Saturday, March 17, 2007


GRAVEYARD SHIFT AT ER
*

Woke up at 4AM. Showered and dressed. Put a few dry crunchies in the cat’s bowl. Made my lunch. Jumped on the 91 and drove to the 15 to work in the dark. Some of the flu symptoms from the week before still linger.

Twelve plus hours later, I’m back on the 15 to the 91 and home. A few chores. No writing tonight. A little dinner. Watched Unforgiven with Eastwood, Hackman, and Freeman. Cleaned up a little. Got ready for bed. It’s about ten or so.

Then.

I’ve stripped to my boxers and I head into the bathroom to get the sweats I sleep in. Try not to look at my pot-belly in the mirror which just reminds me I need to hit the gym more often than once a week. Only I look. And come to a complete stop.

On my left side, above my hip, is an ugly foot-long, three-inch-wide bruise.

I stare. Did I run into anything today? No. Did I pick anything heavy up? No. How did I do this? No idea. I touch the bruise. It doesn’t hurt but it sure is ugly. I climb into my sweats. I work the night shift the next day so I’ll call the doctor first thing in the morning. That’s my plan. I set the alarm, climb into bed, and turn off the light. Cat curls up beside my leg. I lay there. Thinking. What would cause a bruise like that? Have I ruptured some organ? Will I wake up dead in the morning? Shit. Light back on. Get dressed in my old Levis (if I croak I want to go in my jeans). Make sure I have my insurance card. Out to the car. Drive to the Loma Linda ER.

The ER is packed. I go to the desk. Explain to the reception nurse my dilemma. Sign in. The time is 11:55PM. I find a chair. A ceiling-high TV is on in the corner. I notice two things after a short while. Number One: No one looks cool and hip in an ER waiting room. Everybody, even those not sick look like hell. Number Two: Everyone has someone with them. Except two people. One is a guy who looks like he flunked rehab and that he models for jack-o-lantern carvings. The other one is me.

Suddenly I’m feeling very alone and sorry for himself. We all have it coming, I hear Eastwood say in my head. I pull out my cell. Who do you call after midnight? My nephew lives fifty miles and one county away. My good friends, Kent and Jenny, must be sound asleep. My uncle is in the next state. I just wait. The desk nurse calls my name. She takes my temp and blood pressure. Temp okay but b.p. is 194/119. Nurse shakes her head. Not good. I go back to the waiting area.

Am I having stroke here? Physically I don’t feel any pain and weird side effects. I dial my cell phone. Who do I call? My ex. She only lives 2000 miles and two time zones away. Annie is awake. (I find out later that she actually was awake – she couldn’t sleep.) I tell her where I am and what’s happening. We talk for two hours.

Slowly the ER begins to empty out. A lot of names are called and a lot don’t answer. I guess they’ve given up and gone elsewhere. One woman and one man keep going up to the reception desk. I hear the nurse, patiently each time, tell them that she can’t give them a time when they’ll get in. The police arrive with a kid in handcuffs. The kid is the neatest person at the ER. Without the handcuffs, he’d stand out in this crowd. Clean, nice clothes and well-groomed. Doesn’t appear that anything wrong with him. But something must be.

My name is called. I tell Annie I’ll call her back. I don’t go into the ER. I go see the ER nurse who takes my vitals again and has me repeat the bruise story. My b.p. is still in the stratosphere. I go back to the waiting room. Call Annie back.

Two more hours. My cell is dying. I’m down to one bar. I tell Annie I’ll call back as soon as I see the ER doctor. Two more hours. The jack-o-lantern man has been released but comes back. He asks for a specific ER nurse. The nurse comes out. Jack tells the nurse that he doesn’t have the one-dollar-twenty-five-cents he needs for the bus. The nurse inhales deeply. I could hear him across the room. It is one pissed-off sound. The nurse doesn’t call the cops who are nearby, he doesn’t call security. He takes a dollar-and-a-quarter from his pocket and gives it to Jack. Jack thanks him and leaves.

I start pacing. I go outside. A hospital security guard is out there smoking a cigarette. I’m trying to quit but I sneak a couple drags off a cigarette I have in the car. Really stupid but I did it anyway. I ask the guard if it’s always like this. He tells me no. In fact, this is the first time they’ve been given orders to refer people elsewhere. It appears the hospital is full (Loma Linda is one of the biggest in the Inland Empire.) That’s why ER is so slow. The patients being admitted have no rooms to be taken to. ER has gone into a holding pattern. Wonderful.

Sunlight is touching the horizon. It’s now 6AM. I call my work and tell my assistant to email our boss. I don’t know if I’ll be in that night. My name is finally called. Nurse Michael takes me to a bed. I strip into a gown. Boxers and socks remain on. Michael hooks me to several machines. I tell my story again. He says the doctor will be there shortly. I wait. Michael and another nurse arrive. They need this spot for someone the ambulance is bringing in. I’m rolled to another spot.

Nurse Abraham hooks me up to several machines. I tell my story again. Then I wait. And I wait. I decide against all rules to call Annie and update her. My cell doesn’t work. I’m beside a stainless steel wall and all I get on my phone is “No signal.” So I wait.

I hear the phone ring at the desk nearby. Nurse Abraham walks toward me with the phone cord stretched as far as it will go. “It’s your wife Annie,” he says. She was worried not hearing from me and went through the hospital switchboard and only-God-knows how many operators to track me down. I explain my cell won’t work where I’m at and I haven’t seen the doctor yet. The phone cord is stretched across an aisle and people are ducking under it to get by. Abraham motions at me. I tell Annie I’ll call as soon as I see the doctor. She says I’d better.

The doctor arrives. Examines the bruise. I tell my story again. I repeat that it doesn’t hurt. Doctor leaves. I wait. Doctor returns with ultra-sound. All my body parts are where they are supposed to be and none have exploded. In fact, he says my spleen looks great. Do most people’s spleens not look great? I was confused. Doctor says he’ll be back. I wait. Doctor returns with older doctor. Older doctor examines bruise. I tell my story. He asks about my flu I had the week before. I tell him. He nods. He explains to the other doctor and me that during one of my coughing attacks I ruptured a blood vessel in my side. It took five days to filter down my side to my hip and to the surface. It will get bigger and uglier in the next day or so then fade away. If it begins to hurt, I’m supposed to go immediately to my regular doctor or come back to the ER.

I am relieved. I am also released. No hospital for me.

Almost over. I’m waiting for the release papers and to be unhooked from the machine. I hear the doctor telling someone about me. Then the doctor reappears with another doctor. Loma Linda is a teaching hospital. He wants to show this intern my bruise. Okay, now I’m a school lesson. I let him.

8AM. Eight hours after arriving, I’m back at my car. I call Annie. I apologize for keeping her up all night. She scolds me like a little kid. Informs me that I’d better call her on nights like this. Okay, her response was a little more colorful than that. Patton would’ve enjoyed it. She makes me promise to call her that night after I get off work. I promise, and I do it.

I drive back to the house and the cat.

And, yes, after a three-hour nap I went to work. I’m the GM at my location and that’s what GMs do.
*

Here’s my prayer lately: Please, God, no more adventures for a while. I need a week of boring and humdrum. Please.

2 comments:

Howard von Darkmoor said...

Well. That's all I can think to say right now. Besides 'I hope you sleep well for the next several nights,' that is.

Take care, friend Chris.

dink said...

Wow! That's some cough you musta had!

You didn't say what the doc had to say about your sky-high blood pressure ...

Annie sounds like a very cool lady. I'm glad she was there for you.

Be well, I wish you lots of boring (you can do the same for me)