What A Trip To The ER Taught Me About Being Single

I’ve been single for the better part of my adult life, and though I try my best not to sweat it (and remind myself that I’m only 26 and my ovaries have time), I, like many people, have certain fears about being single. While I’ve never worried that I could die alone in my apartment and go for days unnoticed (my dog and amazing roommates would know in a hot minute), I’ve always wondered just how much that emergency contact would matter if I ever actually needed medical assistance.

Last week, I got the unfortunate opportunity to find out.

After vacationing at my family’s lake house in North Carolina for 10 days, I caught a flight back to New York with what I thought was a pretty common swimmer’s ear infection. But when I headed to the office the next day, the right side of my face underneath my earlobe started swelling. By mid-afternoon, my co-workers encouraged me to get to urgent care stat, as the bump went from barely noticeable to red and about the size of a softball. I don’t hate doctors, but I pretty much always think whatever I have is contagious, fatal and disfiguring, so to actually see a physical change in my appearance was terrifying. Not to mention that it was sensitive to the touch and I could barely turn my head without feeling a sharp, intense pain.

The urgent care center wasn’t sure what was really happening, but knew it was more than a typical ear infection and that I needed to be diagnosed ASAP, in case there was a stone — stuck in a gland. (Yep, apparently you can get stones in other places other than your kidney.) As the doctor was telling me this, my head started spinning and I felt like I could pass out, but remembering it’s never a good idea to hysterically cry for no reason, I channeled my deep yoga breathing, paid my co-pay and headed out the door.

After calling my parents with a shaky voice, I called my dear friend Erin, who without hesitation, asked where I was and said she’d be right there. We met at my office (where I tried not to get upset telling my boss I was headed to the emergency room), and took a cab to the hospital. As we sat there for the next four hours and I recovered for the following week, I learned a lot about being single during my ordeal:

I’m not alone. Not even a little bit.

This is going to sound way more melodramatic than how I actually feel, but it’s not so much that being single makes you feel alone, but more so, that it can be lonely. Of the last 365 days, I’ve only really cuddled with someone a handful of times, there’s no one there to reassure me when I’m stressed out or to remind me I’m pretty great when I’m feeling less than stellar. But, what I do have, are amazing, incredibly supportive friends who are always, always there for me.

Though I figured my friends would be there, their outpouring of encouragement (like sending funny GIFs and memes) and kind offers (co-workers and friends offered to come join me at the hospital) absolutely floored me. Even though Erin had just gone to the gym, she sat there in her sweaty clothes, keeping me sane and calm while we waited for four hours. And when the doctor gave me my diagnosis — an infection in my partoid gland (fun fact: it produces saliva) — she reassured me that I likely wouldn’t die. When the doc prescribed me some pretty intense antibiotics, some pain killers and advised that I suck on sour candy to wake up my gland, she said, “That’s kind of like the best prescription ever, right? Antibiotics that’ll clear up your skin, pain killers that’ll make you happy and candy? Yasssss.”

I’m a lot stronger than what I think.

Sure, I always knew I was mentally pretty tough and rather independent. It’s one of the reasons I am still single — I’m happy with my own company and would rather keep my options open than to settle for just anyone. But apart from some health scares with my dad, I’ve never had anything truly traumatic happen in my life. In fact, at the age of 26, that was my first time going to the emergency room, ever (knocking on all of the wood). I was scared that if anything ever happened where I needed medical attention, I’d fall apart and need someone to take care of me.

But really, all I needed was the knowledge that my friends were close by (or sitting next to me), my dog was taken care of (thanks roommie!), my parents would hop on a plane if I needed them, and that I was getting the best care I could. Minus the part when the intern commented that my heart rate was faster than normal (uh, dude, I’m sitting in the emergency room, duh), and I snapped at him, I remained pretty centered throughout the evening.

Now of course, I wasn’t bleeding profusely or writhing in pain, but I was afraid of — and brainstorming — the terrible things that could possibly lead to my swelling. And because I’ve spent so much time learning to take care of myself, I was able to focus on my breathing, persuade my thoughts and stay in the moment with Erin, chatting about our upcoming trip to Belize. I didn’t need someone to hold me, I was holding myself up just fine.

I really don’t need a man. But it’s OK if I want one.

As an adult, I’ve done pretty well for myself — I have an apartment in downtown New York, I’m able to do what I love every single day and somehow manage to get paid for it, I have a healthy social life and apart from my silly partoid gland, I live a healthy, active lifestyle. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a partner one day to share my life with, and ultimately, build a bigger one with.

I’ve worked really hard to not rely on a man for any of my needs, regardless if that’s emotional or physical — and without realizing it, I’ve become self-assured, confident, successful, and dare I say it, happy, without a guy at all. When I got home from the hospital at midnight, ready to pass out, I grabbed my pup, drank some water, watching TV and tucked myself in. I read through the sweet text messages of my friends and said a little prayer in gratitude that I was going to be OK.

And ya know what? I was glad I was in that bed all by myself. I was happy that I could stretch out, deep breath and relax and recover. I wasn’t scared, I didn’t need a man to calm my tears or my fears —my friends did a good job of that already. Instead, I fell asleep easily, slept hard and woke up to make it to work the next day, with lots of medicine in my tote.

There will be a day when I do have a husband who would have sat next to me in that waiting room and would have kissed my forehead and told me how happy he was that I was healthy again. There will be a day when I want that more than anything.

But for now? It’s really pretty wonderful to know that until that time of my life is here, I’m doing just fine, just by myself.

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