The Monkey on my Back was a Bucket of Vomit

As I sped through the back streets of Saint Paul on our way to the Emergency Room,

I was,

As Always,

Prepared for anything.


In the moment between him agreeing to be taken to the hospital

And us loading into the car,

I had grabbed a phone charger and a puke bucket – requisites for any emergency,

one of which was needed on the 16-minute trek.

Grateful I had thought to bring it along,

I didn’t have a plan for what to do with it

once it was used.


We pulled up to the Emergency Room and I ran to get a wheelchair

(as the security and valet guys sat by,

doing the important job of staring off into space).

I awkwardly got the chair out to the car, crashing into automatic doors along the way, and gingerly helped him into it.

Then there was the issue of the not empty bucket

sitting on his lap.

This was much too much of an emergency to deal with

this bucket in

this moment.

And so,

I put it on the floor of the car,

Shut the door,

And wheeled him in.


Once his name was on the list,

The valet guy came over and asked for my keys.

(NOW you decide to be helpful valet guy? Talk about staying in your lane.)

Leaning in close, I said,

“There’s a bucket of vomit in my car. You can take the car if you’d like, but…”

Eyes wide, he responded,

“Never mind. I’ll just make sure your car doesn’t get towed.”


Over the next hours there were moments of trauma

(Collapsing on the floor of the ER lobby.

Shaking and moaning in pain.

Face turning inexplicably red and splotchy.)

But also, moments of calm and quiet.

Throughout them all, the monkey on my back was that bucket of vomit.

I kept thinking about it sitting there in the car,

Smelling like all the bedamned.

Praying that no cracks or holes,

however small,

Had punctured this plastic tub in all its years of use.

I kept thinking that I should go take care of it.

But I didn’t.

Partly because we were in an emergent situation and it felt like I shouldn’t go far.

And partly because

Wasn’t being a caregiver in the Emergency Room a gross (in every sense of the word) enough job,

Without adding vomit clean up to the mix?


The bucket was filled

at 9 PM on Saturday.

Seven point five hours later,

at 4:30 AM,

We were finally transferred from the ER

To an inpatient room.


Before we left the Emergency Department

I checked in with Mr. Not So Helpful Valet Guy,

Asking if the car would still be okay

Even though we were no longer ER patients.

Sensitivities still effected by the thought of what was in that car

He assured me

The car would be fine.


As we:

Checked into a room,

Monitored the strangely low blood pressure,

Watched his face get puffier,

Recounted his sordid medical past for yet another medical professional,

Tucked him in for an early morning nap,

My mind couldn’t rest entirely on him and his current situation.

It floated to our girl, snuggled in at a serendipitously planned sleepover, fully unaware of all that had happened.

It floated to his parents, brother, sister, who would need to be updated in some way at some time.

It floated to my work responsibilities and the work week ahead, already wondering what needed to be cancelled, delegated, postponed.

It floated to that bucket of vomit

In the illegally parked car.


You see, as a caregiver I don’t ever get to give myself fully over to the moment,

Even when that moment is an emergency.

Partly this may be due to the titch of Type A running through me,

But it’s also because I am the one who has to keep all of the

balls in the air,

plates spinning,

and all the other phrases involving moving objects that are fighting against gravity.

I have to have a foot planted solidly in the medical situation,

              to keep track of every twist, turn, medication, and procedure,

But I cannot plunge in with both feet.

I cannot let myself be immersed,

For there are too many proverbial buckets of vomit reeking in illegally parked cars that need to have my feet in them as well.

In fact, I picture myself as an octopus,

or perhaps a millipede,

Feet poking out in every direction,

Toes dipping




Even when, in these critical moments, I declare to those around me,

“I’m not making any decisions. Figure it out.”

They come to me,

They look to me,

They ask me which restaurant we should order from,

mere seconds after my declaration of, “Not it.”

My daughter says, 

“But mom, this is weird. You’re always the one to make decisions. It’s what you do. You’re really good at it.”

I sigh,

Pick the restaurant,

And dream of being a flamingo.



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17 Responses

  1. Allison,
    What a gift! Even though you wrote about vomit (shivering at the thought), I continued reading every word, marveling at how you keep it all going through every crisis! God bless you mightily!
    ❤️ Jane

  2. You are masterful. You have turned vomit into something that could (and should) be framed. Your words come out like bunny-soft surprises from a magician’s hat steeped in the sinews of a gruesome human ordeal. You are masterful at the telling, and excruciatingly graceful in the living of it.

    1. Bwahahaha! Great question! About 20 hours after parking the car, I felt like my husband was stable enough that I could go home for a shower (my Brother-in-Law) was there by his side. I went out and there was a ticket on my car, which I had to fight with the security guy over. After that I finally got in the car, took the bucket to the nearest outdoor garbage can, and dumped the whole thing inside. (I made sure to take a few new buckets from the hospital once he was discharged. Those things are a necessity!) I drove home with the windows all the way down.

  3. Though my husband has a brain injury rather than cancer I can relate to every word you have written. As I was rushing to get to the hospital after receiving the call that he was being transported to the hospital with “stroke like” symptoms I handled the business. I notified family members, told my professors I would be missing deadlines, and give consent to place a PIC line during the excruciatingly long five hour drive with calm matter of factness. Maybe it was the years of being an Army wife handling the business while he was deployed that prepared me to “just handle it.” People would ask me what I needed, and that was overwhelming. My friend in from a rock in the middle of the Pacific called and told me she was handling Friday night pizza for my kids back in Texas. THAT was exactly what I needed, someone to just make a command decision. I will always be grateful to her and my two beautiful neighbors/friends that didn’t ask, they just did.

  4. Brilliant writing! Please write a book on your experience. You are a gifted writer. I love how you touched on always being the decision maker. I am a former money center bank officer married to a former military intelligence officer. Now that he has Alzheimers at a relatively young age, I too am making all the decisions. I dream about someone just taking charge of everything and allowing me an at least short respite from the constant pressure of questioning whether I am doing the right thing. Like the car parked illegally and the bucket of vomit in the back-should you have gone out again and checked? Or should you have stayed? The monkey on our backs never really leaves.

    1. Thank you Barbara! I would love to. Yes, the pressure of being the decision maker, especially when, in medical situations, the decisions are so high pressure, is relentless. Then add all of the day to day decisions on top and it’s no wonder I’m tired!

  5. When are you going to get published? You know in all that spare time you have :).
    Seriously, you’re writing is powerful and it’s begging for a larger audience in my opinion!

    1. Thank you Liz! I’m actually in an 8 week course right now called "Pen to Published" (yes, in my spare time). 😉 I would love nothing more than for my words to have a larger audience, as it seems that they are having an impact on those who read them. Thanks for the support!!!

      1. And yet just when I think you cannot possibly be an even more inspirational person you raise that bar once again – so grateful I get to work with you

  6. Incredible. Yes, you WILL get published. It is going to happen. I’ll remind you when you’re famous….ummm you’ll remember lil ol’ me in Dubai…right? xxx

  7. This reminded me of a time of many trips to the ER at the U – east bank campus, with my dad – holding a puke bucket in his lap. I’d grab a wheelchair, get him into it while he held onto the bucket & get him into the ER. (Our favorite times to head there were late evenings right before a holiday.) I held onto our frequent flyer punch card knowing we’d surely get the punch for "your next visit is on us!" The nurses got to know us pretty well & meeting with a triage nurse during one visit, she asked "Where’s the puke bucket?" "Out in the van." I replied. And, it truly was out in the van.

    Marie (Lyz’s mom)

    1. Marie, I’ve thought many times about frequent flyer cards! Sorry that you, too, know the ins and outs of puke buckets and late night trips to the U of M ER. (So happy to have met you the other day, by the way, and I’m glad you found the site!)

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