open all night

He’s stretched out across a bench in the waiting room.  Dirty denim shorts, work boots.  His legs are pale, but scraped and bloodied.  His face and arms are reddened from working in the sun.  Bad tattoos adorn his legs and arms.  Blue, indistinct artwork, partially obscured by grime and dried blood.  Elbows and forearms bearing more cuts and scrapes.  His pale red beard is about the only hair on his head.  He’s there alone.

What is most noticeable is the pressure bandage covering his chest, barely covering the large spot of blood on his white t-shirt, just under the back of his ribs.  He’s trying to sleep in the emergency room at three o’clock in the morning. 

We’re sitting across the waiting area, watching the large, wounded working man attempt to get comfortable on a hard bench with no pillow or blanket.  Getting the call just after midnight, we brought a friend to the emergency room for treatment.  Since we are not family, we’re relegated to wait.

It’s the largest trauma center in the city,  and the place is a veritable smorgasbord of bad shit on a Saturday night.  We wait.  An older Amish couple walks by quietly, pager in hand, and takes seats to our left.  Within a couple minutes, they are called back to the triage desk.  We watch.  A younger man in a wheelchair parks to our right, as his girlfriend heads to the restroom he mutters “I hate this place”. 

There are stories.  Too many to count.  Too many to process. 

Checking in with the triage nurse, we are told it will be at least another hour before we are allowed back to see our friend.  With flashbacks to my days of late night clubbing, i remember that there’s a Denny’s all night diner just down the street, so we leave to grab breakfast. 

Another human buffet of late night creatures is assembled at the restaurant.  Two city cop cars are at the curb, and a man is being ‘interviewed’ by police as we walk in.  Four in the morning, and we have to wait for a table.  The private security guard, who is doubling as hostess, tells us we’re lucky because we missed the 2:30 rush as the bars close. 

Our waitress, Amber, seems harried but busts her hump to keep the coffee mugs full as we wait for our meal.  She tells a story of the table of assholes who had come in at rush hour, and made it sport to ship the food back repeatedly.  She also says a man beat the crap out of a woman awhile back.  Just another night in her nocturnal paradise.

Returning to the emergency room, there are even more people in quiet clumps in the waiting room.  i wear a blanket from the car to keep hypothermia at bay, since the room is kept at subzero temperatures – maybe to reduce blood flow in the waiting area.  A nurse made a mercy run through the room, handing out blankets as many people were now bundled under lightweight hospital white covers, fighting off the artificial Arctic chill. 

The bleeding working man is still trying to sleep on the bench.  Alone.  By 5:00 am, we are still waiting.  Time to check in with the triage nurse once again.  She tells us to go home, get some sleep and call back later in the day.  Commenting on the assembled carnage, she lets us know that it’s pretty typical for a Saturday night.  i find it heartbreaking, mentioning the poor bleeding guy on the bench…

“Yeah, he called me some pretty nasty names when I checked him in…”  Many people still rely on emergency rooms for their primary medical care.  She tells us “I have some compassion, but when we’ve already seen them three times this week… and they are coming in just because they threw up once?”

As we leave, we stop at the security desk for a parking validation card.  The security guard, seeing me bundled in my blanket asks “You leaving because of the wait?” 

“No, we brought in a friend and were hoping to get back to see her after she was admitted”.

Walking to the car, i realize “That mother fucker thought i was a patient!  Shit.  i know i look bad, but jesus…”

18 thoughts on “open all night

  1. Visiting the ER and Denny’s in one night has GOT to result in a good post. Amber is perfect. I use to hit on the Ambers of the world. My first kiss ever was from an Amber type that work at the Howard Johnson’s where I washed dishes for minimum wage.

  2. The ER here isn’t anywhere near as bad as back in Des Moines. I avoided those like plague. My best friend is a nurse and her advice on the ER is that you only go when all other options have been exhausted and it really can’t wait until the clinic opens because in her opinion, what you could catch in an ER was worse than waiting.

  3. I hate to say it but I haven’t waited in years in an ER. Privilage or disadvantage, which ever you choose, of first working in one and then being married to an MD. I went to our ER recently for fast heart rate(>170) and was thankful that there was no one else there. I hate walking in and having everyone trip over themselves to help me but seem oblivious to the people in the waiting room.

    Hope your friend is ok.

  4. archie – there are days when i’m pretty sure i could live in a bunker, sequestered from reality…

    unbearable banishment – she was very sweet. and seemed to realize we were ‘hospital’ types, rather than ‘sobering up club shrapnel’. wanted to give her a hug. left her a massive tip instead…

    annie – yeah. urgent care (ie: ‘doc in a box’) is bad enough on a ‘germ’ basis, but the ER adds the blood and guts factor. couldn’t be avoided last night…

    newscoma – thank you very much. i’ve started to realize that i seem to strike more powerful words when i just sit down, in the middle of whatever shit is going on – without sleep – and start typing. that one took about 15 minutes, no edit (other than typos). hmmm…

    renalfailure – she’s ok. picked her up and got her home this morning… come to think of it, no one was lookin’ particularly stellar, at the hospital, or at Denny’s. Well, except one fine young waiter pounding the linoleum at the restaurant…

    hisqueen – not my favorite place to be, that’s for sure. i always feel bad for the staff, as well as the patients. has to be a pretty awful job… even a good night is gnarly.

    ginny – thanks. didn’t want to leave even at 5am, but there clearly was nothing to be done… and there were no available seats by that time to even curl up for a short nap.

    daisymae – surprised, in a good way, that she was discharged by 8am. doing well… and yeah, something’s very wrong with this picture…

  5. Wow. I honestly thought, at first, that you were making a stab at fiction.

    Over the course of my years, I’ve been up all night doing this or that and have also seen, first hand, the creatures of the night.

    Scary thing? If the shit ever really hits the fan, many of these will be the ones to survive it.

    I, as well, hope your friend who needed the ER is doing okay.

  6. rob – i am incapable of writing fiction. all of my creative energy is spent crafting revisionist emotional history, which is essential to my survival. agree that the people who inhabit the night have an advantage when life gets ugly. experience counts…

    nursemyra – given a choice? i’d have rather been sleeping…

    uncle keith – no obvious signs of folks who’d ‘accidently’ gotten toilet plungers lodged in their bungholes. but i wasn’t askin’…

  7. Emergency rooms, amusement parks, DMV offices–these are the places where humanity is forced to convene with everyone else–people they would never have interacted with if somehow life’s strange circumstances had not intervened.

    Observing humanity is a full-time occupation.

  8. Pingback: Bad TV Show: Upscale Emergency Room « Trailer Park Refugee

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