More ER Tales: The Good The Bad & The Ugly

IMG_0959More, even cruder stuff happened in that Emergency Room I spent four hours in and wrote about here. I didn’t tell it all in part because I didn’t think I COULD tell it without using the real language that I heard there.

But it wasn’t just the language I didn’t tell about it. 

I didn’t say that for my long, long wait I chose to sit by a man who woke that morning unable to move his leg from the knee down. I sat beside him because of his face, because of the expression he wore, that struck me as so socially ready and amenable in spite of the look of anguish that flashed across it now and then. Like me, he had come a long way to get here, and like me, he was alone. But his wife worked there at the hospital and he seemed to feel comforted by that knowledge and was with communicating with her regularly by text.

We sat together trying to ignore the behaviors going around us – like the fact that the dowager princess lookalike who had tripped on the cobblestones had actually called the city workers she blamed “fucking assholes,” an utterance that shocked me to my boots coming from a lady in her 70s with such an otherwise hoity-toity manner

She was eyeing me pretty good, I noticed and maybe it was what I had on, I don’t know. But when she saw the Gloria Steinem book I was reading she said, “Do you like that?” in a flat level way but then said nothing more when I told her yes.

The man with the dead leg and I really were right by the toilets, as I said, so after an hour or so I asked him if he wanted to move. “Sure,” he said, so with him in his wheelchair and I pushing, we rounded the corner to the semi-enclosed space that held the two tall guys I spoke about – only the chair would fit because an elderly lady wearing a sari and seated in her own wheelchair had been placed at the enclosure’s entrance in such a way that we couldn’t get him by it. It wasn’t my place to move her and I we could both see that. “I’m fine,” he said and wheeled himself back to where he had been.

Here in my new spot the first tall man I told about, who had reddish hair and who had what looked to me like cellulitis on the hand that was attached to an IV, told me they had to keep him hooked up here all night at least and maybe for 24 hours past that.  “It sucks because I have to go to Florida this week on a job!” I agreed that it sucked, which I didn’t say in the last post.

I didn’t say either that the sandy-haired, second, tall man, the one with the gash on his chin, had gone directly on from telling me that Gloria Steinem was a fraud to attacking what he called  “that whole Martha’s Vineyard crowd.” “Matt Damon! Fuckin’ Ben Affleck! You know his brother Casey Affleck? Guy’s an fuckin’ midget!”

I didn’t say that when the ER staffer brought in the homeless-looking man with the long grey hair covering his eyes he had leaned in to him and muttered, “Behave yourself now.” Thus I shouldn’t have been surprised by what followed when the two tall guys started to mock him to his face, calling him “Shaggy” and worse. I didn’t say that he finally sat up from his slump and called them both faggots before the rest of the F words began flying thick and fast.

“Guys!” I didn’t tell you that I said. “Guys, what about this lady hearing all this language?” I said, indicated the woman in the sari and who was 80 if she was a day.

“Oh don’t worry about HER!” snapped Shaggy. “She doesn’t even understand us! She’s an Arab! She speaks Arabian!” Then he shouted enough more bad things that the burly male staffer who had brought him in came flying into the room, took him by the elbow, hissed “I warned you!” and hustled him to a different area.

Just after that they called my name and I got seen.

Thirty minutes later I saw, in an exam room that they were escorted my quickly past, the man who had no ability to move a leg that was paining him terribly.

We waved to each other and though there was no opportunity to get it, how I wish I knew his name. 

Because me, I just fell down while running on wet tiles around a pool and got a compression fracture in my back; but this man? This man I can’t stop thinking about. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to wake one morning with such symptoms and I so hope he’s ok today.





Start with Yourself, Kid

The longer I live the more troubled I am by how casually unkind we are to one another. How causally unkind I myself have been toward others.

Just in conversation.

Just behind their backs.

To be funny,  you understand.

As if that made it any better.

When my sister Nan and I were kids, we heard many a joke at the expense of others around the family table. My sense of it was we thought we were great wits.

I see now that my people felt unsure, not good enough, judged by the outside world and this wit was their armor.

But still.  People not present were always getting characterized by some witty term. If an old fellow’s hair rose slanting from his head they called him “Stiff Wind” or “Mister Nor’easter.” That kind of thing. People not present were always getting ‘acted out’ based on their body language or verbal tics.

I impersonated someone at my tenth birthday party, a merry affair with all my young cousins and Franco American Spaghetti for the entree. At one point I made my face look like the face of an elderly family friend whose mouth and left eye drooped due to a birth accident, and felt an immediate shocked silence on the part of my young.  The one 13 even chastised me, gently.

You’d think that would have taught me. And it did, mostly. Yet I look back at my first columns from the early 1980s and here are many references to ‘a fat lady’ , ‘old people’ and so on. I would never use such terms today and I don’t know why I used them then except that we all felt much freer to speak so.  And the Fat Lady was a figure of fun, was she not? Someone you paid money to go stare at at the circus? So what made us finally feel how sad her fate was? Maybe reading tabloid stories of people so large teams of police and EMTs have to take out the windows or even the whole sides of their houses to get them to the hospital for the medical attention they need?

This past week, somebody sent me an email containing terrible allegations about our President  It was a “forward,” meaning that he had not composed it. Still, he had sent it to his whole address book. I thought about it for a few hours and finally wrote him: “Dan, can you take me off this list? I find emails like this so upsetting.” And he wrote back. “I’m sorry Terry. It won’t happen again.”

It was that easy.

So yes I’m going to keep on hoping for civility ‘out’ there” BUT! I am also going to start policing my own self too and rooting out all signs of unkindness.  I think of Michael Jackson and the powerful message he sent out in this song. Ah Michael, with your demons. How we all still miss you!