I waited for the young doctor to finish rubbing his watery blue eyes.
“Long shift,” I murmured in a sympathetic voice.
I was feeling as tired as he looked, even though moving from one hard metal chair to another had been my only activity since arriving at the hospital three hours earlier.
At that time, the triage nurse had asked me to rank my pain on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the worst. Because I was experiencing irritation rather than pain, I said “2.”
It was an answer that sent me and my husband John to the wrong side of the double doors, where we waited for an hour and a half before being admitted to the inner sanctum for the next phase of waiting.
Now, flashing a weary smile, the doctor stepped into the small examining room and closed the door behind him. Glancing at the chart in his hand, he dropped his lanky body onto a stool and said: “Hi. I’m Dr. Smidgeons. It says here you inhaled a string bean.”
“Yes, a raw string bean,” I nodded, remembering the sign at the farmers’ market that had said “Picked fresh this morning.”
Clearing my throat, I continued speaking: “I was in the middle of chewing when my husband made me laugh. He’s very funny…,” I said, hastening to tack on the word “usually,” because anyone who saw the unsmiling man leaning up against the wall, arms folded across his chest, would have thought he looked about as funny as a rain cloud at a barbecue.
Turning back to the intern, who was busily tapping his pen against the chart, I continued.
“When I breathed in to laugh some of it went down the wrong pipe. I thought I’d never stop coughing. But afterward, I could feel that it was stuck. And since then, nothing’s changed.
“This is it, right here,” I said, pointing to a spot high on my chest, just below the base of my neck. “That’s why we came to emergency.”
Unlike the string bean, the words came rushing out.
“Breathing appears normal,” Dr. Smidgeons observed. He glided closer to me on his rolling stool, removed a stethoscope from around his neck and placed it against my chest, then my back and asked me to breathe in and out.
“Okay …so…,” he said, leaning away from me and compressing his lips. His eyes shot toward the clock on the wall as he looped the stethoscope back around his neck like a rodeo cowboy. Physically he remained seated but I knew that mentally he was already off that stool and on to the next patient, one who actually needed a doctor.
Attempting to reel him in, I spelled out my concerns.
“We came here because my brother thinks the string bean might have aspirated into my lungs,” I said. “If it stays there, he thinks it might cause an infection.”
“Oh,” said Smidgeons, a spark of interest lighting his bloodshot eyes, “is your brother a doctor?”
“Well,” he sighed, the spark extinguished as he waved a dismissive hand at my large, pregnant stomach, “obviously I can’t order an X-ray. But in my opinion the string bean is long gone. You’ve got some residual irritation, that’s all.”
Closing the chart he stood, walked to the door, opened it and said to me: “Enjoy what’s left of your Saturday evening.”
I didn’t enjoy what was left of my Saturday evening, not when every breath I took was a scratchy reminder of the kitchen garden that was growing in my chest. But at least I fell asleep quickly.
Later, it wasn’t my kicking baby that woke me. It was the up-and-down motion of my jaw munching away on a string bean. The very real and tangible string bean was now back where it had started out.
Hoisting myself up with my arms, I struggled into a sitting position, took a few tentative breaths and patted my chest with relief as I reached for a tissue and spat out the last of the bean.
“What are you doing?” asked John, sleep slurring his voice.
“Would you believe me if I told you I was eating a string bean?” I asked. And then I waited for him to acknowledge my vindication.
But he must have fallen back asleep because he didn’t respond.
I told myself the snort I heard was probably a snore.
Hanna Kelly lives in Ottawa.