Similarly, George Clooney goes with just about anything--unspeakably bad Batman interpretations, B-movie horror flick sequels, football comedy romances, southern prison gothic--he is as unoffensive as he is, well just awfully suave. And when he cries while watching Oprah in Oceans 13, I'm still attracted to him.
So, a few weeks ago, when I had to take my mother to the emergency room on a Friday night per her doctor's anxious urging, I tried to think calming thoughts of George, who even made ER more tolerable.
I've seen my fair share of emergency rooms, with a stepfather who had heart disease, and my own rather clumsy tendencies. But they never fail to haunt me for days after a visit.
I should be more used to human suffering. I worked in a hospital's Coronary Care Unit for several years in high school. It was in CCU, among the many wonderful nurses who took the time to explain what medicines did and what x-rays said, where one room suffered a patient death and another celebrated a new heart, that I fostered a lifelong devotion to public health.
Even today, I can visit the very unit, with its white floors and green moulding, where I volunteered hundreds of hours on summer breaks and during the school year. Where I answered phones and brought wheelchairs round. It was the same unit that last cared for my stepfather before he passed away. I remember the nurses who whispered among each other that Mr. H was my stepfather. I remember for the first time being a family member of an ill loved one, and how empty and frightening it felt. I remember overwhelming gratitude for their clear-eyed promises to take good care of him. As awful as it was, I remember the comfort to be had in knowing there was order to his bathings and IV drippings and bleeping machines.
There is no order in an emergency room. People groan with pain and complain and yell. They bleed and vomit and cough...always cough. There is a television blaring with something totally inappropriate like Larry King Live or an Ace of Cakes marathon, and a clock that makes a habit of turning time slowly.
The seats are never comfortable. They always have arm rests that are too small or part of the upholstery torn and spikey. You are afraid to touch the Reader's Digest on the chair next to you as you suspect it hides a biohazard. Cafeteria grease wafts through the air (I begin to pity the green-looking patient a few feet away) and intermingles with Virex disinfectant (a smell I know well from years at the hospital).
It is easy to imagine it is any time of day or night, and even easier to imagine this is really pergatory. None of us feel human. We feel like ghosts waiting for entry into the next circle of hell.
You may find a friend or two as the hours tick by and your eyes grow red from flourescent lights and lack of sleep. You latch on to a commiserating soul who looks as brow beaten as you feel, and with whom you will share all the grisly details of your condition. He or she (usually its a she) will guard your seat for you while you go to the bathroom, or tell you where the coffee machine is. That is until it is her time to go and you feel her loss deep in your bones. You are reminded that you are so terribly alone on this scary journey. Until your name is called for triage.
Then, sick as you may feel, you are barraged with questions, your blood pressure and temperature are swiped. Before you have time to make eye contact, you're tossed back into the pond--a fish off a hook. I keep thinking of the location chips they give to fish to identify their swimming patterns during the seasons. You, too, are tagged with a little plastic bracelet that will tell them everything they care to know about you.
After three hours in pain, my mother ended up on a stretcher in her own clothes in the hallway of an emergency unit. We were both cold although she at least had a sheet. Of course, my mother's stretcher was next to a clock, a painful reminder that my guess of being out of the emergency room in 5 hours was woefully inadequate
We waved to our friend from the waiting room and her family member. She chatted with us, in between bites of fries and chicken she cradled in a styrofoam container. She quickly moved to the side, as some paramedics wheeled an accident victim past us. Our friend kept talking like we'd met at the grocery store.
I took pity on a young woman, college age, who lay across the hall on a stretcher. "Tiffany" had been there since early afternoon complaining of chest pain. She was overweight, clammy, and terrified. She hadn't seen a doctor at all. I told her to ask for the head nurse. She did and was seen by a doctor soon after.
I overheard the doctor explaining to Tiffany that she was sorry for the wait, but that they had had a lot of people very ill, likely dying that night in the ER. They have to see patients in critical condition first. Poor Tiffany resigned herself to accepting a cup of water and having her IV fiddled with. She still didn't know whether her condition was life-threatening.
I kept checking on Tiffany throughout the night. I would want someone to do that for me.
Another nurse came by with sodas and other drinks for those who were allowed them. She was the "patient comfort specialist." Imelda wanted to be helpful, but she couldn't provide the one comfort anyone wanted--to know whether they or their loved ones would be alright.
It is rare for me to ever turn down free Diet Coke, but I couldn't stomach drinking anything while a woman nearby moaned into her bucket, "oh jesus."
By 3am, I noticed some semblance of calm take over the place. The most serious patients had either died or been moved elsewhere. My mother was seen by a physican. We began to get more test results back. I gossiped with her nurse, "Tom"during his downtime. Tom used to work at the hospital where I had been a volunteer.
Tom, a middle-aged, former firefighter told me of his dream of working in Africa one day. His teenage daughter was about to start nursing school. He and his wife just bought a craftsman house, for a very good deal. He was so normal, cheerful even. He was trying to find out where the pizza had been delivered for the staff. I watched a doctor blow him off as Tom checked to make sure the doctor knew where his patient was. I told Tom I thought the man was an a$$. He smiled at me.
And when my mother's results came back normal, and we were cleared to go home, Tom seemed as happy as we were. I hugged him. He didn't look like George Clooney, but he did make everything better.