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…”