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.
Labels: puke bags, surreality, toilet nightmares