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An ER Minute
The time is eight thirty.
The ventilation whirs softly above me as I write a chart.
The main screen blinks and blips as the heart monitor syncs;
stretcher #3: bradycardia.
Distressed eyes gaze at me from across the hall.
Curtains half pulled, the patient leans in his stretcher
anxious, looking for any relief we can provide him.
His one hand guards his other tender arm.
A wailing cry.
A child sits in his mother’s lap.
His face beet red as he begs to go home.
No comforting words stop him.
Silhouettes work behind the curtains of #5.
The doctor is busy speaking with the patient,
as the nurses prepare to move her for surgery.
A medical emergency.
A new patient is admitted.
The nurse directs the limping man to a bed.
He is flustered. He has waited thirty minutes, he explains.
The waiting list is long, and growing.
The attending returns, crisis averted.
He slumps in his chair and looks at the clipboards, waiting.
I give him my report as he hands me the chart for stretcher #2.
The time is eight thirty-one.
I Spent Saturday Night in the ER, Had an Existential Crisis
I woke up on Saturday morning with a painfully glued shut eye. By the end of the day it hurt so bad I couldn’t stand it so I decided to go to urgent care. I looked up the nearest location covered by my grown up office healthcare plan and got in the car.
I was there for about four minutes before the nurse concluded that my case was more extreme than could be treated there, so they sent me to the Emergency Room, also known as the bleakest place on earth. What followed was a string of rude awakenings that make me hope I never have to go back, and not just for health reasons.
First I went to intake. A mean lady asked me if I needed help paying for the visit. I sort of wanted to say yes, because god the doctor is expensive. But also no obviously that would make me a terrible human being for taking advantage of something needed by people far less fortunate than I am, and I can’t even afford highlights.
Feeling the weight of that thought I shamefully averted my gaze and looked down at my shoes. My $100 tennis shoes I’ve worn once in the last two years that I selected that night from a half dozen other pairs of $100 tennis shoes because these best matched the sweatshirt I was wearing, a sweatshirt that I got for free from the fancy agency I work for.
My thoughts were interrupted by the mean lady who had begun to ask me a series of questions. What’s my height, what’s my age, what medications am I on, and then, do I live in a safe place and do I feel safe enough to tell the truth about what happened to me? They don’t ask those questions at the teensy suburban clinic where I usually see the doctor, surrounded by high rise condos and corporate headquarters. Those questions aren’t relevant because most of us keep our $100 neon sneakers in walk-in closets in buildings where we have comfortably made our homes, in buildings where we receive our medical bills and eye roll at them before going for dinner at a trendy Asian fusion restaurant. We don’t feel those questions internally because we are graciously protected from them by whatever wheel of fortune is determining our course.
She took me to my own room with a special throne for me to sit in as I waited for the doctor. “You probably don’t want to watch TV, huh,” she said observantly, yet ignorant of the fact that the lulling sound of television comforts me and I’m not embarrassed about it. “Yeah, good call,” I said through weak fake laughter. “One last question, what’s your religion? For demographic purposes.” It was the day before Easter. “Umm… can I say none?” She looked puzzled but nodded silently and walked away.
I couldn’t see my phone very well so I looked around for things to attract my attention. A big sign said “PETROLEUM JELLY BARRIER” and I assumed somewhat excitedly that might happen to me and I could make a joke like, “Is this the petroleum jelly barrier I’ve heard so much about?” I looked at my wrist, the band around it had boxes to check for “DNR” and “DNI” and “Special Case.” I assumed this was for people who came to this Emergency Room and died. I felt very sad for them. Here I am with my silly stupid eye problem and people are here maybe dying and other people are here waiting to hear if their family died in these yucky rooms on these lonesome thrones and I am here in my $100 tennis shoes feeling sorry for myself that I’m going to miss a party. Perspective.
My appointment concluded and I had to leave. I have 459 Twitter followers and only one was sober and able to pick me up. No judgment of anyone else for being drunk on a Saturday, but being sick and alone is so much worse than being sick regular. I wanted to go meet my drunk friends. I sat in the waiting room waiting for my ride as Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments played and I thought about shooting my face off for being terrible at taking care of myself, both religiously and physically because I could have avoided this with a routine eye exam I hadn’t made time for.
I felt grateful and yet so sad. I think that’s the crux of existentialism though, right? Simultaneously so free and so alone. A person in the waiting room used a farting app to prank her sick mother. I smiled a little. Everyone will be okay, one can only hope.
FurthER (well it's about time!) Adventures of The GNU: Oooh, Awkward.
- Wife of man with end-stage cancer and hemoptysis (coughing-up-blood): See, his clothes are all spattered with blood!
- Patient: *futilely wiping at blood with paper towel*
- Wife *hands a hospital-grade sanitizing wipe from the sink area and hands it to the patient*
- Greatest ER Nurse in the Universe: Oh, please don't touch those wipes without wearing gloves, sir! They are very strong and can cause cance.....Er. Sorry. I, uh...
- Patient *sad grin*: It's a bit late for that precaution, I think.