Recently, my life took a week-long time-out from the norm, so below is neither a recipe, nor a craft project, nor a fun adventure story, but rather a very raw, not well-edited chronicle of what happened.

My ex-boyfriend and I probably have one of the most functional and fulfilling friendships imaginable: we talk about everything, including dating adventures and personal predicaments, embarrassing health issues and political current events, our families and our dreams. We chat online, we talk on the phone, we text message, we see each other in person regularly, our blogs are in each other’s RSS feeds, we email about life stuff and also forward funny videos and interesting links. Sometimes he updates my WordPress version because I’m incapable , and sometimes I bake him his favorite desserts because I know he’s incapable. It feels so normal, which kind of makes it abnormal, doesn’t it?

For better or worse, we are so inextricably connected and with that goes knowing each other’s less-than-stellar health history, conditions, medications, hospital stays and procedures as well as we know our own. At some point post-break-up, we informally made a pact. I don’t remember when, or how it came up, or how we phrased it but we decided to be each other’s “emergency buddy” (only coined by him last week). In other words, as soon as you think something is “wrong,” that you need to go to the hospital etc. etc. YOU HAVE TO CALL ME. Is it right or wrong for exes to do this? Is this or that supposed to be how exes act toward one another? Who cares. Seriously, who cares. I hate when everyone tries to ascribe rules and regulations to dating and relationships–humans are so much more wonderfully complicated than that! Plus, how can you be at fault when looking out for someone’s health (and poor health at that), i.e. someone’s precious life?

A week ago, after some morning emailing back and forth about him not feeling at all well, I get a text message wrought with spelling errors that was supposed to read: “Can you come take me to the hospital? Bleeding ulcer. Lost a lot of blood already.” Dropping everything and frantically packing my bag, I message back for necessary info, asking him if he should just go to the ER instead of waiting for me. I hastily decide to take the subway in lieu of a cab because of rush hour traffic. My hands shake and I can’t hold back tears. He lost a lot of blood? How much? He could lose consciousness. His heart could stop. Is his roommate there? I’m still 35 minutes away. I don’t have a car service number on me. I study the street map I always have with me, counting the number of blocks from the subway stop to his apartment. The train stops one stop before, announcing it’s now going express, meaning that it skips his stop. I get off and half-run the 9 blocks…

He’s sitting up in bed and looking like death, barely able to walk to the bathroom as his roommate calls a car service and I gather his things. A short ride later and we’re at the ER entrance, the very same one where years ago he escorted me in a very similar state. He can walk even less at this point, wheezing when he breathes, so I leave him on a bench inside and run up to the ER registration desk. That’s when I lose it, spewing out a combination of words, “severe bleeding,” “vomit,” “black blood,” “can’t breathe,” “can’t walk” amidst a lot of tears. They fetch a wheelchair as I fill out the required paper with all the above words, trying so hard to put a better game face on.

Almost immediately he gets a bed in the ER with doctors slapping on a heart monitor and starting IVs. I’m doing most of the talking at this point, my hand in his hand or on his head or somehow lightly touching him, and trying to process everything they’re saying back to me. The doctor tells me to squeeze the two IV bags of fluid, so it’s delivered faster and I have one of those “Is this really happening?” moments. I stand outside and listen to him gag as they put something down his nose to his stomach. I prepare the speech in my head that I will give to his dad on the phone. They utter some blood count numbers, do the math, 2/3 blood loss.

Ian, always the better-spirited one than I when it comes to bad times (I’ve gotten better though), makes a joke about the little oxygen-bandagey sensor on his finger looking just like the ET-phone-home glowing-red finger as I intensely watch the bag of blood slowly drip into one of his IVs. A nurse tells me I won’t be allowed to take his big bag of clothing with me to the ICU because there’s no room, that I’ll have to bring it home first. In my mind, it’s already not an option to leave him, so I think about what my mom would do, always the one to get around these situations. A-ha! I start putting Ian’s clothes on, layering up, stuffing socks into pockets and fitting the rest into my already-bulging bag. I have an immense feeling of satisfaction. We wait until 3am for the ICU bed, but oddly enough, we laugh a lot that night and exchange stories. I had dinner with him just two days before and we ended it by saying something to the effect of, “I always have so much to tell you and one of us always has to go and there’s just never enough time.” Ironic, as we’d have 5 straight days together. I repeatedly ask him, “Do you want me to stay? Do you want me to go? You tell me what you want and I’ll do it.” The answer was always to stay. When the end of visiting hours prompted me to go, I slept at his nearby apartment, feeling all the better being close still.

In the ICU, it seems like there are twice as many tubes and wires and machines, and then little him in the middle of it all. With his chronic migraines setting in and no oral meds allowed, he’s understandably no longer talkative, lying there in so much head pain, nauseous and throwing up because of it, motioning to me more than articulating with words to take off his socks, or fix the blanket or apply another compress to his head. As I wipe his mouth and take away the basin, I remember something my dad said when I was a deteriorated blood-less little nothing in severe pain in the hospital. He was holding my hair back, as I threw up my stomach acids, crying so hard and repeating “I just want to die.” He told me later that that was one of the best moments of his life, because he was helping me, helping me at my lowest, saddest, weakest and worst moments. When you’re the onlooker, there isn’t much you can do–having your mouth wiped off or your hair held back by someone you love, someone who loves you is so much better than if done by a nurse. I felt that so profoundly right then, that there was nowhere I’d rather be.

I watch him sleep, dozing in and out amidst so much noise from machines and nurses, I make phone calls in the hallway to his family, friends and co-workers, I get food from the vending machine, I cry in the bathroom. No, he doesn’t want visitors, no, he can’t talk, yes, I’m going to stay with him, yes, I think he’s going to be okay. Without any words, he starts motioning with his hand, and I ask him yes-or-no questions about what he wants and he keeps shaking his head “no” and finally takes my hand, muttering something like “I just want your hand.” I give it to him and we sit there like that, silent.

He continues to get better, moving to a regular room away from the depressing ICU and eats his first meal in days. I buy him a pack of Korean kids’ tissues (the hospital’s are like straw) from a deli, with the funny lost-in-translation phrase, “Just for you…I like…”, because I know he’ll get a kick out of it. I read NYTimes articles to him, and he eventually starts reading them himself. We take strolls around the corridor and again, I’m taken back to those days where I could only walk around the hospital floor with him supporting me for a few minutes at most. How things have a way of coming full circle, “so this is what it was like? Wow….”

On the proverbial road to recovery, he got to go home and we returned to normal joking back-and-forth, “Best. Date. Ever!” and “I slept in your bed, wore one of your t-shirts and used your soap–you know what that means!” and “You’re probably going to get at least one dinner out of this.” In all seriousness, we talked about everything that happened, about still having this strong bond and how special that is, speculating about what people think of our whole “emergency buddy” thing. Just a week or so before all of this, I wrote some funny little blurbs about Safety Cone–who is basically everyone’s emergency buddy but his effectiveness remains to be proven–and included one that sounds a bit saccharin, but nonetheless I think is true: we need each other, and that isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather the beauty and nature of relationships.