The other day, Wednesday, April Fool’s Day, I don’t feel so good. As a matter of fact I feel so bad I’d like to die so I wouldn’t feel much of anything anymore. Little bugs are eating their way through me; not even bugs, really, just mindless bits of bug, strings of DNA that don’t, at all, care one whit for my well being as long as they feel fine. So, I go to the ER. I think that if I go there around rush hour it will be quiet, folks will be home eating supper.
When I walk through the doors it is SRO in the little waiting room. I find a chair in a corner and flop. People come and go. The clock advances at quarter time, drawing out every second in to ten. (NOTE: Any physicists reading this may wish to study whether Einstein’s Law of Relativity operates in hospital waiting rooms as it does in the outside universe. It may have implications for interstellar space travel. Put a group of astronauts into a waiting room capsule aboard a star ship. Give them a few dozen ten year old Time magazines and a TV loop of Oprah shows to keep them company. It doesn’t matter if their target is near or far, a million or a billion light years away, they will emerge on reaching it aged not a bit, but terminally bored.)
About a half hour into the “voyage” I am joined by a threesome, two guys and one young girl. One of the guys is thirtyish and one of them could be fifteen, could be twenty. The girl is definitely young, fifteen herself, small, blond, bored. No one is sick, really. They are there to see someone; the older guy’s wife, who is being cured of something or other back in the ER.
The first guy spots a friend in the crowd and strikes up a conversation. It is a conversation I do not wish to hear with all my might, but it is a conversation I cannot help hearing because they are talking to each other as if this place full of sick people was a crowded night club and some ape was blasting ape music from ten story speakers. They talk about stabbings and killings, about drugs. The other guy is another 30 something with his small son, and he is there to get some pain killers because he has a cyst on his spine and it hurts.
During their conversation he is approached by the triage nurse who desires to know why, in God’s name, he is here. In response to this question he asks her if Dr. “X” is working today. I am an old narcotics agent and I begin to pay attention to this. She asks him, “Why do you want to know if Dr. “X” is working.” It is because, he tells her, that Dr. “X” prescribed some pills for him to take to ease his pain when he saw him last Friday, and he took them. He tells her that he took all of them, but he cannot see his own doctor until next Tuesday, and he needs the pills…to ease his pain. The little boy is playing around with the teen-aged girl, now, and the nurse is scribbling on her clip board. She straightens up and mumbles something about “it will be soon…” Then she turns her attention to an old lady in a wheelchair.
In a few seconds the two guys are back talking about drugs and mayhem. The fellow who is waiting for his wife lifts his shirt to show a truly amazing scar, and relate how he appeared at this very ER not long ago holding his guts in after having been partially disemboweled during some disagreement or other. The teenagers look on, holding hands. The little boy plays with his addict father.
Then, for some reason Scar Belly turns to the teen aged boy and asks him if he is going to school tomorrow. There is a short back and forth about the value of getting an education, one fellow extolling this and the other nodding. “Don’t surprise no one by dropping out,” Scar Belly says. “Wait a month and they’ll be surprised,” the younger guy says and he puts an arm around the little blond.
“You been tested,” Scar Belly asks the girl. “Not yet,” she answers. “Well, don’t say nothing till you test positive,” he warns. Scar Belly and the addict look at the boy. The addict says, “We all got here that way.”
I turn to Mariellen and say, “I’m going home.” We get up and begin walking out. The triage lady come out and asks me where am I going. “Home,” I say. “But you are next,” she says, checking her clipboard. “I’m going home. There are sicker folks here than me.”
I give you the highlights of this visit, merely the highlights, and leave out most of the rest of the conversation and all of the atmospherics. You want that? Read any of Charles Dickens books.
On Thursday, while I am waiting for those nasty critters inside me to pack up and go, I come across an article on the Web from the Baltimore Sun. The article talks about a movie night at the Student Union at the University of Maryland. They will be showing a pornographic movie, and no one thinks that this is a big deal. As a matter of fact, they think quite the opposite:
“We thought this would be something fun for the students to do, especially since we’re getting close to the end of the semester,” said Lisa Cunningham, program coordinator for the Hoff Theater, which is showing the film. “We’re a college movie theater and we thought it would bring out the students.”
A university spokesman, Lee Tune, said the administration was aware that the film had been scheduled and would not block its screening.”
There are sicker folks here than me, you know, and some days I just want to go home.