The Emergency Room

Thursday, March 5, 2020 | 0 Comment(s)

I ended up in the Emergency Room this past Friday, and I don't even have a good reason why.

That's obviously a partial lie. What I mean to say is I didn't get doored, or finally get into that road rage street brawl we all know is just a matter of time. That said, my Adam's apple did swell up to the size of a baseball/softball, and that's not good. Turns out, it's not "that bad" if the cause of said swelling can be located with imaging. So my PCP sent me for an ultrasound on Friday afternoon. Everyone was pretty sure that my thyroid was to blame, and thyroiditis is eminently treatable, and once you have the diagnosis . . . . all the worry really calms down. Allegedly.

The rare huge-throated Mattibird
At 2pm I head to "the big hospital" to get my ultrasound.

Time stands still in a hospital. Since every problem must be dealt with scientifically and methodically, the only interjections of time are when people are rushed in, when others are rushed to surgery, and the chilling starter's pistol of a patient coding. With life and death so brazenly on display, it's difficult to parse the dramatic change in pacing from the gut punch of watching a person's worst moment fly right past you down the hall.
They call my name about 30 minutes later. The imaging waiting room is an illustration of tension in space. A man who Bukowski would have described as, "having been rolled" hacks a lung on one of the plastic couches. The man closest to him gets up and moves across the room. You can clearly see the fear of Corona Virus emanated from every woman and man in there. Many furtive looks. Frankly, I'm not happy to be in a hospital either, but Jesus Christ, this is the waiting room for getting pictures of your organs. It is not swine flu central, so to speak. The air feels sucked out of the room as a women starts translating for a family in Mandarin. More and more furtive looks. Such bullshit. I feel sorry that we as a society are so ready to racially discriminate. I'm harkened back to living in NYC just after 9-11.

By 3pm I'm in my car headed home, $13 for parking just over an hour. Awesome. The tech, who isn't allowed to read the ultrasound herself, tells me I'll probably hear from my PCP on Monday. I get home, pour myself a bowl of cereal, and 3 bites in, my phone rings. It's my PCP.

"It's not your thyroid, your thyroid looks fine. Which is weird. And concerning. I think the best thing for you to do now is go the the E.R. and get an MRI or CAT scan," she says.

"Where is the E.R.?," I ask. I'm still new to this side of the city, and this is a situation where ambiguity could, minimally, cost me in parking fees.

"It is in the same hospital you just got imaged at," she replies.


Time stands still in a hospital. This is particularly true in the Emergency Room, which has the added feature of never closing. It is like a casino without the fun or chance of winning money. Unfortunatley both can clean you out. So, objectively speaking, the only way to prepare for the ER is to take, and I'm estimating here, 3 or 4 huge bong rips, and maybe an edible. The paradox being, if you are healthy enough to be engaging in that kind of behavior, you probably don't need to be in the ER.

I grabbed two Tootsie-Pop's from the pantry and called it even. This time I took a Lyft.

Time stands still in a hospital. This is particularly true in the Emergency Room, where the waiting room provides you with no actual insight into your wait time. The ER waiting room as both an indoor and outdoor section. The inner waiting room is surrounded with glass walls on all sides and has a reception desk set back in the room. If you were a formal type of person, this could be called the waiting room proper. Outside of that glass is another long line of chairs on one side of a hallway parallel to the glass waiting room, with two TV's (closed captioning on) on opposite ends of the space. I chose the outer waiting room as it provided more personal space and the potential for entertainment. My first wait, was to be called into the ER proper. I was told the longest wait time thus far had been 45 minutes. I was given a plastic vibrating disc that would go off when it was my turn, a la a restaurant reservation system.

You've already forgotten what I told you. The waiting room, and its declared wait time, provides you with no actual insight into your wait time. This is the line before the line. The queue to get into the room where you are then queued. As I sit across from an episode of muted black-ish, down at the very other end of the single line of chairs, in front of the other TV, is a family, the father figure of which looks and sounds like Larry David. What strikes me about the 5 or 6 of them, is that they proceed to carry on laughing and ribbing each other for my entire time there. As if they were filming an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. They had the volume, the crude non-intended humor, constant hacking laughter at how funny they were, the whole thing. And what was so crazy was not that this TV show was playing out in front of me, but rather that this was all happening at a Boston hospital ER at 4pm on a Friday? Why were they there? After mulling this question for about 35 minutes, my best guess is that they must have all been at a party when their friend/family member had some sort of drunken accident, and they brought the party to the hospital with the patient. It's my best guess.

Time stands still in a hospital. When I'm called in 45 minutes later I'm led to a single recliner bed in the hallway, just past the perpetually open double doors that demarcate the main room of the ER.

"This is you," the orderly says.

When you aren't dying in the ER, you are secondary. I get that. This is not my first time being put in a bed in the hallway of an ER. My view, for those interested, is one-fourth the janitorial staff garbage dolly, and three-fourths the entry way from the outside waiting room into the ER proper. Here I will lie for the next seven and a half hours.
Portrait of a Writer in a Hall
I'm seen by two doctors, briefly, within the first 30 minutes. I find this promising. The resident has already gotten notes from my PCP that I need imagining, she agrees and puts me in the queue for a CAT scan.

Time stands still in a hospital. Things start repeating. The two guys who are responsible for wheeling people in their beds to various rooms, to me, seem like they are doing laps of the ER a la the Indianapolis 500. Again and again and again they pass. Things start repeating. I do not make it to the CAT scan quickly. An hour and a half goes by. I'm getting hungry, but I'm not allowed to eat god forbid the CAT scan they aren't giving me shows that I need immediate surgery of some sort. My nurse, who I'm pretty sure has been on bedpan patrol constantly during her shift, poor woman, tells me it my turn. The IV they placed in my arm to prep me for the scan is now empty, and I briefly consider asking for a bathroom break, but if I delay this procedure another second, I'm worried I'll lose my spot.

One of the two guys is finally now here to wheel me, and he does. A whole 15 yards down the hall. Anti-climactic. The tech wheels my bed into the scan room as the intercom jumps to life.

There is a code. I don't hear it clearly, but the tech comes over and says, "I'm gonna try and squeeze you  in before that stroke code gets down here."

I am glad I didn't go to the bathroom.

The whole procedure takes less than five minutes. Radiated die gets pumped in, the machine Xerox's my neck, and I'm up and back on my bed-mobile. Easy peasy. "Wheel me home, driver, my spot in the hallway is getting cold."

As they open the door to wheel me out, the stroke code arrives. She's in her 60's or later. It's hard to tell with all the tubes, pumps, sheets, and people around her. Her hair is wispy and grey and her left eye is black and blue. The neurologist speaking at her keeps increasing her volume. She is surrounded by doctors. She is the anti-"bed in the hall." And in that moment. For me. Time stood still in an entirely different way than it always does in a hospital. I was frozen in her humanity, her fragility, her confusion.

Time stands still in brutal honesty. This woman, splayed across her bed like a frog awaiting dissection, was laid bare. And as the wheels of my bed ran parallel to her's, I was desperate for my relatively healthy soul to reach out and touch hers, for my relatively healthy heart to provide even the smallest comfort. But time was standing still in brutal honesty, and those would all be lies.

Time stands still in a hospital. Things start repeating. For those working, even these trauma's are iterative. My CAT scan isn't read for another hour and a half. I don't ask for food. It doesn't seem important, big picture. Trauma is not iterative for me. The doctor passes me any number of times, every third pass calling out to me, "I haven't gotten a chance to see your scan yet, I'll be back when I do."

I hadn't even asked.

No puss, no infection. My neck, minus the obvious swelling, looks fine. It is a mystery. The doctors squish their faces. Overall, everyone seems happy that the swelling has already begun receding a bit on its own. They give me a dose of steroids to help that process, and after one final hour in the hallway bed, my nurse comes by with discharge forms. It's 11:30pm.

My wife comes to pick me up. As I slide into the passenger side of my own car, it feels like someone is pressing down PLAY & RECORD and the same time on my mind's cassette tape. Motion is restored. Connection is possible. As I reach out and grasp my wife's hand, her warmth registers first. I sweep a few wisps of her hair aside, kiss her just under the ear, and eventually, the streetlight turns green.

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