Two weeks ago, my girlfriend G had surgery. It wasn’t an emergency procedure, thank goodness, so we had time to arrange to get our kids to and from school (thank you to the family and good friends who helped – our village rocks), and generally prepare for this unpleasant experience.
In addition to the customary anxieties that accompany impending surgery, we had unique concerns. With same-sex marriage not earning legal status in New Jersey, we wanted to make sure I’d be able to see G in the hospital, get updates from the doctor (and not just the electronic board) and make medical decisions on her behalf, God forbid something went terribly wrong.
A few days before, G executed her living will, naming me her health care proxy. We got the papers witnessed and notarized, packed an overnight bag, and headed out in the pitch dark at 4:45am on the big day. It turns out none of these “unique” things proved to be an issue. We got to hold hands until they wheeled her into the OR, and as soon as the surgery was over (actually, while G was being stitched up), the doctor called my cell phone to say that it was a success (you might wonder how the doctor was able to stitch and dial at the same time…I did too.).
About a half hour later, the doctor came out to talk to me and patiently answered all my questions. So far, things were going like clockwork; I heard directly from the doctor and there were no life or death decisions to be made. That just left my getting post-op access to G, and this is where things got weird.
They brought her into recovery, which is expected, but what wasn’t expected was the overcrowded conditions at the hospital. The bad flu season caused a bed shortage and made for a packed house. Family members were told we could go into recovery for five minutes every hour, that’s it. When it was my time, I went to see the woman who facilitated recovery visitation, a gatekeeper of sorts, and asked if I could walk the long corridor to G. She called mission control and said that G’s daughter would like to come back. I looked at G’s mom, who was with me, because neither one of us could believe what we heard. Her daughter? With all the worrying we did about our possible same sex-ness obstacles, we never considered that we might be mistaken for a mother and daughter.
It doesn’t end there.
Once G was settled in a room, we settled into her very narrow bed to watch TV. When the nurse came in, she called us sisters. Really? I have a sister, and we’re quite close, but G and I wondered about the likelihood of me crawling into her hospital bed. How to explain these mischaracterizations. Could it have been the fluorescent lights, which make it impossible to tell if it’s day or night, a couple or a couple of siblings? Distraction due to the rampant flu? Resistance to considering that two women in a bed together are romantically involved or just not having that possibility on the radar?
This was New Brunswick, after all, home of Rutgers University, a college town smack in the middle of a blue state where the hospital staff from doctors to orderlies looked to be from every nation, race and religion. We were virtually undetectable, and not for lack of trying. This is good news for same sex partners in Oklahoma or Texas. Their access to each other in a hospital could be much more unfettered than they think, if the expectation is that they’re each other’s parents, children, sisters, brothers or cousins twice removed (no disrespect intended to our red state brethren).
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog.