Checking in for a doctor’s appointment the other day I was asked at the reception desk to verify my personal information. It had been a while (OK, a few years) since I had tended to the routine aspects of my health, and all my data was long past its expiration date. When they asked me whom my emergency contact was I paused, as I didn’t have a viable answer.
It was a sobering thought to realize that at the age of 50, with three minor children, no husband, no siblings and no parents, I really don’t have a qualified emergency contact. I have, as one pal calls them, “peeps,” upon whom I rely when my car breaks down or the dogs roll in something nasty and I can’t get them to the groomer, but in the event of a medical emergency, I’m stumped. My address book contains dozens of close friends, but the kind of emergencies upon which they are called to serve is when I’m out of red wine or having an emotional breakdown, not the kind that lands you in the OR.
The point was further driven home over the weekend when I received a group text from my ex-husband. He was informing the kids that he was in the hospital and thankfully wasn’t having a heart attack but that he was being kept overnight for observation and would update them in the morning. My initial reaction upon reading the text was, “WTF? Why didn’t you call me?” and then I realized that technically his health no longer falls under my jurisdiction.
These are the nuances of being divorced that continue to trip me up emotionally and logistically. My Ex and I, relatively speaking, are still close. Maybe it is our geographic proximity to each other, or the open-door custody policy that we have with our children, that makes me forget that we spent several years eviscerating each other before letting a judge settle our grievances. In what may be an ironic twist of fate, he and I get along much better now that we are no longer married. So when details that were once mundane and routine, like health care proxies or emergency contacts, present themselves, I find myself examining my life and relationships with greater scrutiny than perhaps I otherwise would.
Why, by default, is one’s spouse the emergency contact? Furthermore, what precludes the ex-spouse from being the designated point person? I suppose it makes practical sense, and in some medical cases only the legality of marriage can allow you access to relevant information, but shouldn’t the go-to person be the one who either cares the most or is best equipped to deal with the situation? I know plenty of people whose marital partner only gets in the way, or who further complicates an already complicated situation. And what if you aren’t married? I guess that’s where the extended family comes into play, but there are always outliers like myself who rely on the kindness of the village they have built, and that includes the involvement of the designated Village Idiot.
Taking mental stock of those who would qualify as my Emergency Contact, I began to list the attributes of the people nearest and dearest to me. Assuming that said emergency was local, all of them would be practical choices. I then began to weed out the ones with complicated schedules, kids living out of state, the squeamish and over-reactors, and the ones who never listen to voice mail. That left me with a small handful of trusted allies. I mulled over the list, gave it barely a second thought and wrote down the name and number of my newly minted Emergency Contact.
In case you were wondering, I chose the one who above all others truly cares; the person who would answer the phone, clean up the mess, and notify all interested parties of the situation…including my ex-husband.