At 5:00 AM, I woke to find that Mike, my partner of 16 years, was not in bed. I heard a hard thump from upstairs, then another thump. Running to our kitchen, I found Mike on the floor, bleeding from several gashes in his head. Our kitchen drawer was open, its corner streaked with blood.
Mike—semi-conscious, mumbling—was in pain. I was in shock, scared that my partner—no, my husband!— might be seriously injured. I called 911. Everything became a blur until the EMT and police officers arrived. “Did you move him?” one officer asked sternly.
“Yes. I tried to get him onto a chair, or—”
“Never move people after they fall!” His voice rose angrily. “You could have paralyzed him!”
Now wide awake, I heard an EMT worker on his phone, saying they had “ruled out foul play.” Had they suspected Mike and I had fought and I struck him? The EMT man in charge glared at me. “We need to take him to the hospital.”
Mike, more coherent now, asked me to come in the ambulance. “Is that okay?” I asked. “Whatever! But you’re riding in the cab, not in back with him.”
Normally, if any jerk—especially a homophobe—treats me this way, I give him a piece of my mind. But Mike was now my main concern. I had to be cool. “I’ll follow behind in my car,” I told him. He nodded.
Following the ambulance, I wondered: Did Mike slip and fall? Had he suffered a stroke, a seizure, a heart attack? How would the hospital people treat me? Mike and I are not legally married in the state of Michigan.
I know friends of ours, also partners, one of whom was in a serious car accident. Worried that the hospital might deny him access to his partner, he told the staff that his partner was actually his brother! As long as the hospital believed his partner was “family,” they allowed him to be by his bedside, 24/7.
But the medics would probably tell the hospital that Mike and I weren’t brothers. That was obvious, from how I hovered over him while he lay on the kitchen floor. Too concerned to muster the energy to lie, I decided to tell the truth but play it cool.
They took Mike into Emergency. “I’m his partner,” I told the intake workers. They politely said I’d have to stay in the waiting room. Would they tell that to a spouse?
“Can’t I just be there while they admit him?”
“Standard procedure. We’ll let you know when you can see him. You can sit over there.”
Was this standard policy? Either way, I decided to stand near their desk, not letting them forget I was there.
I recalled the HBO movie If These Walls Could Talk 2. In one scene, an older lesbian is in the hospital, but her partner is not allowed to be at her side—or even told when she dies—because she is not “a relative.”
Ultimately, they let me in. Now, what about the tech staff, nurses, and doctors? Should I hold Mike’s hand, kiss his head affectionately as I would do naturally? No, I’m ashamed to admit I acted like a straight man, afraid they would kick me out. But that went against every bone in my body.
I advise my clients, therapists in training, and readers of my books not to feel pressured to deny being gay. So how could I start denying being gay now? This was different: With Mike faced with real danger, I wanted to anticipate any problems and be at his side the entire time.
Given that the staff could make me wait in the lobby, you might think I did the right thing. Yes, Mike and I each carry a card, Notice to Emergency Medical Personnel, giving each other Durable Power of Attorney. Any hospital still could deny my rights. Sure, I could sue—later. But my concern was now.
The doctors and nurses were fine with my being there, asking the right professional questions: What medications was Mike taking? Who were his doctors? I was there to tell them.
At one point, a nurse handed me a Kleenex. I was too anxious to realize I was crying. After this, I let my guard down and held Mike’s hand, telling him everything would be all right. He squeezed mine back. People watched me wiping blood off his forehead and even kiss his face to reassure him.
As it turned out, Mike’s new blood-pressure medication had been too strong. When he stood up to go to the kitchen, his blood pressure dropped so much that he passed out! And that would be the story’s main lesson if gay couples, not legally married, were sure of their rights in the hospital.