I felt a shake and opened my eyes. The clock read 1:30 a.m.
"We need to go to the hospital," my mother whispered in my ear, clutching her stomach.
She knew; it was the same pain she had experienced many times before.
We were in California, many miles from home, many miles from my father (a doctor), who always knew what to do. At the time, I was early in my medical school training, although I knew all the intricate details of my mother's medical history and realized she needed to get medical attention.
When we arrived at the local emergency room in an affluent neighborhood, my mother was placed in a wheelchair and taken to the waiting room. She curled up on the cold barren hospital floor, the only position she could find comfortable. Although my mother usually puts on lipstick and high heels to go to the grocery store, this time, her hair was unkempt and her pajamas worn out. Her knees were tucked into her chest and her belly was distended.
It should have been clear to onlookers that she was in agonizing pain, but people were hesitant, skeptical even.
"Ma'am," someone yelled. "Ma'am, we can't have you lying on the floor. Get up."
My mother lay still.
"Get up, ma'am," she was told again, again more forcibly.
They helped her back into the wheelchair.
"Help me," she said. "The pain is unbearable."
Reluctantly, they put her in a stretcher and prepared to place an IV in her arm. To convince them the pain was real, we asked them to call my father, who could fill in all of the medical details: her multiple prior hospitalizations, surgeries and diagnoses.