Saturday Afternoon in the ER
There are a lot of things most of us would prefer to do on a Saturday afternoon. Doing laundry might even be on the list, figuring out your taxes could be included as well as running errands that you have been procrastinating about. Getting a text that someone you love is in the emergency room probably outdistances those other chores.
Depending who it is and why they are there will factor in to your decision to forego the laundry. But just knowing someone you care about is there puts a pall in the day. Especially for them. The thing about emergency rooms is you usually don’t have that task on your “Things to do over the weekend” list. These “visits” are unexpected and unwelcome, but if you need to go you certainly are glad they exist. I gather in some parts of our country there is a scarcity and in other parts you almost need a reservation to get in.
The text I got read: “I am in the ER. I have a staff infection which is getting worse and cutting off my throat so they may have to cut it and drain it.” On the one hand that did not sound life threatening. On the other that cut the neck part didn’t sound that good and being in the ER is no place you want to be alone.. Of course, in the ER you are not alone. You are surrounded by people who are suffering and waiting for help. I got a follow up text which read: “I am sure it will be an easy procedure and I should be home soon.” I know from experience that soon is a very relative word in the emergency room.
I drove over, parked my car and walked to the ER. I passed an ambulance and could see blood on the floor. I looked away. I am sure there are more depressing places to be, but the combination of pain, suffering, worry and new arrivals in various stages of distress is pretty grim. Depending on the severity of your condition you wait in the lobby or get advanced behind the swinging doors where you either get ushered into a room or lined up in the hallway. When I got there at 2:00 my friend was in their own room. By the time we left at 6:00 the hallways were full. Looking at the faces and bodies of people in the room evokes its own set of emotions. Most people when they are sick want to be left alone, but here we were all banded together in our own unique misery.
I imagine there are other places where priorities are shifting minute by minute, but this is not a place to work for someone who can’t multitask. The doctor came in and started to help out only to be called away to a more pressing situation. Like the military there is a hurry up and wait aspect to the place. Having logged some time in hospitals I know there really is no clock. It is a pretty timeless environment. You lose track of it as you wait. I recalled sitting in the waiting room when my father was having surgery and the tension in the room was palpable as families waiting for the doctor to come out and read the verdict.
Fortunately, this was not a life or death situation so my efforts were focused on trying to be there in whatever way my friend needed. We talked politics, vacation plans and who was doing what to whom. We waited for blood to be drawn, a Cat Scan to be accomplished and the doctor to decide a course of action. I had brought a book because I know sometimes it helps to escape into other worlds, but my friend wanted to talk so we did.
It turned out that the “easy procedure” once it happened was pretty quick and easy. It was the interval after the procedure when the ante went up. My friend had told me that before she got to the hospital when her hair touched her neck it was painful. When the doctor drained the abscess in her throat there was a lot of pushing and squeezing which was relieved by a local anesthetic. Once the doctor was finished and the anesthetic wore off the pain surged. My friend was not prepared for the onslaught. She was shivering, her face flushed and the pain was at a level 9. She reached out her hand to me and I held it and felt pretty useless. She tried to stabilize herself, but deep breaths exacerbated the pain in her throat and she was hard pressed to regain her balance. I could see fear in her eyes as she felt unable to control her body. She looked at me to help her and all I could do was squeeze her hand and let her know that I was there.
Watching people you love in pain is no easy thing. Especially when there is not much you can do. Holding a hand doesn’t feel that gratifying. Pushing the button to call the nurse helped, but not much. By the time the nurse arrived with some options to reduce the pain my friend had gained a measure of control and felt she could right the ship. Eventually the pain subsided and that 9 became a 7 and then a 5. When you ask someone how they are and they say “Better” that may not be as good as “Fine” but better is better and I could see it on her face.
For some people going to the ER is step into a process of pain and suffering. For others it is a step out. Fortunately for my friend this was a step out. But a reminder of how fragile life is. I know there are a lot of politics involved in health care, but it would sure be nice if everyone in the world had access to affordable care when they needed it. We take our health for granted until we don’t. It is comforting to know that ER room is there when needed and would even be more comforting if it was there for all.