Humor Magazine

Tales from the ER

By Dianelaneyfitzpatrick

I wasn't going to write about my trip to the ER until I could bring myself to write a whole book about it. A heartwarming story about kindness toward others less fortunate, patience with patients, and an unlikely place to be the great equalizer. That was right after it happened, when it seemed so bizarre and San Francisco-slice-of-lifey that I wrote the outline for a 350-page book in my head and was already spending my royalties at Macy's Chinese New Year red dress sale.

But then the whole experience settled down in my memory and I became just a little bit more jaded and cynical. Also I forgot some of the more outrageous details. Weird things are more and more becoming everyday experiences for me. What I'm left with is a decent blog post about sweet and funny characters. So here we go.

The day I took my daughter to the ER I can't say that I didn't have the time. It's pretty rare that someone can honestly say, "I had to spend seven hours in the emergency room today watching people urinate on the floor, pull ham sandwiches out of their pants, and other shenanigans, and after all that, left without even any decent drugs. But it's all fine, because I didn't have anything better to do." But that was me on that day.

I was on the bus on my way home from a mammogram when my daughter texted me that she was getting concerned and thought she might need to see a doctor. My kids don't appreciate when I blog about them, so let's just say my daughter had had a for about a week and it had turned into A and I was afraid she had B. I didn't think it was very likely she had B, since B is rare and scary, but she had one major symptom of B and being the kind of parent I am, I didn't think I should take any chances. This daughter is the same child who walked around the sixth grade with a broken wrist for six days before I "had the time" to take her in for an x-ray. So faced with definitely A, probably AA, but a small chance of B, I saw the opportunity to make up for my past sins. And like I said, I really didn't have anything better to do. The only things on my calendar that day were the mammogram and the follow-up no-breast-cancer celebratory drinking. The latter being easily rescheduled.

I called my daughter from the bus and said, "I'm on my way home and I think we should bypass the doctor altogether and just go straight to the emergency room." The hospital is on our street, about eight blocks away. Short enough that you could walk there if you had a sprained wrist or a sinus infection or a, but not if you have A and definitely not if you have B. C and D are debatable and it depends on the person.

So we grabbed an Uber and went into the ER, whereupon we were greeted by an eerily near empty waiting room. I've seen every medical show since Doctor Kildare and this was not at all what I expected from a busy, big-city emergency room. I thought, "Well, this is why there haven't been any shows about San Francisco hospitals. They have to go to Chicago or Seattle to get the real chaos." The few people who were sitting on the plastic chairs were all wearing surgical masks and I don't think they were surgeons since they were holding purses and wearing puffy coats. The masks made me start to doubt my decision to go there and caused me to wonder what kind of hot, festering petri dish we were jumping into. In bypassing the doctor, we had also leapfrogged over Urgent Care. All the jumping may have been a mistake. We may have cavorted directly into the lion's den like a drunk guy at the zoo.

Where was everyone? I don't watch zombie apocalypse shows, but this looked bad.

We gave all of our pertinent info and sat with the masked waiters for about an hour until my daughter was called into triage. She was answering questions and I was looking into the adjacent room, watching as a guy in a wheelchair was trying to get up. My nature is to speak up and say, "Hey, there's a guy in a wheelchair in there who looks like he's gonna bolt" or "You got a runner! Runner in triage Room 2!" but I was trying to behave myself. In the inner-city ER, I was the new girl. For all I knew, he was sent in there to practice walking.

He eventually got up from the wheelchair and tottered off around a corner. And then I heard the familiar sound of a stream of liquid.

"Um," I tentatively said to the nurse who was asking my daughter questions.

"Aw, man, SCOTT!" The nurse got up and went around the corner. From that point everything was audio only, the nurse lecturing Scott about the inappropriateness of taking a piss on the pediatric cart, which will now have to be cleaned by someone and that is very inconsiderate, and Scott explaining that he couldn't wait. The nurse pointing out that he didn't even tell someone that he had to go, and Scott reiterating about ten more times that he couldn't wait.

"Okay," the nurse returned and sat down in front of my daughter. "When was the last time you took a Tylenol?"

"I couldn't wait," Scott said.

Eventually we got put into a curtain circle, and that's when the audio-only got really dramatic. With our curtain closed, I had to follow what was happening by listening carefully. It wasn't easy, what with all the machines beeping and my daughter asking for water every 15 minutes, but I did the best I could.

To our right was Will, who at the point of our arrival seemed to be about a third of the way into a diatribe about when exactly he was going to get his food voucher. When we left, hours later, he was I'm guessing about four-fifths of the way through it.

The nurses and even a doctor told him the ER doesn't give out food vouchers, but that as soon as he kindly shut the hell up, got sober enough to walk, and could be released, he could get on any Muni bus for free and go to Glide, where he could get a hot and nutritious lunch. All for free without breaking a sweat.

Another hour in, Will somehow remembered that he had a lunch already! He pulled a ham sandwich out of his crotch and the nurses were all very relieved because now they could say, "Eat your ham sandwich, Will, and please don't talk about food vouchers anymore."

About now is where we meet Ryan, who was pretty hammered, who is put in the circle curtain to our left. Ryan is taken for a CAT scan and Will is told they're still waiting for his CAT scan results and please, please, for the love of god, get on board with the fact that we don't give out food vouchers.

Enter throw-up lady. The only thing I know about her is that she was super sick. Based on my personal experience, she may have eaten a bad burrito. The retching noises were interrupted by a nurse telling her they'd be taking her for a CAT scan and any other test they could think of, as soon as they could find an open spot. Then, turning to Will, pointing out that you can't just throw the crusts on the floor when you're done with your crotch sandwich. "This isn't the street," a nurse said. I didn't say it out loud but I though we hardly want him to throw that shit on the street either.

Occasionally someone in scrubs would come into our curtain and take my daughter's temperature, talk about A and B and I suspect hang out with us to get a break from Ryan, Scott, Will and throw-up lady. We may have been the only people in the ward who weren't spewing bodily fluids of one sort or another.

When they gave my daughter her discharge paperwork, I opened our curtain like I was on The Dating Game. What do these people look like? Some of the main characters were gone, including Ryan, who, when given the cheerful perfunctory instructions to "follow up with your primary care physician," said in the most controlled but near defeated tone answered, "I don't have a primary care physician. Why else would I come here."

For the entertainment, of course. And a couple of CAT scans doesn't suck either.


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