What a week it has been.
The excitement began this last Tuesday afternoon. I was told to take my 79-year-old, 4’9″, 102-pound, feverish, in-unceasing-and- excruciating-pain Mother to the Emergency Room. A
s soon as possible!
(Good news: She’s coming home tomorrow from the hospital. More on all of that in another post someday. )
Now I had never been
to an ER before. (Well, I take that back. Cassidy and I took Julia to the ER at 2:00 in the morning once when Julia got a ring stuck on her finger and was convinced her entire body was turning as purple as a Maine blueberry, and that she was dying; and she began hyperventilating to the point that the breathing-into-a-brown-paper-bag trick did not work. But that kinda sorta doesn’t count, ‘cuz it wasn’t “rush hour” at the ER.)
Okay. So, Mom — shrouded in a heavy blanket — and I walked (well, she gingerly shuffled) into the waiting room (during the peak of the aforementioned rush hour), whereupon all senses were assaulted: by the sight of a mass of humanity — all genders, shapes, makes and models; by the cacophony of moans, groans, wails, belches, coughs, gags and cries; and the stench of an interesting hybrid mix of alcohol, B.O., watered-down hospital-strength Lysol, marijuana, deep-fried something, urine and vomit .
My poor Mom. I felt so bad for her. After finally finding her a relatively clean seat upon which to sit, I checked her in, armed with her insurance cards, Social Security card and all other pertinent information. I asked the clerk what the wait time was, and she said, “Oh, probably only about four hours. You’re lucky, ma’am. Today is a light day.” But she was cheerful and pleasant.
So I go back and break the news to Mom, that she was legitimately, officially in the queue. And now we had to wait, and wait, and wait some more. I mean, what else could we do? Get Angry? At whom? I think we both came to the realization simultaneously that we’re in this for the long haul, there’s not a thing we can do about it, and it is what it is. We are, quite simply, at the mercy of Mercy San Juan Hospital.
I don’t know for whom I felt sorrier — the hundreds (seemingly) of people waiting to be seen, who were doing their very best (well, many of them were) to stifle their stabbing pains and urge to vomit or cough, or the hospital personnel — from the clerks to the security guards to the triage nurses to the med techs to the doctors– who were doing their level best to exercise patience while dispensing care, comfort, compassion and advice. And please tell me they get extra pay for having to inhale that foul air day in and day out.
Everyone was intent on doing their job, and doing it well.
To try to get Mom’s mind off of her acute pain and spiking temp, and in a futile attempt to make time fly, I suggested we “write” our own little novella about the people with whom we were sentenced to life for the next four hours.
Like the cute little family of four over there to our right. Obviously it was the out-of-control, screeching two-year-old little girl who was in need of medical attention. Or was it the Mom, who was a nervous wreck, pacing, chomping on her gum? No, it was the child, we decided. The poor Mom was just being…a Mom, so worried about her toddler. And she had the huge extra burden of keeping her sweet 9-year-old son calm and other-directed, while the husband texted, and texted, and texted some more on his phone, with, it seemed, not a care in the world. And on the rare occasion he did look up to any of his three family members, he looked irritated and disgusted. We decided he was having an affair, and he was texting his paramour. Yep, that was it.
And then there was the tatted-up, shaved-headed Eminem wannabe who seemed, let’s say, extra energetic, over which the pleasant, vigilant, portly African American security guard was keeping a very keen eye. We decided that this guy was a wanted felon that had escaped Folsom Prison
today at 3:00 and was ‘hiding out’ amongst all of us here at the ER.
Oh, and I must tell you about the L A R G E, jovial, obviously close-knit group gathered. I asked: they were Hawaiian, like I suspected. I swear half the population of Molokai was present. Mom and I never quite concluded writing the novella on them, as we never came to agreement as to why and who they were anxiously waiting to see in the ER — perhaps the grandmother/matriarch of the group? Or a cousin that had been injured, maybe? What a loving, supportive group they were…
And then we saw a gal (yep, we finally decided she was a she) pacing back and forth and back and forth. And back. And forth. Making eye contact with absolutely no one. Not a soul there to comfort her. I kinda wanted to sic the Hawaiian group on her to give her some solace and companionship. (I felt I couldn’t leave Mom’s side, or I would have attempted to lend an ear, or a shoulder, or something.)
And we saw a handful of what we deemed “normal” looking people/duos. But then I got to thinking: What is normal? The previously-mentioned tatted-up, hyped-up guy is probably blogging about Mom and me right now.
“D. Barringer? Mrs. Barringer?” We were directed deeper into the maze, small room beyond small room, where Mom was questioned, pricked, prodded, palpated, and questioned some more. “On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your pain level right now, Mrs. Barringer?” Oh, how she grew to loathe that question.
But they were all doing their best to do their job, and do it the very best they could.
So then she was requested to pee in the plastic cup. We went into a bathroom further into the labyrinth. I handed Mom the labeled, clean cup and guided her to the toilet. But she did not sit all the way down. “Mom, why don’t you sit all the way down!?” “Because it’s filthy in here! I am not going to get any germs.” As if…as if the air we had been breathing for the past three hours had been germ and filth free. Just for us. Gotta love her.
Her thighs are about as big as my wrists, but boy they are strong! Because she succeeded in popping a squat for a sustained period of time without coming close to that toilet seat. Job well done, Mama!
I don’t mean to be trite or discount what was going on. She was in a lot of pain. And thankfully, we were slowly, finally, albeit painfully, getting to the bottom of this. At least for that day. Because at 11:45 p.m., we were told by an attractive, very gentle doctor that she must spend the night in the hospital, as there were some serious things going on that needed immediate and constant attention.
Don’t I wish he was one of the docs….
But at least there was some closure and some answers. And we were able to escape the Emergency Room and head up to the fourth floor wing. The air smelled a little more benevolent, it was quiet(er), and she had her own room, a corner unit on the top floor. “Look, Ma, you have the penthouse suite!” “Yeah. Right.” She kinda failed to see my weak attempt at humor. And I can’t say as I blame her.
So here are some other things I learned at the Emergency Education seminar last Tuesday night:
- Patience is a virtue.
- Tattoos come in a variety of hues and colors, in a multitude of designs, sayings, words and fonts, and can be found on the most interesting of body parts.
- When the person seated next to you sounds as if she’s vomiting up copious amounts of yesterday’s and today’s food, don’t be alarmed. It’s only phlegm.
- All medical personnel are kind-hearted and well-intentioned.
- A little levity goes a long way. The doctor: “So Mrs. Barringer, let’s see, you suffer from asthma, GERD, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and a Difficult Daughter.”
- Smile and laugh and smile…to keep from crying.
- Every — and I mean every — orifice in and on the body can be pierced.
- A pat on the shoulder is always helpful.
- Mercy San Juan Hospital (Maze) is a fine institution.
- If you must get something out of that vending machine on the first floor, the unsalted Trail Mix is the best choice.