Several years ago, a woman I know (let's call her Judith) called me and said a mutual acquaintance of ours (let's call her Carrie) was in the hospital. Apparently, Judith's husband had heard from Carrie's husband that Carrie had suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be rushed to the hospital the previous night. "A nervous breakdown? My God! I wonder what brought that on?" I said. Judith then asked me if I wanted to accompany her on a visit to the hospital. I agreed, wondering aloud how long Carrie would have to stay there before she could return home to her family. Her breakdown must have been very bad indeed, poor thing.
We went off to the hospital the following evening, bracing ourselves for a potentially difficult and uncomfortable time. Just before we left, I grabbed a book off my shelf by an author I knew Carrie, an avid reader, liked. It was Touch Not the Cat, by Mary Stewart, a good, light-hearted novel of intrigue, mystery and romance. Just the thing for someone in her state of mind, I hoped.
When we arrived at the hospital we found Carrie sitting up in bed and, by all appearances, happy to see us. I gave her the book, which she received with a surprisingly normal amount of gratitude, and put aside her ladies' magazine immediately. "I've already finished the book I brought." She looked at us expectantly, waiting for the conversation to begin. I admit to stalling a bit at first. I'm not sure what I expected - a wasted, drugged, tearful individual?. That is not what I found. Carrie seemed the same as always - not overly excited about anything, but not overly upset either, quiet, and rather shy. Hmmm.
So I did what I always to do in interesting social situations. I just start talking. Judith seemed a bit unsure of how to proceed, so it was up to me to begin. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: So how long have you been in the hospital?
Carrie: Two nights so far.
Judith: Are you getting any sleep?
Carrie: Oh yes, though of course, I'd rather be at home doing things rather than lying in bed.
Me: Yes, that would be hard. How long do you think you'll be here? (all of this said, in a gentle, tentative manner)
Carrie: Well, the doctor says about five days.
Judith: Five days. How is the food?
Carrie: Oh, not too bad.
Me: I see that you are hooked up to an i.v. What are they giving you, exactly? Does it make you feel ill?
Carrie: Well, it's antibiotics, so it changes the taste of everything, so I don't like that much.
Antibiotics? For a nervous breakdown? O.K...
Me: So were you in a lot of pain the night you went to the hospital? (There are many kinds of pain, after all)
Carrie: Yes, the pain was really bad, so bad I couldn't sleep.
Me: So you were in a lot of pain then. Where did it hurt?
Carrie: Right here. (she pointed to her lower abdomen)
Well, that was a new kind of symptom for a nervous breakdown...and then something began to dawn on me - and treading oh, so carefully....
Me: So what did they find when you got to the hospital?
Carrie: That I had a raging cervical infection.
Judith: Oh! That's terrible. We weren't exactly sure what the trouble was. But are you starting to feel better?
Carrie: Yes, but the doctor wants to keep me in the hospital to make sure I get the proper rest to fight the infection.
Waves of relief and a strong desire to laugh washed over me, but I knew I could not let on what I knew: that Judith's husband had got it wrong.
Me: Of course. Good idea. You need your rest. It's hard to rest with three kids at home.
Judith: Oh yes, sometimes it's best to stay in the hospital for a while and let other people handle everything at home. Have you had this type of problem before?
Carrie: Once before, but never this badly. I hope this will be the last time, or I might have to get surgery.
The conversation carried on while Judith and I visibly relaxed into our chairs, and before long, it was time to go - visiting hours at the hospital were over. We said our goodbyes and our get well wishes, and then Judith and I left the room, the ward, and finally the hospital. We didn't feel safe to laugh and exclaim on the hilarity of our situation until we were safely in the car.
How could such a blunder have happened? I didn't ask the question aloud. I'm sure Judith would have words with her husband when she got home, and I didn't think she would welcome my speculations somehow. In my imagination I thought that the blunder may have occurred something like this:
Husband of Judith runs into husband of Carrie on the street:
Husband of Judith: How are things going?
Husband of Carrie: Well, actually, I had to rush Carrie into the hospital in the middle of the night.
Husband of Judith: Oh no! Why?
Husband of Carrie: Well, it was bad. I was quite worried. She couldn't sleep on account of her - er - some trouble she's been having on and off for some time now. It scared me but the doctor says she'll be alright after some medication and a few days in the hospital, in the quiet. You know, without the kids bugging her all the time.
Husband of Judith: Enough said. I understand perfectly. These things are difficult to talk about.
Husband of Carrie: You've got that right.
Husband of Judith: Let us know if there is anything we can do.
Husband of Carrie: Maybe Judith could visit her in the hospital. She'd probably appreciate that.
Husband of Judith: Right. See you.
Judith's husband to Judith: I just saw Carrie's husband. It seems that Carrie's had some kind of episode, like a nervous breakdown, from what he said. He said she's in the hospital and would appreciate a visit.
And there you have it.