The snowstorm may have hit yesterday, but the eye of the storm came last night, when my sister met me in the emergency room at St. Vincent’s Hospital.
“Are you O.K.,” she asked me. I’ve had a weird stomach pain that I initially thought would end with that awful stomach bug that’s been going around. But after the bug, the pain remained for a week. Fed up, I figured I’d cut to the chase, go (doubled-over in pain) to the hospital and either be discharged in time to grab some sleep and head to work or admitted for appendicitis. After looking me up and down and diagnosing me with “a paler shade than your typical pale,” my sister plopped down on the bench next to me and turning her eyes to the corner-mounted TV. “Oh, thank god they have The Bachelor on,” she announced. We had enough time to catch the fact that the Bachelor still had feelings for the girl he turned down, but then my name was called and we were brought back to emergency triage.
Ladies and Gentleman: Welcome to the
Bowels of Hell late night comedy hour courtesy of the ER nurses, doctors and the local drunks and homeless. Seven hours can pass relatively quickly when you have a a three-ring stand-up show going on around you.
First, it was a homeless man who smelled so extraordinarily badly of feet that the ER nurse kept spraying the room with a disinfectant to cut the smell. When that wore off, security stepped in. “What the hell’s that smell?” they asked. The nurse explained and added that he had given the man his discharge papers, but that he was currently burning up the lines of the courtesy hospital cell phone calling everyone he knew. Essentially using the curtained-off bed as his personal phone booth. Security gave him the boot and the smell went with him.
While we waited to see who came in next, my sister apparently got a job working at the hospital. My curtain area also housed the supply of bed linens and paper bags in which to store a patient’s clothing. My sister sat conveniently next to the linen cart. Nurses and EMS workers stopped by and asked her to please hand them a few linens and a bag. This continued for the entire duration of our stay. My sister never missed a beat. “How many would you like,” she asked them. “Do you need a bag with that.” Or, “Let me go into my closet and check my supply level.” The ER staff came and asked her first, like it was, in fact, her cart. If she had turned down their request, I don’t doubt they would have just walked away, thinking my sister, in her black knit poncho and leggings with her Pocahontas braids and black rubber Wellies, had the final say in the matter of the bed linens.
Next up in our comedy ring was a seriously drunk guy, who announced his arrival with: “Am I going to die?”
“No sir,” the nurse replied, “you just broke your hand.” The drunk started to cry. “So am I going to die,” he questioned again. The doctor answered this time, “well, we all die, sir. But not today. You’re in good hands with me.” Then, without missing a beat, the doctor added, “Except I just went off duty.”
As the sister and I cracked up, we saw the drunk’s nurses whispering to each other, consulting. Then, they asked him: “Sir, do you have hair plugs?”
“I don’t know,” answered the drunk, crying.
“Sir, this is important. We need to know if you have hair plugs in case you need brain surgery.”
“Yes,” he replied, weakly.
The drunk left for a while, later returning a little more sober, but not quite. “Why is my hand like this,” he asked the nurse. The nurse replied back that it had been broken when the drunk fell down the stairs. “Oh,” he said, as he proceeded to kiss his hand several times to make it better.
The later it got, the more scary the characters. Finally, when we hit on a violent, homeless (but fur-clad) psych patient, I told my sister to go home. “Are you kidding,” she exclaimed, gesturing over to our hand-kissing drunk who had proceeded to call everyone of his iPhone contacts at 3am to let them know he was in the hospital. “I want to see what happens. I’ve been following that story since it broke.” She smiled at me with a glimmer in her eye. “Haha.”