Tuesday, May 24, 2011

13 Things to Do in the ER for 30 Hours

I had all kinds of plans and ambitions for my life and blog this Monday and Tuesday, which all came to naught because of one of *THOSE* phone calls I received Monday, early afternoon.  A classic "your mother isn't feeling well and we think she should be seen by a doctor right away" phone call.

So out went the Book Expo 11 plans, including a tea party at Random House with the fabulous Lisa See. Out went my Red Dress Club  RemembeRED memoir post.

In came the grueling grind: sleep deprivation and worry and tedium and adrenaline and annoyance and rage and acceptance and stupor and... a lot of sour lemons. So I made the bloggers version of lemonade: whipped up a post about it.

It is now late late Tuesday night, and my mother has FINALLY been admitted to a proper bed in a proper room on the appropriate ward. I wrote this post Monday night between midnight and about 3 AM, typing with my thumbs on my little no-keyboard Droid cellphone. That I still had functional thumbs today? Nothing short of miraculous.

So without further ado, I bring you:

13 Things to do in the ER while waiting with your 88 year-old mother for them to find her a bed and move her the hell upstairs:

1.  Eat 2 packs of peanut M&Ms for dinner. (What? Like you've never experienced vending machine cuisine at its finest?)

2.  Read The New Yorker you brought with you cover to cover, even the articles about obscure sports figures you don't care about and the reviews of movies you were never planning to see in the 1st place.

3.  Feel inordinately proud of yourself that you managed to snag, vulture-like, from the patient vacating the berth next door: the pillow your mother's head is dizzily resting upon and the hard, narrow, plastic chair that is currently causing you a literal pain in the butt. As there are so very few of these rare and valuable commodities in the insanely overcrowded ER, you had to consciously restrain yourself from performing a fist pump of victory upon their procurement.

4.  Calling overcooked fish, white rice & soggy mixed veggies "a meal" and pouncing upon it with your mother when it arrives at 8 pm after 6 foodless hours spent in the ER.  (Also? Feeling like a genius for re-purposing the "real lemon juice" packets provided with the tea to make the fish vaguely palatable.)  

5.  Wish you could shut your ears and not hear, the same way you can close your eyes and not see, so as to not have to listen to the 15 minutes of crying, screaming, wailing, cursing, gurgling and pleading going on in the curtained bay next to yours as a young woman has "about a gallon of pus" surgically drained from abscesses in her jaw. Realize how many doctors really do have impatience with, and markedly little empathy for patient's pain. (Be incredibly grateful for the amazing man who is your mother's - and was your father's - eminently patient & empathetic cardiologist. A menschier doctor does not exist.)

6.  Try to hold the lockless stall door closed by sheer will as you pee as quickly as female-humanly possible in the filthy visitor bathroom that you had been hoping not to encounter, but just couldn't hold it in any longer.

7.  Tie the undone shoelaces of the incredibly adorable 3 year old girl who has sidled up to you in the outer waiting room and tapped you on the knee to request assistance with said task, while her bedraggled mother simultaneously tries to fill out paperwork & calm her screaming, ill infant. Give up on trying to answer an urgent email and play with this sweet child for the last 5 minutes of your 10 minute "plugged-in" break from the inner ER electronic blackout zone. Return to your mother with a smile on your face.

8.  Try not to cry, yourself, as you (expecting tears and howls) break the news to your autistic son that you will NOT be home to put him to bed as you had PROMISED him you would be this morning, kissing him goodbye at the school bus door. Be surprised and thankful for his calmness, but even more wrenched by his brave little "OK, mommy I'll see you in the morning." Pray they find a bed for your Mom before 5 AM so as to make THAT one true. (They didn't.)

9.  Listen in to the weary mother of the young man in the next-door berth to the other side as she explains to the hospital security guard for the 10th time why she cannot leave for the standard shift-change visitor clearing protocol, as her non-verbal, seizure-prone, mentality challenged son would be completely lost and unable to communicate without her by his side. Try very hard not to start thinking about how life will be if Jacob still has significant communications problems when he is a man, no longer a child, and my presence by his side will be constantly questioned, his disability invisible.

10.  Be eternally grateful it's just an "ordinary" busy Monday and so we're not being "entertained" by one of the loud, drunk/high, belligerent & yet also inappropriately amorous couples who always manage to show up in the ER on Saturday nights. (I had enough of THOSE on my train ride from Boston to Lowell two weeks ago.)

11.  Laugh when your Mom loudly contemplates what she can possibly lift from the stocked supply shelves you pass, walking her to the one non-filthy patient bathroom on the far side of the ER. Make her laugh as you invent imaginary uses for the pink bedpan you assume she plans on stealing.  Look the other way as she nicks a mini tissue box: "It''s such a convenient size!"

12.  Try not to think about why you know this ER like the back of your hand, can find your way through the catacombed passageways of this hospital's lower corridors like a resident, pushing back against the tide of memories of your father spending much time and mother-in-law dying in the selfsame ward they are seeking to place your mother in, tonight.

13. Two words: angry birds. Two less fun words: dead battery. Two even less fun words: puking toddler. (And yes, a hurling pediatric patient missed my feet by inches today when my Mom was in triage. But it was sweet to hear him say afterward: "I feew bedda now" to the surprised nurse.)

And? that's all folks. Wish us luck!


Well, we finally got the luck... some 30 HOURS late.  Much more hilarity ensued, more stories to tell... another night. 

Now? TO BED.

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