Up All Night

Sitting in a red plastic chair. Hard on the back, hard on the bottom. No sleep is hard on everywhere. The Emergency Room.

We were advised to head there at ten on Monday evening, assured we would get priority care for our genuine emergency. Six hours later we were still waiting.

We had the relative comfort of an isolation room, but on all sides were the cubicles, separated only by curtains, and there were three additional rooms full of patients as well. Not sure which circle Dante would have labeled it, but to me it clearly looked like a scene from hell.

One patient was surrounded by doctors most of the night. He was the real emergency as judged by triage, a gunshot victim. Invaded by tubes, breathing from a mask, he apparently complained as parts of him were being sewn back together. I could see the doctor pulling up the thread, and heard the reply “We’re just trying to save your life here.” By morning he was gone, taken upstairs to another room, I was told. I hope that isn’t some euphemism.

I caught one or two programs of “ER” on TV, but their ER was a tighty whitey version of mine. In the cubicles people moaned, coughed, slept, and displayed body parts better kept private. The aisles between the rows of cubicles were clogged with EMTs, incoming patients on gurneys and police officers and their charges.

The staff and patients were the New York Rainbow Coalition of diversity in race, age, gender and ability. A night on duty must give a fledgling doc an education worth weeks of textbook learning. At one point the announcement came over the loudspeaker,”Area C, prepare for a stroke.” And they did.

The staff remained calm and moved in a pattern that appeared random throughout the night, but which I assume was ordained by a triage algorithm. When we did interact, I was impressed by the humanity and even warmth we were shown.

The aide who wanted to bring me a more comfortable chair (which I foolishly refused, thinking I would be leaving shortly), said that a major problem was people using the ER as their primary care physician, and coming in with a cold. Makes me wonder if the efforts of the ACA (I prefer Obamacare) to remedy this will reduce that load.

Finally after six on Tuesday morning, attention was paid, and the wheels of care and medical support started to turn. But it wasn’t until Tuesday night after ten that a room came free in the hospital. I won’t speculate on how, at that hour. I had left by then to subway home and sleep prone. Care continues.