It turned out her phone was on her bed at home the whole time. She regained her composure - and her lifeline to connectedness.
Say hello to nomophobia - no mobile phone phobia.
Nomophobia may be the next big source of anxiety in an age of computerized portability. Can you hear it now?
The Morningside Recovery Center in Newport Beach, Calif., can. The center is starting what it touts as "the first ever recovery group" to help those grappling with nomophobia.
"We use cellphones every day, but for a growing number of people, staying connected has become an obsession that occupies every waking minute," says a Morningside announcement.
The center is treating about seven patients for nomophobia and several people so far have signed up for the recovery group, says psychologist Elizabeth Waterman, who will be one of the group's leaders.
The name might be a kitschy catchphrase rather than a clinical diagnosis (its origin is unclear), but the craving for contact via cellphones is more than a myth.
"Is it real that some people have some experience of anxiety without their phone? Absolutely," says Kimberly Young, who founded the Center for Internet Addiction, based in Bradford, Pa., in 1995. "It's sort of like this little appendage for all of us."
It's one thing to utilize the latest electronic gadgets to make life easier; smartphones and portable devices like the iPad make it possible to connect anywhere to the Internet.
The problem comes when not having that gadget provokes anxiety or hurts relationships.
Young says the problem often starts slowly. Spouses may check their cellphones more and more frequently during dinner or on family vacations. She has had cases in which the husband used his phone to send text messages to another woman, and the wife surreptitiously shopped online.
"There are many ways that we can misuse digital devices. Again, the real issue is the resulting consequence," she says. "I have seen numerous teens in treatment because of texting while driving."
The students Young teaches at St. Bonaventure University in southwestern New York "can't even last an hour without checking their phone."
The underlying issue, says Bala Cynwyd psychologist and addiction counselor Jeremy Frank, is the intrinsic human need to be in a web of relationships.
"We're wired to need connections and have been reinforced for that, and whenever that's threatened, we can feel anxious," Frank says.
There's no way to track how many, if any, local patients are being treated strictly for cellphone addiction, but Philadelphia-area psychologists have seen people for years who struggle with an Internet habit. The portability of smartphones makes feeding that habit possible anywhere.
That next big e-mail or text message confirming a job interview or inviting you to a party is right there in your pocket or purse. So is the Internet answer to nagging questions that can come up: What are the symptoms of West Nile virus? Who did Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney just marry?
"Part of it is anticipation of what could come," says Carolyn Saligman, a Philadelphia psychologist whose specialties include treating people with obsessions and compulsions. "That happens when something is constantly delivering stimuli."
The few studies that have been done show just how hung up many people are on cellphones.
Research published in a 2010 issue of the Indian Journal of Community Medicine found that about 73 percent of students at an Indian medical school kept their mobile phones with them all the time, including when they slept; 18.5 percent were deemed to be nomophobes.
In a study done this year, 60 percent of 2,097 adults 18 years and older surveyed for a mobile device security company reported they check their phones every hour, with most of the respondents being between 18 and 34. Nearly 40 percent said they check their phone while on the toilet - ick - and 54 percent take a peek while lying in bed. With cellphones being brought into every room of a house, it's not surprising that 73 percent said they felt "panicked" if they misplaced their cellphone.
A highly unscientific study conducted over one hour recently on the Villanova University campus found that 60 out of 100 students who walked past the Connelly Center during a school day were using a cellphone or held one in their hands. (Backpacks and pockets weren't checked.)
Ira Blossom, 21, held his phone as he walked to his advanced literature class. The phone is his alarm clock, his timepiece, and the main mode of communication between his Web design firm's customers and him - he and other students interviewed rarely use their phones for calls.
The senior psychology major doesn't think people are becoming overdependent on their cellphones.
"It's just more convenient. You don't have to get to a computer lab" to check your e-mail, Blossom says. "That time is now in your pocket."
Laura Marie Blackburn, 21, a senior majoring in communications, sat outside at a table doing schoolwork, her phone on top of a notebook and a textbook beside her. She has had a cellphone since her freshman high school year - late compared to many of her friends, who got one in middle school.
"My parents didn't think I needed it and I think they were right," Blackburn says.
She does not regularly check her phone, she says. By not regularly checking, Blackburn means she looks at it about 50 times a day so she can keep up with class assignments from professors and news from a group she's involved in at school.
For peers who carry it in their hand even as they walk from one place to another, "I think sometimes it's like a security blanket," she says. "There's this discomfort of having to make eye contact" or of being perceived as having no friends.
Her rate of cellphone checking is moderate compared to Scott Gosselin, 17, a freshman from Phoenix. He checks his phone for text messages, e-mails, and updates from his Facebook and Twitter pages, about 15 times per hour - about 120 times in an eight-hour workday.
He likes getting the latest news from professors and friends, who might be telling him where the gang is meeting for lunch.
Though he has a lot of information stored in his phone, including to-do tasks, his calendar, and contact information, Gosselin thinks he would "be able to get by" if he were without it.
Still, he says, "it's nice to have that security, to know instantly what's going on."
Contact staff writer Carolyn Davis at 215-854-4214 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @carolyntweets.