The Duke, his brother and I are crammed around a two person table at the new English pub that has opened about 15 blocks away from us.
The Duke has just received his steak and chips for the second time. They were cold the first time, so he reluctantly sent them back. His brother and I set to eating our fish and chips with more fervour, now that we all have been fed.
The Duke takes a bite of his steak, and then pauses.
"Damn, that thing is happening again, where when I have my first bite of steak, it feels like it is wedged in my throat."
A moment later, "It is really stuck. I think I have to go to the washroom and try to cough it out."
He is in the washroom for five minutes, at which point he emerges out, saying that the staff have been knocking on the door of the single stalled washroom, perceiving him to be intoxicated and vomiting. To avoid being kicked out, he tells us he is going to go outside to try to rid himself of this errant piece of meat.
Another five minutes pass. He calls, says he isn't doing well, and asks if we can get his food to go. I run out to the parking lot where he is frantically and unsuccessfully coughing. He says we'd better skip the party we'd planned to go to. I agree, and hand him the car keys, while I rush back to pay the bill.
The waiter is unnecessarily inquisitive. The Duke's brother tells me that he was asking where the Duke had disappeared off to a second time, seeming a little perturbed that he had only eaten a single bite of his re-ordered meal. Rather than explaining that there is meat stuck in his esophagus, Brother tells him that he got an important call from his boss. Waiter asks him what the Duke does. Brother says he is a very important researcher at the nearby university (which, granted, isn't entirely a lie).
When I go to pay the bill, Waiter asks me more about the Duke's whereabouts. I amaze myself at my ability to lie on my feet, telling him that March is the end of the fiscal year at the university, so there had been some major grant deadlines lately. I further elaborate, saying that his boss had called about a mistake on a very major grant proposal. Waiter seems satisfied. I leave him a big tip out of guilt for my dishonesty.
We meet the Duke in the parking lot. As we drive home, his breathing is laboured, and he intermittently mutters "Oh fuck".
We get home. He tries to drink a glass of water. It comes up in a matter of seconds. He retreats to the washroom as I consult the mighty Google for advice. I become convinced that we should go to the ER. He is reluctant, asking for an extra twenty minutes to try his best to dislodge it. It is only after we consult with his parents, who have worked as nurses, that he agrees to go.
We walk the six blocks to the local hospital, as he says that sitting hurts too much for us to take a cab. We enter the emergency room, which looks reasonably quiet and free of blood and screams. We wait in line at admissions, rolling our eyes at the people before and after us, who clearly don't understand the notion of the term emergency, complaining of diarrhea and sore ribs.
After we check in, we are sent to the waiting room, where the Duke takes a turn for the worse. He is feeling faint, saying he can't feel his arms, and is grasping my hand with a cool, squeezing grip. It is now that I am slipping out of automatic mode, and begin to feel my heart throbbing away. I ask him if he is okay, and he squeaks out a "no".
We go back to the admissions desk. The attendant nurse acts as though the Duke is merely hysterical and working himself up, and tells him to "calm down", take '"slow deep breaths", and, of course, that his turn will be soon. Thankfully, our turn is actually soon, and almost immediately after the Duke informs them he is on the verge of passing out and has numb extremities, he is placed on a bed and rolled on through.
It is hectic. Nurses dashing in and out. IVs, xrays, blood tests, EKGs. His shirt and shoes are removed. His monitor beeps. He swears when the needles pierce his skin. He looks around, confusedly, searching for me amidst this chaos. "I'm right here with you," I proclaim over the series of questions about the amount of alcohol he has consumed and medical history.
The IV helps, as does the stability of the bed. Although still in pain, and coughing up the saliva that can't flow through, he seems more grounded. One of the various medical professionals who enters the curtained cubicle looks at me familiarly. It turns out he is one of my clients from my first therapy practicum. This is the first time I've had such an unexpected reunion, and I am momentarily tickled pink that I was important enough for him to remember me years later.
Time passes. I phone the Duke's parents, who are rife with questions, and tell me to relay their love back to him. I move the chair to beside his bed so I can hold his hand. The flimsy pastel curtains provide little muffling to the sounds around us, so we are treated to the soundtrack of the ER.
The man to our left has had a stroke. He doesn't speak English, so the translator is attempting to pull out a description of his symptoms and medical history.
To our right is a man who has drunkenly fallen down some stairs. He is in unbearable pain. I cringe every time he screams "My back fucking hurts!", as well as when the nurses tell him to watch his profanities. It feels voyeuristic, as he shrieks as they turn him over, and as the doctor informs him that he will be "putting a finger up your bum, which you have to squeeze for us to determine whether you have spinal damage." He cannot do so, and yells in frustration. He is moved to trauma, and replaced by a peculiar man with a laceration on his chin. This man speaks in a slow, determined fashion, and precedes a his requests with "I know I am acting crazy, but..." He quizzes each of the nurses and doctors on their qualifications, asks to speak to his mother, and mutters to whoever will listen about some sort of conspiracy and mistrust of the hospital.
The white-coated doctor arrives. He suggests that the Duke drink some soda, as carbonation often helps to displace stuck food. The nurses laugh at the banality of this suggestion. I am sent to the waiting room with handful of change, and return with a Pepsi. The Duke takes a sip, then another, then cough desperately, the Pepsi spewing out in nearly projectile fashion. "That really hurts!" he proclaims. The doctor dashes out, as though ashamed. He returns with Gravol and morphine, stating that they should help him relax enough for the steak to become unwedged. I ask the Duke how he is feeling a few minutes later, and he says "Heavy", later describing himself as feeling "morphiney".
Though he is certainly more relaxed, the painful lump stuck in his chest remains, and around half an hour later, a new machine arrives. This one is apparently meant to deliver a smooth muscle relaxant over the period of an hour. We are told that this should make his esophagus relax, so the meat will merely drop down into his stomach. If this doesn't work, though, it appears that some sort of manual extraction may be the next step.
Another half an hour, and he starts coughing. Heavy, thick coughs. The conspiracy man shouts "The man beside me needs help!" A few bits of red come up. I am unsure if they are blood or meat. Suddenly, a piece of steak falls from his mouth. It is huge, easily two inches around. I may have pumped my fist in the air in triumph, shouting "It's out!" in celebration.
Before we are allowed to leave, at least three people lecture him on the virtue of chewing adequately.
1:30am Sunday morning, we leave, pondering how odd it is to be merely strolling away from the ER. We stop at a 24 hour coffee shop for him to have some soup, and I begin laughing uncontrollably the absurdity of the entire night.
He still has suction cup marks on his chest today. And I am going to throw out the steak and chips leftovers.