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.