The Penny

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

[Sunday, October 11, 2009]

Do I Have a Tale for You...

I had the privilege of spending the night in the ER at Johns Hopkins. What an experience!

During my four hours in the waiting room (while in excruciating pain, mind you) and my eight hours in and out of Bed 28, I saw and heard some exceptional things. Actually, I think they are not exceptional but typical, which is sad. Let me present you with a series of vignettes.

A woman starts an argument with another woman in the waiting area. They move to the lobby, where things become physical. Right in front of the main security guard's desk.

A man in a wheelchair (NOT unusual--probably a quarter of the people waiting went out and got wheelchairs for themselves) "gets loud" with a woman in the waiting area. A female security guard tells him to cut it out, and he blames the woman for making him yell at her. The security guard tells him, "You a grown up man and you sayin' she made you? Can't nobody make you. You a grown up man." A valid point, to which said man replies, "Now you mad at me? I didn't do nothing, you tell her she gotta quit makin' me mad." The guard assures him that she is not mad at him. Wheeling him out, she continues, "I just disappointed that you say somebody made you, when you a grown up man and you supposed to know how to behave. Now, you know you can't stay here when you loud."

Sylvia Squires wanders through the waiting area aimlessly. She sits in various chairs, finally parking it at one of the registration windows, wanting to have a chat. The woman at that window seems to know her, and she ignores her. After a moment, the woman leaves Sylvia alone. Sylvia (I know her name because she said it so often) initiates a conversation with herself. Although I was actively trying to ignore her, I could not help but hear some of what she said, because she was three feet away from me. Sylvia is 51 years old, with two grown daughters. Their fathers were not Mexican. Her current boyfriend, however, is. He is a mean drunk who cannot hold his liquor, and he smacks her around all the time. He tried to throw her through a window. Sylvia, on the other hand, can drink all day and all night, without any deleterious effects. She hates Mexicans, because they have too many kids, like leeches. Sylvia is a sociable person, loudly inviting everyone in the waiting area to go out for drinks rather than wait any longer. As the night wears on, Sylvia becomes increasingly belligerent. Each time a nurse calls a patient's name, she yells, "Squires?? Do you have Squires?" They firmly tell her no, and she lets them know that they are smart mouths, and that she has been here since 6:00/4:00/5:30 (fill in a random time). Sylvia runs into an acquaintance, who is at the security desk, complaining that she has waited too long and would like her IV out. After 15 minutes, a nurse is available to do this for her. The friend looks back into the waiting area and notices Sylvia slumped over in a chair; she calls out, "Sylvia, are you OK?" No answer. Sylvia has fallen asleep. When I leave the hospital, eight hours later, Sylvia has not moved.

A young couple comes in, the girl obviously having abdominal pain and feeling poorly. She sits next to me and leans against her boyfriend, who stands in front of her, murmuring in Korean and stroking her head.

A man does laps in the waiting area in his wheelchair. He bumps into things and blocks people's path. 

A man comes out of triage reeking of urine. His dirty clothing and unkempt appearance bespeak a life different than mine. He encounters a "brother" in the waiting area, who is similarly attired and sports a black eye. Pee Man stands near the security desk, chatting with his brother, while the security people gag. The same female security guard who escorted loud man out of the building takes it upon herself to grab a can of air freshener and spray it directly at Pee Man's back for at least 10 seconds. This does not even touch the funk in the air, and it does not phase Pee Man. She goes through a set of double doors; five minutes later, she emerges with a set of scrubs and a plastic bag. She informs Pee Man that she cannot handle his stink, that he must change. He is understandably worried that someone might steal his blue jeans, and she reassures him, instructing him to carry them in the plastic bag. Pee Man reluctantly enters the men's bathroom and reappears in bulky scrubs, without the plastic bag. He leaves shortly, but for the next several hours, every person who walks through the ER waiting area (the elevators to the peds ER are at the back of the adult ER waiting area, so parents dragged children through the room from time to time) comments on the smell. An hour later, a triage orderly travels throughout the room, spritzing liberally with a fruity spray, smiling like Miss America. Her journey was more welcome than any beauty queen's.

In a monitored bed in the ER, a diabetic woman is there because she stopped taking all of her meds. Although she doesn't have any family and really doesn't care, she accepts the central line that must be placed in her neck. She asks for food and is told that she can eat a bunch of bananas, or she can have orange juice. She weakly accepts the juice.

Later, in that same bed, a man with a thick Baltimore accent has difficulty answering questions from the nurse and doctor. He provides tangential information with each answer, but I will spare you that. Has anyone ever discussed diabetes with you? No. So, when you were in the hospital a month ago, did they tell you that your blood sugar was high? Um, yeah, they gave me a shot for it. Oh, they did. And did they give you medicine to take home? No. Did you follow up with your primary care doctor? No. They didn't tell you to follow up with your primary care doctor? Well, I've been taking the medicine my doctor gave me. Medicine for what? Diabetes. Which doctor gave it to you? My regular doctor. So your regular doctor is treating you for diabetes? Well, yeah. Did you take your medicine today? Of course. Later: Does this hurt? Yes. Where does it hurt? On my leg. Where on your leg: the front or the back? What? Where exactly does it hurt? Where does what hurt? Your leg. When I push here, does it hurt on the front or the back? The back? OK, this is the front, and this is the back. Does it hurt on the front or the back? Oh, the front.

A woman lies snoring in a monitored bed in the ER. She was brought in because she was searching a manhole for a cat. There was no cat.


Laynie | October 12, 2009 at 3:02 PM

I still can't believe that we stayed up all night until 9am when we went straight to our beds when we got home from ER. Oh boy, I'm still struggled catch up the sleeps that I have lost. Darn.

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