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  • Kristan Higgins

Night at the Hospital

The other evening, McIrish called me from the firehouse to inform me he was on the way to the ER. “What happened?” I asked calmly.

“I felt really weird, kind of passed out and threw up. They’re doing an EKG right now.”

“I’ll meet you at the ER,” I said. “Love you.”

Readers, I was not panic-stricken. Nay. I was cucumber-calm. I took off my computer glasses, put on my regular glasses, checked my phone battery, grabbed a charger and put the books

McIrish and I were reading in my bag. Dog in the mudroom, outside lights for when we got home.

My wifey-senses told me my husband was fine, though a heart attack was a very real possibility. I drove just a couple miles an hour over the speed limit. Parallel parked (very proud of that), walked into the ER, presented my ID, told the admin my husband was en route and a firefighter (sometimes we do get special treatment). She said she’d let me know as soon as he arrived.

Then I sat and waited. Thought about calling my kids but decided against it. McIrish called to tell me he was now in the ambulance and felt a bit better. The Chief called and told me he was en route. The president of the union (and my husband’s best work friend) got there just a few minutes after I did, with his poor teenage son, who made great conversation and was very sweet.

When James and I went into the room, I kissed McIrish’s forehead. James offered to help the nurse with anything, from cutting off his clothes to performing minor surgery. “Would you like to hear the beautiful eulogy I wrote in the car?” I asked my honey. The Chief arrived. “Who cooked dinner?” he demanded.

Then he and James regaled me with the time the Chief had to go to the ER. His wife, also named Kristan, opted not to meet him there (it wasn’t serious, but I may now be known as the Kristan Who Does Go to the ER). James had been ready to make fun of his boss, too, as one does, and cantered down the hospital hallways, ready to mock, insult and get in the way. But to the delight of the Chief, his condition was nasty enough that James had to leave the room or pass out. Oh, we laughed so hard, readers! I hugged James and the Chief when they left, so grateful that they made what could’ve been a scary night into what was actually kind of fun.

"I'm sorry I scared you," McIrish said.

"Did I seem scared? I wasn't scared one bit, sweetie." He was torn between being reassured and slightly insulted.

"Who would take the trash to the dump if I died?" he asked.

"I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I do know where the dump is," I said, smiling. "I wouldn't fall apart, I promise. I'd make you proud." While we waited for the bloodwork to come back, I read my husband Drama in Real Life stories from Readers Digest on my phone. (He could’ve been eaten by a bear, so really, this was nothing.)

If you’re a firefighter, you’ve envisioned your death more than once. A lot can go wrong, every day. Heart attacks hit firefighters often, given the zero-to-one hundred nature of their job. Fires. Smoke inhalation. Cancer. Traffic accidents.

And if you’re a first responder’s spouse, you know the day might come when the Chief calls and tells you he’ll be at your house in a few minutes. You’ve pictured it thousands of times. You imagine calling your children and breaking the news. The funeral. The life that will never be the same without the one you love. You picture yourself being brave, the way he was every single day.

This past week, I had the good luck to spend a few hours with very kind people in the ER and have my husband get a diagnosis of stomach virus.

McIrish spent the next day being pampered by his adoring wife, and by his next work shift, he was A-okay. I baked cookies for the platoon who was on duty and had helped him (and made fun of him).

Thank you, James. Thanks, Chief. You guys are the absolute best, and I’m so glad you were with me. Thanks, Middlesex Hospital Emergency Room staff. And thanks, honey, for not making me a widow just yet. I love you more than I can say.

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