Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Life In The Emergency Ward

August 1966
  It’s an unpardonable sin for those in the business of producing a weekly newspaper to take sick or die on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Wives of all employees must pledge to have babies on any of the other four days of the week. All the miseries of life must be delayed until the newspaper comes off the press.
  But I fractured the rule BIG TIME Tuesday of last week when I suddenly doubled up with a kidney stone attack 15 minutes before leaving for work. Within an hour, I was taking a couple of needles of Demerol in the emergency ward at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Pontiac and all the worries about getting out the newspaper were lost in a heavy mental fog.
  There are eight beds in the emergency ward. The emergency cases are shuttled into the ward until there’s an empty bed upstairs. This often means an entire day’s wait.
  I soon learned that there’s nothing dull about being confined to an emergency ward. So much so that when the pain killer haze began to lift, I figured I should recall what was going on and even write something about it.
  For instance, the poor fellow next to me is dressed up in bandages with holes only for his eyes and mouth. Just before he is moved upstairs, his wife brings a bouquet of flowers for the nurses and the nurses are so astounded that they talk about it all night. No one thinks of them in such troubled hours. As soon as the burned fellow leaves, the bed is made and in comes a middle-aged woman, asthmatic. She wheezes and moans. For two hours the nurses attempt to locate her doctor.
  Into the emergency section comes a steady stream of customers. The phone rings gently, but steadily. From my bed I can hear at least one side of the conversation. “Woman says her boy ate half a mothball,” the nurse informs the Doctor on Duty. He gives advice.
  IN THE LATE EVENING I hear the Doctor on Duty informing someone that a woman patient getting her supposedly broken hand x-rayed has disappeared. “She claims she has $20,000 in her purse and everyone is trying to get it.” Minutes later, a nurse reports that the woman has been found in the cafeteria. Suddenly she is led into the ward and told to sit down on the chair. Loudly, she tells everyone what a lousy place hospitals are. As she rifles through her purse, she mumbles about everyone trying to take her money.
  Suddenly there’s an explosion. Her husband walks in. “Get that _ _ _ _ _ out of here,” she shouts. She cusses him out of the room and slams the door behind him as the Doctor on Duty and a nurse rush in an tell her to calm down. “Call the police. We can’t have this woman in here,” the Doctor on Duty instructs the nurse. The woman is finally led out of the ward by a nurse to another private room.
  A half hour later the nurse returns. The woman has reached into her purse and thrusts a handful of money to the nurse for her kindness. The nurse hesitates, then returns it. “That’s the story of my life,” laments the nurse to the Doctor on Duty.
  The night wears on. My pain seems to have subsided greatly. I’m told I may have “passed” the stone.
  "I CAN'T BREATH" the asthmatic moans. A woman with a broken hip is wheeled in and cries with pain as she is lifted onto her bed by the attendants and nurses. “There’s a half-hour effort to find her doctor. Another doctor is finally found in the hospital but he already is two fractures behind schedule.
  A sleeping pill helps shut off some sounds but through the night I still hear things happening. “What about that girl with those lacerations from the broken beer bottle?” the Doctor on Duty asks the nurse. “Have the police been notified?” The nurse runs out to check.
  Most of the maimed are treated in the emergency rooms and released. One by one, through, the empty beds are filled again. A heart attack victim is moved in and surrounded by an oxygen tent… A boy with a fractured wrist is moved in and placed in traction… A crying baby wakes me up. I can’t discern what it’s problem is… The Doctor on Duty finally goes home at midnight without the hamburger for supper that he had ordered at 8 o’clock.
  Sometime during the night, the asthmatic who must sleep sitting up, becomes worse. The nurse sends out an emergency call for some doctor.
  The next morning, one by one, the beds are again emptied as the patients move upstairs. By 1 p.m. my bed upstairs is ready. But instead I’m told I can go home. Before I leave, a policeman leads two boys into the emergency room whose legs and arms are horribly cut up from a motorcycle accident. They are followed by a loud crowd of people who appear to be both family and gang members. The two are in wheelchairs with their gleaming white helmets hanging on the corner of the chairs. A few moments later, they are lifted onto gurneys.
  BACK TO THE office by Thursday, I find that I’m not indispensable after all. This week’s newspaper has been published and it’s now time to start all over again.