women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing. Rachel waited somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours.
…Later, she’d tell me that the hydromorphone didn’t really stop the pain—just numbed it slightly. Mostly, it made her feel sedated, too tired to fight.
…If Rachel had been alone, with no one to agitate for her care, there’s no telling how long she might have waited.
It was almost another hour before we got the CT results. But when they came, they changed everything.
…That’s when we lost it. Not just because our minds filled then with words like tumor and cancer and malignant. Not just because Rachel had gone half crazy with the waiting and the pain. It was because we’d asked to wait our turn all through the day—longer than a standard office shift—only to find out we’d been an emergency all along.
…Rachel’s physical scars are healing, and she can go on the long runs she loves, but she’s still grappling with the psychic toll—what she calls “the trauma of not being seen.”