No one ever plans a trip to the emergency room. It’s an accident, or medical
surprise, that takes you there. My husband appears at the door, his hand partially covering his bloody face. Time is momentarily suspended while my mind races. What happened? What do we need to do? What do I need to grab so we can go to the hospital? Of course, I’ve just taken my car to the shop, so we are hailing a cab. It would be so much more fun to say “follow that car!” instead of “take us to the nearest emergency room!”
We rush inside, the staff gets a quick recap of the injury and triage takes over. While bloody, our case isn’t life threatening or acute. We can wait while others are seen. I present IDs and fill out out forms while the priest who cannot breathe, and the woman who is moaning move to exam rooms. I don’t wish more injuries on my husband, but I’m pretty sure a compound fracture and an eyeball hanging out of the socket would move us up in priority. As my adrenaline dissipates, it seems harder to wait, and wait.
We’ve been to the emergency room a number of times over the years – broken bones, kidney stones, split lip, scratched cornea, contusions – with eventually good outcomes. Though the injuries are different, the experience (relatively brief and intense) is similar every time. You begin with a single-minded focus on your own injured loved one. Then, you begin to notice the other people thrown together in the most public of places: the emergency waiting room. Families slumped in chairs watching the TV like it was a lifeline, nurses talking to a drunk lady to find out where she’s been, police escorting people in and out, half covered bodies on gurneys being rushed away, spouses reciting medical plan information, nurses who know a woman by her first name from frequent visits, and a boy questioned about how he fell and broke his arm.
Alternately chaotic and quiet, being here is like an odd half-life, surreal and separate from the day or evening you were having before the emergency. A place where you’ve ceded control to the medical staff. No indignation or influence can change the triage approach. You need their expertise, their tools, their advice. But I feel lucky to have medical coverage, and to not need emergency care very often.
Half a day for my husband to get an X-ray and a few stitches. Time to go home, pick up prescriptions and start the next phase of treatment: chicken soup, a soft pillow, and time.