Monday, June 11, 2007

Tales from an ER

An ER is a surreal place at 2.30am.

The carpark is icy, dark and quiet. Inside the first set of doors, a woman in pink ugg boots sits on the corner of a planter, her face in her hands. She is worn thin and surrounded by a fug of abuse.

The waiting room holds a motley collection of people, backs to the triage office and all staring blankly at an infomercial advertising a set of music DVDs. Just $29.95 each, or return within 10 days. But come on - this is The Supremes! Who would want to return it?

I settle down next to my sister and brother-in-law. They look rumpled, startled from sleep, just like I do.

A man sits in a wheelchair behind me, sucking greedily at an oxygen mask and whining intermittently. His elderly mother is at his side, patting his arm. Everyone is dressed in a bizarre collection of leisure wear and evening clothes. A man in a wifebeater lies on the gurney that has been his couch for the past six hours. Black-clad security guards stalk through the waiting room and then return to their office.

A sign high on the wall warns that Abusive or Threatening Language will NOT be Tolerated. The Police will be Summoned.

The woman in the ugg boots asks the triage nurse how much longer she will have to wait.

"Two bloody hours?" she wails, distraught. "I've already been here for two fucking hours and I'm tired and I just want to go home to bed and now you tell me another two bloody hours!" Her voice gets higher and louder. "I don't bloody care any more. You said the crisis team would be here soon!" The triage nurse's responses are inaudible, but obviously she is putting to use her course on dealing with aggressive patients. The wailing ramps up a few notches, with a few cries of, "Be fucked! Be fucked all of you!" It has an oddly Shakespearean quality: "Be fucked and smell thy way to Dover!" wouldn't be out of place.

A man in front of me is staring unashamedly, mouth open, half-swivelled in his chair.

The triage nurse seems to be winning until the guy in the wheelchair sticks his nose in.

"Oh, just shut up, will you?" he roars, surprisingly loudly for someone who supposedly can't breathe. "Just shut the fuck up and sit down!"

There are more cries of, "Be fucked!" with more roaring from the wheelchair guy. No-one bothers to point out that sometimes, things aren't all about him, largely because the woman in the ugg boots has gone for him, shrieking like a banshee and with fingers clawed. I barrack for her silently. I wouldn't mind bitch-slapping the selfish prick myself.

Within a few seconds, the security guards have wrestled her to the floor, bending her arms high behind her back. She is dragged outside into the cold to wait for a police pick-up. Her screeches become fainter.

Mr Wheelchair is unrepentant. Now he's whining that she went for him and she must be crazy, the bitch. He whines some more that the stress will give him another asthma attack and he's been waiting for a long time, too.

"I've got a headache," he moans.

The guy in the wife-beater decides that he's had enough of the ER circus and leaves. I hope he has a jumper in the car.

Later, in the treatment area, a woman curled in the foetal position is wheeled in. Her handbag is on the barouche at her feet and only her dyed-red hair is visible over the ambulance blanket. Fifty tablets of Valium are mentioned and she moans incoherently.

The ER staff seem neither busy nor stressed. One, an Indian woman, is complaining loudly about the stupidity of a man who has brought his wife to the hospital in labour even though it has no maternity ward and she is booked in elsewhere.

"Who will be paying for the liabilty if the baby is having a congenital birth defect?" she brays. The other staff mutter in agreement.

I'm distracted by Emesis Bag. It's for puking in, according to the litlte blurb on the side. Apparently, kidney dishes just don't cut the mustard for catching splattery vomit. It looks like an oversized plastic condom with a hard plastic flange at the top.

"Now, there is an alternative. Now, there is Emesis Bag," the self-important little blurb squawks. Somewhere, someone is very proud of Emesis Bag. I imagine him sitting in a bar and trying hard to pick up women.

"Oh," he says carelessly, sipping a martini (shaken, not stirred), "I imagine you've heard of me. I invented Emesis Bag."

Forget hospitals - taxi drivers all over Australia should carry a few in their back seats. It would save a fortune in befoulment fees.

I go into the women's bathroom. The toilet has a generic black seat and a miasma of stale piss that punches me in the nose when I step into the stall. I start scrabbling at the industrial-sized roll of paper, preparing to line the seat. I'm tired and not sure I can hover without losing my balance.

In slow motion, the behemoth of a bog roll flies off the holder, bounces on the pee-besmirched seat and wedges itself in the bowl.

I stare at it, horrified. There's only one stall. I think briefly of running away to the disabled loo, but realise there's no choice: I have to retrieve the giant roll of bum fodder because Christ knows I can't flush it and the longer it sits there, the more toilet water it's going to suck up.

There's a wet patch on the bottom 10 cm long and half a centimetre thick; too much to flush. I settle for tearing off a dry length, then dropping the wet bit in the bowl. Repeat several times. Finally, I decide to let the next person fend for themselves. For all I know, the same thing happened yesterday and the day before and I blotted with paper that was already infused with toilet water and cholera-strength Domestos.


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At 9:52 pm, June 11, 2007, Blogger londongirl said...

Sounds like a cracking night out, all in all. I hope whatever was injured in your (or the bloke) is now fixed. And I hope you scrubbed your hands m'lady.

At 12:28 am, June 12, 2007, Blogger Sakura said...

ER's are the best places aren't they? I have had to be in there too many times to mention - just for the hell of it actually... no really they are the weirdest places on earth, creatures that were human during the day seem to morph into something else at 2:30am in ER.
Hope everything's ok.

At 1:02 am, June 12, 2007, Blogger Ms Smack said...

You are a brilliant writer. You've summed it up perfectly.

At 8:44 am, June 12, 2007, Blogger Jo said...

If you never want to wait in a casualty waiting room again - tell 'em you've got chest pain.

Even if you just have a haemorrhoid, tell 'em you've got chest pain.

Straight through the doors. To the good toilet.

At 8:50 am, June 12, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

Thanks loves. It was mum who was poorly, but she's healthy enough to be sitting up in bed and giving attitude now, which I figure is a good sign.

And jo, that was the good toilet.

At 12:51 pm, June 12, 2007, Blogger Steph said...

Ah yes, the wonders of the ER. Been there a few times and you described the horror of it perfectly.

Good to hear your mum is ok.

At 2:50 pm, June 12, 2007, Blogger Eleanor Bloom said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this, (although, in the back of my mind I kept worrying why you were there, so I'm glad your mum's ok)!

I especially enjoyed the Shakespearean bogan. You have inspired me to grate on my friends with loud and public repetitions of "Be fucked, lest I smite thee, you who art as black as hell, as dark as night!" Is sure to get me good service in the bar/restaurant/drive-thru...

At 3:19 pm, June 12, 2007, Blogger Milly Moo said...

What a great piece of writing and made even better by realising that you and your Mum are OK.

Fingers crossed for Ms 'Be Fucked' and the obviously warm-blooded wife beater-wearer too!

At 8:24 pm, June 12, 2007, Blogger Lonie Polony said...

Aside from your horrible experiences, I enjoyed your story. I'm glad your mum is okay. Emergency rooms don't exactly make any effort to soothe the nerves of worried and anxious people, do they?

P.S. What is a wifebeater?

At 8:36 pm, June 12, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

steph, I'm not entirely surprised to hear that you're well aquainted with them. After all, you are my sister in unco.

eleanor, ha! I hope you do, too! I think it will get you best service in public libraries and at church jumble sales.

milly moo, thanks missy :) Send out good vibes for the broken, the beaten and the damned. Oh hang on, that's a song by My Chemical Romance...

lonie, no, no they don't. I think a nice open fire, marshmallows to toast and some Bing Crosby music would do wonders. A wife-beater is one of those navy blue workman's singlets that no-one really wears to dig ditches anymore since the advent of safety orange clothes.

At 11:58 am, June 13, 2007, Blogger PetStarr said...

What the hell were you doing at the ER??? Are you ok????

At 1:48 pm, June 13, 2007, Blogger The Man at the Pub said...

Note to self: Do not get sick,

and be thankful I pee standing up.

At 4:31 pm, June 13, 2007, Blogger Scorpy said...

Brilliant Red, as usual you have captured a moment that I am sure we can all relate to.
What do the Police do with the abusive people they retrieve from the ER when they find out they can't put them in the cells for the night because they are SICK??? Do they drive them back to the ER, in handcuffs, where they then get preferential treatment so the cops can whisk them off for a warm night in the back of the local? lol

At 5:03 pm, June 13, 2007, Blogger Nai said...

Just told a guy sitting next to me, checking out Bukakke (sp?) porn and picking his nose in a public internet cafe to 'be fucked'. I don't think it translates well into Lao...
Glad your Ma is on the mend.

At 8:03 pm, June 13, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

pet, she went home this afternoon, but I think that had something to do with her having my temper and having been without a cigarette for three days...

Mr Pub, every morning when you wake up, thank Ford for that ability. Would that girls could do it to.

scorps, it's a sad thing, but I think plenty of mental health cases end up in lock-ups, whether they're wrestled from ERs or just picked up off the streets.

nai, euww! What an excellent use of the expression. (hat is Lao for "fuck" anyway?)

At 8:09 pm, June 13, 2007, Blogger Sakura said...

It is so good to hear your mum is on the mend *hugs*

At 8:13 pm, June 13, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

sakura, fanx mayte :)

At 10:26 pm, June 13, 2007, Anonymous Teddy said...

Why would you buy a television receiver or a book when you can sit in the ER lounge for nothing.
I spent a year there one night when my mother had a minor stroke---great service for real emergencies but all the cretins who use the ER for after hours panadol are unbelievable.
Should organise a staff function at the ER
Hope your Mum is back on top of her form

At 2:25 pm, June 14, 2007, Blogger Dot said...

very vivid!

At 7:20 pm, June 14, 2007, Blogger Ariel said...

Holy shit! Wonderful writing, awful place. There's gotta be a short story in there crying to get out?

Hope your mum's doing okay.

At 9:21 am, June 15, 2007, Blogger Rosanna said...

I was quite sure that I commented on this post. Apparently not.

I am very pleased that your mum is feeling a little better. I hope she is telling all the doctors what to do. All the time. Doctors like that sort of thing.

I have to admit, I have never been to the emergency department but I thought this was a brilliant post.

At 6:07 pm, June 15, 2007, Blogger phishez_rule said...

That sucks. I hate our public hospital systems. I have a mate who works at a damned hospital. He went there when he got hit in the face with a hockey ball. He needed four stitches and he waited from 5pm til midnight, when he said 'fuck it' and went home. His dad stuck it together with tape and the next day, when he went to his GP, they said they weren't going to sew it because they didn't want to disturb it.

He was so pissed off about it because he thought he'd get a scar. Pretty boys always worry about their looks.

At 7:51 pm, June 15, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

ted, I think Mr Wheelchair was one of those afterhours Panadol cretins. I've been in ERs after asthma attacks and I sure as hell couldn't yell at anyone.

dot, thanks loves. Not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing...

ariel, mum is lots better, thanks. Much better now that she's home and in her own bed. The story seems a bit disjointed at this stage. That's why I love my blog!

rosanna, thanks :) Sodding Blogger, though - it does that to me too from time to time.

phishez, I'm not quite sure what's wrong with the public hospital system. It seems to have plenty of staff. Morale, perhaps?

At 4:42 pm, June 16, 2007, Blogger Nai said...

Curses! I never did bother to ask about Lao swear words. I was too busy being impressed by my ability to say 'thank you' and 'good luck'.
I'm in Cambodia now, maybe I'll ask around my hotel....

At 6:36 pm, June 16, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

Nai, I read this great story about a couple of Vietnam War correspondents (one of whom was my all-time journalism hero, Neil Davis) that totally cracked me up. They pretended to be fluent in (I think, and I can't check, because Raoul Duke has my copy of One Crowded Hour) Vietnamese or Cambodian by finding a useful little mimographed phrase guide in the local market. They would sit in bars saying things to each other like, "You lazy girl! Do the laundry!" and "Oh, your sister is pregnant again!" Random westerners would look at them admiringly while the local bar girls would nearly choke laughing >:)

But all that aside, I am soooo jealous of you! I would love to be in Cambodia and within visiting distance of Angkor Watt...

At 3:38 pm, June 17, 2007, Blogger DelightfulJen said...

I am glad your Mum is feeling better, hospitals are scary.

I found out by mistake the chest pain is the express ticket to doctor town. I had rib pain, not so much heart pain and as much as I insited they shouldn't panic I didn't see much of the waiting room as I was rushed in quickly. I'd highly recommend it next time.

At 2:25 am, June 18, 2007, Blogger Ratty. said...

I am thinking of producing a TV. series 'From your ER.' It would only involve a couple of 'fly on the wall cameras' - no actors or narration. The advantage would be if you miss two weeks viewing you could pick up the plot straight away.
Better entertainment than any of the other shit that is pumped into my home.

At 8:02 pm, June 19, 2007, Blogger Nai said...

Redcap - That is pure fricking gold!
I am so happy to be back in Angkor land. Unfortunately I've had to cool my heels here for a while waiting for my Ma to join me (4 days and counting) before I get to go back to the temples. I can't wait to share them with her, I talked AT her for weeks about them when I got back last time! Plus, she has money and I don't! I'll pay her back, I swear!!

At 8:04 pm, June 19, 2007, Blogger Nai said...


thought I needed to add another ! to that last comment.

At 2:18 pm, June 20, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

d'jen, thanks :)

ratty, you could call it Big Hospital and organise for a random sick person to the thrown out of the waiting room each episode.

nai, heh - mums are good like that. Enjoy!

At 5:33 pm, June 21, 2007, Blogger River said...

while a night at the ER sounds fascinating, I think I'll stick with my books and TV. Here at home where the toilet is always clean and the paper is always dry....... Glad your mum is ok.


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