Well, a funny thing happened on my way to Friday last week. I landed in the emergency room.
Before I go further: I’m fine. Except for having just lost a chunk of my life in medical la-la land, that is. It all left me with a new commitment to staying out of that place, and a reaffirmation of how amazing lots of doctors and nurses are.
I’m happy to say that on that particular day, I was relatively low maintenance for them. The biggest challenge I presented was a hairy chest that interfered with electrode sensors. Four different people tried to improve the situation—there was conductive gel, removal and replacement—and several “sorries” after they ripped off an adhesive electrode to replace it. I felt like Steve Carrell in that scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
I got there at 7:30 a.m. It was a busy morning—I was told later the ER had 120 patients at one time and the hospital was nearly full. Those of us who were not in bad shape spent a lot of time on gurneys in the open corridor.
It was also one of the coldest days of the year, and there were at least five people who I judged to be homeless being treated as a result. A social worker was arranging for rides to shelters. Three of these patients were docile, but a couple were belligerent, drawing hospital security to the rescue.
One woman lay on a gurney under a pile of blankets and appeared not to move for hours. And then, she leapt up, butt naked except for a blanket she held over her head and back like a cape, yelling, “I have to pee, I have to pee.” She was assisted and she made it in time. But when she returned she was restless. “I have to call my mama!” She shouted it over and over again. Staff found her a cell phone—last I saw she was talking on it. It wasn’t clear there was anyone else on the other end, though.
There were Chicago cops, one who gave a man in a sling a document with a hearing date—the man appeared to have been an assault victim. The officer wanted to be sure the victim showed up. There were Chicago Fire EMTs who’d brought people in on stretchers with backboards, straight from a car accident.
One young man walked in under his own power, looking very pale. Our paths crossed again after we were brought in for treatment. He was suffering severe shaking in his hands and arms.
There was an elderly, indigent man who had fallen down some steps and separated his shoulder. Staff got him situated, took X-rays, and put in an IV. He was to get a CT scan. As happens in these circumstances, a long lull followed after that prep work was done. The man grew impatient, pulled out his IV, put his clothes back on, and somehow managed to head for the exit using his walker, grimacing in pain the whole time. He was intercepted and talked into staying.
That day was an exercise in managed chaos that made TV depictions look tame. Throughout, staff was mostly unflappable. Kind but firm, honest and caring.Some nurses were on 12-hour shifts, and I did about that much time in the ER myself.
I can’t say enough about the people who took care of me in the ER—the nurses, the docs, the people who wheeled me around from place to place.
But, like I said, I’m not planning on seeing any of them again anytime soon.