“Hello. Is this is the ER check-in desk?”
The attendant looks up; I expect her to say something like “No, this is the Clown and Circus Motorcycle Club. You want down the hall and to the left, pass the screaming banshee who met with an unfortunate accident, but before the cafeteria and gift shop.”
I get a nod instead. I take a breath and plunge into the story, perhaps for the fifth time that day.
Minutes later we’re back in an examination room. My plastic chair is wobbly; I can’t place my full weight against the back. I spot some red drops of what looks suspiciously like blood on the floor near the back of the patient’s bed.
Doctor comes in: chat, chat, chat. IV? Why yes, please; we’ve experienced scenes from Saving Private Ryan today, glad you asked. Please make this pain go away; the other stuff isn’t working, as we’ve told you and the others before this lovely almost midnight trip.
Poke. Drip, drip, drip…Off the patient goes, their pain slowly fading while the cocktail of drugs disappears into his bloodstream. A nurse rolls her computer cart in, asks a few more questions, says some “sign here’s” and rolls away. I play with my phone and turn the screen on and off. Chattering of young doctors and nurses; benign questions about personal lives. When did nurses and doctors all become so young? Why are there so many scuff marks on the door; I imagine how many beds they’ve taken in and out of the room over the years and scraped against Examination Room Number Five. How does anyone do this job?
I sit stiffly in my chair and then lean back to rest my tightened muscles. I hear an unmistakable crack and I give a slightly hysterical laugh inside. I’ve broken the already half broken chair. Would this be charged to the bill? Why does the hospital have a broken chair to begin with? Should I be suspicious?
The nurse comes back in with more ice as I bumbling explain about the chair. More time passes. I stare at the red drops on the floor some more, wondering how they came to land there. Who was in pain before us? Did they die? Maybe it’s wax crayon or iodine or something else. Do hospitals use iodine? Yes, someone was coloring. Or painting. Doesn’t blood always need to be cleaned up and sanitized?
I wonder what others do in developing countries about pain. Maybe there aren’t hospitals they can drive to; maybe there’s not even pharmaceutical drugs there, or even doctors. What happens then? Is this why we have drug cartels pop up in poor countries? My thoughts become more ragged; I want to doze off.
Beep, beep, BEEP. The IV is done. I wait through five minutes of perfectly timed beeps until the nurse scuttles back in. The patient is unattached, we’re given a prescription. The moon is very bright; we give a quick prayer of thanks. We wonder what ERs are like in LA and Chicago. Probably not like this.
Then we’re inside a brightly flourescent lit drug store, open 24/7, with a pharmacist who’s a bit harried. We wander the aisles a little, perusing the Christmas items waiting, perched on top of the Halloween decorations for sale. The patient becomes a bit dizzy and we sit, sipping on some cold bottled water. The pharmacist makes small talk with me as I check out; I have to have her repeat what she said, just like the nurse and doctors at the ER. My brain cannot consider or hold more than one thought for long.
At home, sleep: the black velvet is bliss. The patient is free of pain finally, or at least pain free enough to sleep through the night. The tidy bottles of medicine lay out of reach, with a paper log sitting next to them with an ordinary pen. Something we both insist on when we’re on serious medications.
I send out a thanks for modern medicine, a thanks for endurance and strength. This is what marriage is: selfless love. I wish more people understood selfless love, and received it. Then perhaps our collective human pain would be more tolerable, the world over. And we could remove man made sufferings.
I drift off, thinking of Syria and praying there would be doctors there with medicines.